Philippine Catholic Church issues sharp warning against election fraud, calls on citizens to monitor polls

The Philippine Roman Catholic Church warned last night against a ``resurgent conspiracy of lies'' -- widespread electoral fraud -- in the Feb. 7 presidential election. The warning came in a joint pastoral exhortation by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, which was read at Manila Cathedral last night.

The letter denounced a long list of abuses that the bishops said had often characterized elections in the country. These included killings, selling of votes, bribery, black propaganda, and the snatching or switching of ballots.

These abuses, the letter noted, are recurring in a concerted manner and are ``threatening to escalate to a level never experienced before.'' Such acts, the bishops said, are ``sins against the Lord.''

The letter called on Filipinos to organize themselves to ensure ``relatively clean and honest elections.'' The bishops told citizens to refuse to cooperate with cheating and to monitor the casting and counting of ballots. The bishops also expressed ``wholehearted support'' for the National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel).

The letter called on Filipinos to vote on Feb. 7 for the candidates who ``embody the Gospel values of justice, humility, truth, freedom, love, [and] peace.'' The bishops then addressed themselves to three groups who play a major role in Filipino elections: schoolteachers, the military, and officials of the government's Commission on Elections.

Teachers -- who play a major role in supervising elections -- were encouraged to resist bribes and pressures. Troops were reminded that they owed allegiance to the flag, not to an individual. Commission on Election officials were urged to resist pressures and intimidation.

Free and honest elections will restore the public confidence necessary for national recovery, the letter said.

The bishops' letter and the accompanying mass were intended in part to pressure the Commission on Elections to allow Namfrel to conduct its own vote count. In the congregation were the commission chairman and another commissioner, Jaime Opinion. During the mass, Jaime Cardinal Sin of Manila urged that Namfrel's request -- presumably for its own tabulation -- be granted.

Asked for his reaction after the mass, Elections Commission Chairman Victorino Savellano said he did not know to what demands the cardinal was referring. He left the cathedral ringed by his five armed bodyguards.

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