Filipino Catholic Church within inches of endorsing Aquino
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Last week, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines issued a joint exhortation warning of a ``conspiracy of evil'' and calling on the military and other key government officials not to be party to fraud. The bishops are due to have another special meeting on or before Feb. 13 to discuss their response to the elections. Church sources do not rule out the possibility that the bishops will endorse a call for civil disobedience if they feel the election has been won by unfair means.Skip to next paragraph
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The Catholic Church's main official activity in the election revolves around Namfrel, the National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections. The movement is headed by Joe Concepcion, a close friend of the cardinal. In many areas, the local bishops are Namfrel's provincial chairmen, with priests or nuns forming the backbone of the local organizations. And Namfrel's tabulation of election results is being conducted in a large Catholic school in the capital.
Sin and other church leaders have told the clergy not to use the pulpit for partisan political purposes. Church sources say, however, that many clergy have made clear their support for Aquino. A prominent Jesuit, the president of the Ateneo de Manila University, helps write Aquino's speeches. Another Jesuit is working on contingency plans for post-election activities if the opposition decides that the election was stolen. Few priests seem to be openly supporting the President.
Sin has been unusually active behind the scenes in recent months:
He did his best to encourage the two main opposition leaders -- Aquino and Salvador Laurel, her running mate -- to form a united presidential ticket.
He has established close links with members of the armed forces reform group. He has promised them his support in the event of reprisals against them.
And Wednesday, he expressed his regret that the group had been unable to hold some of the prayer rallies they had planned as part of a campaign to keep the military neutral in the elections.
``Praying for clean and honest elections is banned by the military,'' the cardinal noted acidly.
Aides say that his role could become even more important after the election. Since the August 1983 assassination of Aquino's husband, Benigno, the cardinal and Gen. Fidel Ramos, armed forces assistant chief of staff, have become close, a Sin aide says. General Ramos reportedly often attends meetings of the cardinal's close advisers.
If there are major protests after an apparently fraudulent election, a Sin aide said, the cardinal could perhaps persuade Ramos, who commands the 40,000-man Philippine constabulary, not to use force against the demonstrators.
``I don't think Ramos would get involved in any repressive measures,'' the aide said. ``The cardinal would prevail on him not to do so.''
While most of the bishops have kept close to the center of the political spectrum, many rank-and-file religious and lay workers have gravitated toward the communist underground. Sin implied yesterday that an opposition victory would short-circuit the political polarization that was dividing the country and his church. He referred back to the electoral victory of Ramon Magsaysay, who in the 1950s defeated a notoriously corrupt incumbent. After that, he said, the communist-led insurgents who were the forerunners of the present guerrillas came down from the hills and surrendered. ``This will happen again,'' he told correspondents.