Philippine Catholic Church Rethinks Politics Under New President Marcos

Manila, Philippines

The Philippine Catholic Church threw everything into the 2022 presidential election. Clerics broke with decades of political neutrality to speak out against the campaign of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., son and namesake of the island’s infamous dictator. Thousands of priests, bishops, deacons and nuns supported his main opponent, Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo. The top lay council promised to give her “the Catholic voice” on May 9 – a hypothetically powerful bloc for a country that is 86% Catholic.

But it never happened.

Weeks before polling stations opened, many bishops were gearing up for disappointment. At a secret meeting in Manila on April 6, prelates brooded over projections showing the vast, consistent lead of the Marcos camp. The question they faced then is the same they face today as the late dictator’s son gears up to take office on Thursday: What will be the role of the Church in a new Marcos era?

Why we wrote this

Should a church lead its flock both politically and spiritually? In the Philippines, a new Marcos administration has Catholic leaders rethinking decades of inactivity and taking on more responsibility in the political sphere.

For the past month, bishops, priests and lay leaders have struggled with the loss of the elections and reflected on their future responsibilities to the congregations. While some see the election results as a signal that the Church is no longer relevant in the political sphere, religious leaders are seeking to correct the course through a slew of new programs designed to monitor and promote good governance—something that many in the higher echelons of the church hierarchy agree that it is lacking in their 21st century ministry.

Jayeel Serrano Cornelio, a sociologist of religion at Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila University, says the Catholic Church “misunderstood the real sense of community” and “overestimated its authority” during the recent elections. He believes that the Church’s political influence can be restored by organizing and mobilizing the community at the local level.