Is there a Catholic vote?

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An offshoot to a once viral video of Archbishop Socrates Villegas is a call, probably generated by the Otso Diretso (Straight Eight) campaign team, for a Catholic vote, which is hoped to place majority of the opposition bets in the Senate on 13 May.

“ But without the dominant machinery of the incumbent party, 13 May looks bleak for the non-Duterte allies.

Except for Mar Roxas — a defeated presidential aspirant in 2016, and Bam Aquino — cousin of former President Benigno Simeon Aquino III and a reelectionist senator, the other six Otso Diretso candidates are national poll newbies.

Roxas and Aquino were once beneficiaries of the powerful and well-funded Liberal Party (LP) machinery. But, as is usual in this politically fickle country, majority of the LP members have jumped ship to the administration and ally parties of President Rodrigo Duterte. The Liberals are now just a ghost of their previously dominant past.

The surveys are not working for the Otso Diretso, either. The top half of the various surveys are filled with administration candidates and one or a couple of independent aspirants but who are known to have worked with and for the Duterte legislative agenda.

The lower half will be a free-for-all among the other hopefuls.

But without the dominant machinery of the incumbent party, 13 May looks bleak for the non-Duterte allies.

That is the reality of Philippine politics.

Even Vice President Leni Robredo admitted that the LP had long lost its once vast clout, saying the yellows have long jumped over Duterte’s side of the fence.

The Otso Diretso candidates also did not want to be tagged as yellows, like being one is now considered a political pariah.

Noynoy Aquino’s magic is also gone. He does not join the Otso Diretso candidates’ sorties, unless his presence drags them down.

Roxas has not wanted association with Noynoy, too. And that’s a pity for the once close partners.

Otso Diretso is now banking on the Catholic Church, which long has been in the receiving end of Mr. Duterte’s criticisms and attacks. But the Catholic Church will again be tested this time around.

The Catholic Church does not vote as a bloc. Never.

It unofficially campaigned against Joseph Estrada in 1998. It failed.

In 2013, the Church campaigned against five reproductive health advocates. Only one of them did not make it.

But the Catholic Church was successful in ousting the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos by supporting the coup d’etat launched by Juan Ponce-Enrile and Fidel V. Ramos.

It was again successful in ousting Estrada in 2001.

But it was never a bloc-voting religion.

Unlike the Iglesia ni Cristo, which openly supports candidates, the Catholic Church has not been able to forge its followers into one political bloc.

There are more than 75 million Catholics in the Philippines, a big fraction of them are voters. But they never trooped to the precincts as Catholics, unlike the smaller religions which come armed with endorsements from their religious leaders.

Even Villegas could not openly endorse candidates. What he did was give hints through his call for rejection of several candidates supportive of a leader his listeners perceived as Duterte.

The President has played this game well.

At one time he criticizes the Church, and then he praises it the next minute.

Most leaders become lame ducks in the second half of their terms when the opposition has groomed its bet and upped its attacks on the incumbent leader.

This does not seem the case with Mr. Duterte.

Recent surveys still point to his popularity among the masses, Catholics included.
His endorsement of candidates still holds power.

Majority of the people still believe his war on drugs.

The economy is holding on, and rather strongly, under Duterte.

People still flock to wherever he speaks.

Villegas is appealing for a Catholic vote even when there is no such thing.

He is knocking on the Catholic voters’ conscience.

But even Villegas admitted that there is “no Catholic vote decided by a Catholic bloc.”

He knows his call is for naught.

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