REPORTS say the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) has officially endorsed PDP-Laban standard bearer Rodrigo Duterte for president and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. for vice president in the May 9 elections. The INC is known to vote as a bloc, so the camps of Duterte and Marcos were naturally elated by this development. However, it looks like nobody outside of the INC leadership knows why Duterte and Marcos got the nod.

But first a clarification. The INC is a minority religion in the country. A report last year said that based on the 2000 census, 2.3 percent of the population belonged to the INC while almost 81 percent belonged to the Roman Catholic Church. An exit poll by the Social Weather Stations (SWs) in the 2001 midterm elections placed the INC's voting strength at only 3 percent or 1.2 million of the 36.3 million voters at that time.

Also, while the INC votes as a bloc, the estimate is that only at most 80 percent of INC voters could be relied upon to follow the leadership's diktat. One should also consider the recent conflict within the INC that could affect how its members would follow their leaders' endorsement of Duterte and Marcos. A former INC minister, Joy Yuson, raised this point in an ABS-CBN report yesterday.

I am stating this because of the tendency of some people to exaggerate the potency of the INC's endorsement of candidates. Political analysts say this endorsement only matters in a tight race. Still, the INC leadership exaggerates the potency of its endorsement by simply choosing the survey frontrunners.

In the 2010 polls, all but one of the senatorial bets that the INC endorsed won. But the INC released the list of its favored senatorial bets two days after the Social Weather Stations (SWS) released its last survey. As the Rappler article, “How Potent is the INC's Vote Delivery System?” noted, “The INC list mirrored the SWS survey results.” That should partly explain why the INC is currently endorsing Duterte and Marcos. They are the frontrunners in the surveys.

What I am saying is that Philippine elections are decided not by the INC or other minority religions but by the majority Catholic voters. That is why other religions should thank the Catholic Church because it does not vote as a bloc. Imagine if the Catholic Church hierarchy has such power over the faithful that it can dictate on them whom to vote for in an election. Whoever is being endorsed is as good as elected. However, that would be bad for the practice of democracy.

The Catholic Church hierarchy not endorsing candidates in an election has another advantage: it ensures that character and values would be the focus in the selection process and not personalities. By endorsing Duterte and Marcos, the INC essentially threw out of the window objectivity in assessing their qualifications and characters—whether these are consistent with their religious teachings.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on the other hand merely issued as early as in December last year a “Voters' Guide for the 2016 Elections” that is based “on the moral teachings of the Church.”

“The desired qualities of leaders as well as the political options open to the people are proper subjects of the collective discernment of the members of our lay Catholic communities and associations, as long as these take place in the context of prayer, a careful reading of the Scriptures in the light of the Church’s teaching, a sense of fairness and concern for the common good,” it said.

This ensures that the cult of personality, like what has gripped many Duterte supporters, would not damage the electoral process.

( twitter: @khanwens)