The Good Shepherd, the Sheep and Elections
By Rev. Canon David B. Tabo-oy
27My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. v28I give them eternal life, and they shall never die. No one can snatch them away from me. v29What my Father has given me is greater than everything, and no one can snatch them away from the Father’s care. John 10:27-29
The tenth chapter of John’s gospel talks about the most famous image of Jesus which he himself claims, the Good Shepherd. The timing of this gospel reading appointed for this Sunday, the fourth in Easter season is very suitable. It is so because this Monday is the day we choose the men and women that will shepherd us for the next three years – either to green pastures or to the pastures of want and miseries. Let us meditate on the character of the Good Shepherd and pray earnestly that it will guide us to the right choices in this coming election.
”When the hired man, who is not a shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees a wolf coming, he leaves the sheep and runs away; so the wolf snatches the sheep and scatters them. The hired man runs away because he is only a hired man and does not care about the sheep. vI am the good shepherd” (vv.12-15). Promises. We have heard it before and we heard them again for the past weeks of political campaigns and read them in their fliers. Most likely they remain as such. The above words of Jesus should give us a measuring rod on the worthiness of the political leaders on what they are promising- and decide if we should elect them into office. A shepherd-leader is not obsessed of what he gets for him/herself but how he or she can give to the people. Service without qualifications.
Here are some concrete issues and the ideal advocacies of candidates on the same by which we can be guided on who we shall choose our shepherds in the next three years.
1. JUSTICE A candidate or political party is working for SOCIAL JUSTICE if he/she/they is/ are upholding and pushing for: • Genuine land reform – those who toil the land are given their due as responsible stewards, thereby effecting a primary redistribution of land, the source of food for life. Rampant land grabbing and the cancellation of Certificates of Land Ownership Awards (CLOA) and Certificates of Land Transfer must be stopped as well as conversion of agricultural lands into golf courses, big foreign plantations, etc. • Just wages and job security as opposed to low wages and labor contractualization – those who work in industries are given an equitable share in the fruits of their labor as well as participation in management and decision-making. The recognition of workers’ rights to form unions to effectively address their grievances is a basic right. • Housing, education, health care and other basic social services – people are guaranteed their right to life and enjoy provision for basic human needs. These can be done by strengthening basic services like housing and decent relocation sites for the urban poor, free or affordable health services, and low and reasonable prices of goods. Likewise, yearly or semestral increases in matriculation fees must be regulated if not stopped. The increase in the national budget for education and other basic social services as stipulated in our Constitution should be enforced. Moreover, the increasing trend to privatize public hospitals should be opposed. • Equal opportunities for women – women are recognized and empowered as co-equals of men in nation building. Laws regarding violence against women must be strictly enforced.
2. PEACE A candidate or political party is working for PEACE if he/she/they is/are upholding and pushing for: • Peace Negotiations – principled peace negotiations between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) based on mutually agreed upon conditions to help end the decades-old armed conflict must be pursued. • Respect for human rights – there is interplay of views and strong adherence to the protection and promotion of human rights, encompassing both civil liberties as well as the rights of people in responsible and responsive community. To address the problem of extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances and other human rights violations, the recommendations during the Universal Periodic Review on the Philippines by the United Nations Human Rights Council should be followed especially the recommendation to prevent HR violations by the AFP and the PNP. International rights covenants that the country is a signatory to should be followed to the letter also. Those imprisoned for their political beliefs should be freed. Laws against torture and enforced disappearances should be strictly enforced.
3. RIGHTEOUSNESS. A candidate is RIGHTEOUS and is for GOOD GOVERNANCE if he/she treats the public office as a public trust and not as a means to enrich oneself, and if he/ she: • Has a clean track record in public service – the candidate should not have any record of corruption and of giving special favors to relatives and friends. The candidate should not have any record of human rights violations and oppression to women and the poor.
4. NATIONAL SOVEREIGNITY. A candidate or political party is working for the NATION’S INTEREST AND SOVEREIGNTY if he/she/they is/are working for: • National Industrialization – basic and vital industries are under the effective control of the national community. A primary example for this is the nationalization of our oil industry by working for the repeal of the Oil Deregulation Law in order to prevent the continuous increase in the price of oil. • Review and scrapping of agreements and treaties that infringe on our national sovereignty – The Philippine Constitution safeguards our national sovereignty, this should be upheld and treaties and agreements that are decidedly unfair to the Philippines and can bring unpeace like the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the Balikatan exercises, the Mutual Logistics Support Arrangement (MLSA), Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the like, should be reviewed and scrapped. • Prioritization of economic sovereignty over globalization – impositions and dictates of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank (WB), General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade-World Trade Organization (WTO) wreak havoc on our economy by allowing the unrestrained entry of foreign goods in our market which affect our local production. Likewise, laws that support and promote globalization like the Retail Trade Liberalization Law, Oil Price Deregulation Act, Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA), and other similar laws should be repealed or scrapped. The plans to further privatize our water resources and public hospitals should also be stopped. • Non-payment of onerous loans – onerous loans should not be paid especially those loans used to fund environmentally destructive projects like the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, the Chico River Dam Project, and such, which are a bane to the people. Foreign debts, which are burdens to us, will most likely be burdens of the coming generations.
5. INTEGRITY OF GOD’S CREATION A candidate or political party is working for the INTEGRITY OF GOD’S CREATION if he/she/they is/are upholding and pushing for the protection and nurture of the physical environment to ensure ecological balance and intergenerational equity. This can be measured if he/she/they is/are calling for: • The repeal of environmentally destructive laws like the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 which gives big foreign mining companies the license to freely disembowel our environment. Push “for a mining policy that places the primacy of the industrial development of this country and benefits for the people of this republic…a Mining Bill that places serious regard to the defense of our national sovereignty and patrimony as our Constitution so declares”. (excerpts from Bishop Rex B Reyes III Pastoral Letter, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines)
While these qualifications may be supremely ideal, well, that is what elections should be: to elect the best of the best for the ‘best’ well-being of the people!
Sheep have one particularly admirable quality. They will follow their shepherd wherever he leads them. They have learned to know him and trust him. They are not easily distracted by another shepherd. Move three flocks into a field, place three shepherds at three strategic points and have each of them issue a call. The sheep will sort themselves. You will not need brands to recognize which sheep belongs to which shepherd. Every animal will only follow his/her shepherd.
The people of God have been placed in a very large field that is often called the world. Many voices are calling us to come and join them. The voice of materialism wants us to deny our faith in the supernatural and believe only in the physical world. The voice of consumerism calls us to fulfill our envy by overspending on vacations, cars, clothing and a home. The voice of entertainment wants to fill our lives with media driven flashes that grab our attention, isolate us from our family and friends and then leave us with nothing but an oversized bill.
Leadership. We all want good leadership. Good shepherds to lead us in and out of green pasture. We vote hoping to elect them, we apply for jobs hoping to work for it, and we go to school hoping to be educated by it. But we do not always find it. The trust we place in our leaders can be broken. The 10th chapter of the Gospel according to John points toward answers. The wonderful vivid portrait of a shepherd caring for his sheep. The shepherd would lead his sheep out to distant areas and stay there for days. Being a good shepherd he created a temporary corral, a pen to keep the sheep in when they were not grazing. Using crude stones of the field a shepherd could quickly put together such a structure and at night he would lay his body down in the opening of his corral making himself the door. No sheep could wander away at night unless it stepped over the sleeping shepherd and no wolf or any wild animal or a thief could come in to do harm or steal without waking the shepherd. He is the gate, the door.
Let us pray.
O God, whose Son Jesus is the Good Shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, ,one God, for ever and ever. Amen.