THE HEAVENS must be extremely busy listening to Filipinos and other Christians praying ceaselessly for the end of Covid-19. Because of the extended lockdown and rules on social distancing, most of them have had to follow the Holy Mass not physically but online. The Mass is streamed live from various parts—from the Vatican, Bombay, Toronto, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Manila Cathedral, the various parishes of Manila, the Ateneo, the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary in Manaoag, Father Tito Caluag’s ABS-CBN chapel on television, and many others.

At communion, the faithful say to God they love Him “above all things,” but since they cannot receive Him “sacramentally” now, they ask Him to “come at least spiritually” into their hearts. This prayer is inserted after that portion of the Mass that says, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

As a former daily mass-goer, I tend to sigh a little each time I hear these words. God is Love rather than a mere thing, so I think we should love Him above All Else and above All Loves, rather than “above all things.” And since we are not worthy that our Lord should enter under our roof, we should be eternally grateful that we are allowed to receive Him despite our unworthiness, except that we cannot now do so, because of Covid-19. We should then ask to worthily receive Him “spiritually,” without saying “at least.”

Within the same Mass, we recite the “Oratio Imperata” calling for an end to the pandemic. The oratio is a prayer approved by the Church and prayed by the Church. We are not to babble like pagans, so our prayer is supposed to be as direct and as simple as possible, without any ostentatious words. The Our Father, which Christ himself taught us, and the Hail Mary are unsurpassed models of the simplest and most direct prayers. The oratio could shed off a few excisable phrases to rise to that ideal.

In the oratio, the whole Philippine Church follows only one form. But toward the end of the prayer some priests tend to follow their own formula in invoking God’s mercy and the help of the saints. Normally, we first invoke God’s mercy before we invoke the intercession of the saints. But not everyone seems able to do this.

In one particular TV mass, the unseen reader invokes the help of Saints Lorenzo Ruiz and Pedro Calungsod before invoking the mercy of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Sto. Nino de Cebu. The invocation calls upon the second person of the Trinity twice, but equates the devotion of the Cebuanos to the Holy Infant Jesus with the person of Jesus Christ who dwells with the Almighty Father and the Holy Spirit in eternal glory rather than in the Archdiocese of Cebu. Then this version of the oratio invokes the Blessed Virgin’s intercession twice, by calling on her, first as the “Help of Christians and Health of the Sick” and then, as “Our Lady of Fatima.” The same version also invokes the help of Divine Mercy like it’s one of the three persons of the Holy Trinity.

In the same Mass, the priest also prays for the 2022 national elections, which are at least a year away. The prayer is inserted within the Mass, not after it. The same prayer is not found in the Mass said in the Manila Cathedral and in various parishes by Bishop Broderick Pabillo, the Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Manila, or in the Mass by the Dominicans at the Minor Basilica of our Lady of the Rosary in Manaoag or in the Mass said by the Jesuit fathers at Ateneo, or anywhere else. So I suspect the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), which is said to have approved the Oratio Imperata against Covid-19, has nothing to do with it. But it is introduced as “the prayer for the 2022 elections” rather than as “a prayer for the 20222 elections.”

Pandemic or no pandemic, I have nothing against praying for good “servant-leaders” to lead our people; in fact, I pray for it every single day. But I feel it is grievously wrong for us to believe that just by asking the Lord to send us “good men” to participate in a distant election, we are already doing what we can and what we should do to bring about change. We must trust in God, always, but we cannot and must not be naive.

Even if we had a trustworthy electoral system, which we do not have, I doubt that we can hold a credible election in the middle of a pandemic. Were the pandemic to end before May 2022, who is to say that there would be no risk of a resurgence, and that no new rules on social distancing would subsequently be in force? Will the people by then be able to freely assemble and listen to or shake hands with their candidates? Just what kind of election would it be where voters and candidates cannot even congregate? What chances will the children of light have against the children of darkness?

Even if Covid-19 did not exist, the electoral process is totally corrupted; “good men” alone running for public office, without any assurance that their votes will be correctly counted, will not by itself change anything. Corruption will remain the system unless and until our corrupt structures are at least overhauled. A thoroughly cleansed and independent constitutional body should replace the Comelec, and all the safety features and accuracy mechanisms that the law had built into the automated election system but which had been illegally removed or tampered with since 2010, should now be fully and permanently restored.

These include the ballot verification or ultraviolet detector, the source code review, the board of elections’ digital signature, and the voter verified paper audit trail. By these means a candidate should now be able to access physical evidence that he/she has either won or lost in an election, rather than simply depend on the not-incontestable word of the Comelec.

The Venezuelan election provider, Smartmatic, under its British chairman Lord Mark Malloch Brown, should now be booted out, and every phase and aspect of the election process should now be declared a sovereign process, administered solely and exclusively by truly competent, honest, patriotic and God-fearing Filipinos, without the intervention or involvement of foreigners. The nation must now learn to conduct an election the way it was meant to be conducted—to allow the people to freely and wisely choose their leaders, rather than to allow a vested group to impose itself, through manipulation and deceit, upon the masses.

For this purpose the election law must now be strictly enforced to the letter, particularly with respect to when candidates can legally campaign, where they get their money, and how much they can legally spend. Instead of saying that no one is a candidate until they start asking people to vote for them for a particular office—-(this was how Christopher “Bong” Go waged his senatorial campaign in 2016, and this is how so many wannabes are trying to do right now)—- the court should now say that those who promote themselves systematically before an election without declaring their intention to run are in fact undeclared candidates and should be charged with “premature campaigning” when they finally declare their candidacies. Even if they should survive that charge, everything they shall have spent to promote their undeclared candidacy shall be charged against their authorized official expenses as candidates. They will then be automatically disqualified if they exceed the legally authorized limit.

Finally, the voters must change. They must learn to distinguish between what they want in an election and what the nation actually needs; between the cheap political entertainment that popular candidates offer and the real demands of the office they seek; between leaders that can solve the people’s problems and charlatans that make bad things infinitely worse; between the serious democrat and the plain demagogue. Voters must never again sell their convictions or their vote, never again participate in peddling lies against any candidate, but expose any attempt to use money or force or any other means to subvert the value of a single vote or the validity of the entire electoral process. Voters must fight for their right to vote freely and intelligently—with their own lives, if needed.

These, I think, are some of the first things that should be done to make our flawed elections—and our floundering democracy—work. Therefore, instead of simply calling on our Lord to lead good and honest “servant leaders” into the light, I believe we should all try to do the smallest things each of us can do to produce, first of all, an electoral system that will help manifest our genuine faith in God and in ourselves, as we seek to establish a just, honest and truly humane government.