Sunday, August 2, 2009

Church, Government and Politics

How should the Church deal with a government that is failing in its obligations towards its citizens? Or, the contrary, that is doing right by them? (By “Church”, I don’t mean just the bishops and clergy but all of us who profess its faith.)

The answer many of us gave during the dictatorial regime of President Marcos was critical collaboration/opposition. It was what carried us through the darkest moments of those dark times. The term was first used by the AMRSP (the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines) practically from the very beginning of martial law. (It was later adopted by Cardinal Sin to whom authorship is often attributed—but wrongly.)

Its burden was the soul of simplicity. Of wisdom too. It meant that, however we detested the origin and intent of Marcos’ dictatorial rule, we would cooperate with it in the pursuit of whatever measures it took that we judged were for the genuine good of our people—development projects, for instance, which were truly for their advancement. But we opposed it when it acted against their good. Thus, to use the same example of development projects: when these were advertised for the people’s good but were in reality primarily for the advancement of the businesses of Marcos’ cronies or simply for show to boost his image, we were unsupportive of them.

The operative word was neither cooperation nor opposition but critical. The term didn’t mean just carping or complaining, blaming, fault-finding, but careful and honest evaluation of the good points or bad points of any act or scheme of governance, our criteria of judgment the values of Christ’s kingdom. It called for real discernment—the effort to arrive at a right judgment in one’s thoughts and acts.

In the beginning, we applied the formula mainly to Marcos’ military government. But as it worsened and the NDF, the NPA and their supporters (many of them priests and religious) began pushing aggressively their own ideas of what Philippine society should be according to their Marxist ideology, we had to apply the same formula of judgment to them and their blue-prints for reforming us as a people.

In the end we came to the conclusion that these two contending political forces, whatever were the differences in their mutually exclusive ideas and programs of social reform, were, strangely enough, of one mind in the way they would translate their visions into reality: they were not going to scruple about using force, even violence, in the pursuit of their program of reform—as they were actually doing even then in their struggling against each other for power.

Under those conditions of warring ideologies, we learned to add to our formula of critical collaboration/opposition something else: ANV—active non violence, the peaceful approach to dealing with violence itself. It worked, as we all know, eventuating in the EDSA Revolution of 1986. And working, it discredited both rightist and leftist modes of social change as they were then, militaristic, intolerant of any opposition whatsoever, red-handedly violent. ANV as our ordinary mode of working for justice and social change was later put forward by the PCP II in 1991 as our accepted and proven way of going about translating its twofold message of salvation and liberation into reality.

In all the agitation today about the failures of government, the principle of critical, active but non-violent, collaboration/opposition vis-à-vis its failures and successes, still makes good sense and should at all times mark our approach as Church to government and its acts.

The CBCP’s recent exhortation for the laity to fully take part in politics—the partisan kind—should be received and acted on according to that principle. As the exhortation well brings out, we do not condemn partisan politics as evil. But it becomes such when, in our practice of it, we ignore the fundamental demands of justice, truth, charity, honesty, just so our candidates prevail in the polls. Thus the usual practice of mud-slinging, character assassination, unquestioning loyalty to candidates no matter how corrupt or incompetent they may be, etc.—we all know that these are the unyielding flaws of our political culture. Yet, somehow, every time elections come around, we blithely indulge in them, throwing aside whatever good sense we otherwise possess and make use of in ordinary times!

Critical collaboration, critical opposition: if we could only bring this principle to bear strongly and thoroughly on our politics, especially during elections, perhaps, just perhaps, we will finally be firmly on the road towards the reform of our unregenerate political culture.

I propose we start right now applying the discerning force of the principle to all would-be candidates in the coming elections—to the wildly burgeoning number of presidential aspirants especially. Or we will be forever doomed to getting what we richly deserve: second-rate, and much too often corrupt, public servants.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Church People in Politics II

In last month’s Afterthoughts, I wrote about the lay ministers (Alagads) of Bukidnon and their decision about the possibility of their running for elective office in government even while serving as BEC officers. This was a reversal of a previous policy of not holding leadership roles in the Church concurrently with civil ones. The change was made in view of the nation’s desperate need of principled politicians—a new breed of public servants who will be truly men and women of unselfish service to their constituents, the exact opposite of the “trapos” who make a mockery of the name “public servant” and are the cause of much of what is wrong with our nation today.

In last month’s column, I failed to mention a deciding factor in the change of policy regarding the Alagads’ entry into politics. It was the realization that by taking on the role of Church ministers, they didn’t lose their lay status, and therefore still had all the rights and obligations of their lay state. Their vocation as laity remained intact for the sanctification primarily of family and the work place.

In this month’s column, I’d like to look at another kind of Church people in politics, more specifically, at clerics running for elective office in government. It is a development that seems to be on the increase not only here in the Philippines but elsewhere too, in developing nations especially.

The usual arguments against priest-politicians is that the doctrine of the separation of Church and State forbids clerics from government roles and Church law likewise forbids the same. The first argument does not seem conclusive as priests do not lose citizenship rights by becoming ordained ministers of the Church. The second argument is the more cogent one as it is a direct prohibition from the positive law of the Church. The law is there, but it strikes me that no reasons are given for the prohibition. Canon lawyers—and Church historians—should be able to enlighten us on how the prohibition came about. For it is a relatively recent development if we consider how bishops and cardinals often held high government posts all through the Middle Ages in Europe. There wasn’t any problem where there was union of Church and State as in Spanish times in the Philippines, for instance, when Archbishops of Manila sometimes held the post of Governor of the islands. The change came about, it seems, as a result of the Enlightenment.

Whatever reasons are advanced from civil or Church law against clerics holding elective posts in government, I wonder whether the greatest reason is the verdict I once heard farmers in Bukidnon pronounce over too much political activity on the part of priests: dili angay—it is not fitting, it is not kosher. As far as I could see, they didn’t think it was right for a priest to wield influence in one sphere (the religious) and to use the same in another (the civil or political).

I agree wholeheartedly. The reform of our political culture is primarily the task of the laity. Pope Benedict says as much in his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est.. Hence it seems for clerics to turn politician is to usurp the role and responsibility of the laity. And if they insist on doing so, it seems the proper thing for them is to be laicized completely, re-assume all the rights and responsibilities of lay folk by becoming laicized. A priest who suffers the penalty of suspension while holding a political job seems to me to be having his cake and eating it too, as the pithy saying goes, for even in suspension a priest remains a priest and the possibility of returning to the clerical state is always open to him.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Church People in Politics I

The Alagad (lay ministers) program of the diocese of Malaybalay is as old as the diocese itself, starting as it did forty years ago shortly after the province of Bukidnon was carved out of the Archdiocese of Cagayan and made an independent Prelature Nullius. Their training process was for the work they would be doing as leaders of basic ecclesial communities (BECs) in their respective barrios, centering mainly on their conducting of the Sunday (priest-less) worshiping of the community, bible sharing and pastoral planning especially. But there were other areas covered too, like Christian family life, the Church’s social doctrine, community organizing, spirituality, etc.

But starting this year, the program may well have to include a crush course on how to be a Christian public servant. A politician, in other words. For up to now, the one condition imposed on men wanting to serve as Alagads was that if ever they ran for public office, they would have to stop acting as Church ministers. The reason behind the prohibition was to forestall the entry of people who would take advantage of their position in the religious community to build themselves up for a political career later. Wrongly or rightly, that was what we judged best for our fledgling program from our understanding of Philippine political culture. Recently however, the diocese decided to lift that long-standing prohibition and allow Alagads to remain in their ministry even as elected government officials if they ran and won..

The reason for the change is the admission that the nation’s politics has sunk down to terribly low levels. Good men and women, principled public servants—these are clearly the desperate need of our times and not harnessing such potential good leaders for the good of the country does not seem to be the right way to go. It’s a prudential judgment of a Church that seeks to be relevant to its people’s life as it is being lived now, in the same way that the previous prohibition was also a prudential judgment that was deemed to be fitted to conditions then.

A proviso for the change has been made and accepted, namely, that Alagads-turned- politicians must religiously attend the usual Alagad meetings and continuing education seminars. They are also asked to be open to fraternal correction by their peers should they stray from the straight and narrow and behave like ordinary “trapos”, conscious that their reputation as a body rises or falls with the probity or lack of it of their politician members.

One other factor of relevance to the contemplated change is the sense—something that has grown in our consciousness with our experience of BECs—that perhaps it is time now to look for the reform of our political culture not from the top but from the bottom of our highly stratified society. What the Left kept hammering away at in martial law times to get us to support their armed struggle option was that people in power do not easily, if ever, give up power: they had to be eliminated, by violent force if necessary. And at the time they were unrelenting in saying it was necessary. We accept their negative reading of people in power but not their suggested method of change! Our rural folk who are always at the short end of the stick in the nation’s evils are helpless before the corruption of the big people up there in the highest reaches of Philippine society. But down there at their level, they see they have a handle on the corruption of their barrio officials. If they cannot get at the sophisticated thieves at the top, they can at the petty ones at the bottom, and they understand all too clearly the intertwined web of corruption of one level with another, barrio with municipal, municipal in turn with provincial and national and so on in our marvelous system of patronage and kick-backs. It is at the barrio level they can come to grips with that system. And if it is true that the larger problem is our easy condoning of political corruption as the perquisite of office of elected officials, then it is one that has to do with a general over-hauling of our values as a people. That radical change can take place when whole communities band together as one, as in the BECs, to combat the evil in a concerted manner. That banding together in common cause is what we call people power, the moral force that, contrary to current despair, is still very much alive in functioning BECs.

Will it work? A desperate measure from all appearances, a last ditch effort, as it were, to break our slide as a Catholic people into destructive despair. We have reason to hope it will if BECs follow through as the vehicles of change and self-correction in the way they have so far been proving themselves to be.

One misgiving, however, occurs to me at the change of directions of the Alagads of Bukidnon: Will the about-face in their tradition inevitably lead to the formation of Catholic political parties? Or at least of a Catholic vote, the possibility even of block-voting similar to the practice of the Iglesia ni Kristo?

I trust not. For that is not a consummation to be desired or aspired for. Politicized religion is not what we should be ending up with in our attempts to make our faith effective in the reform of our political order and culture. If there is going to be an authentic Catholic vote, it will be along the lines of voters exercising their suffrage franchise in principled ways: not buying or selling votes, not cheating, not destroying others by untruths and slanders, not doing what passes as standard political practice in our nation today—as the bishops have been repeating over and over each time election year comes around. With little success. So it’s a tall order, yes, but necessary and obligatory for all of us who profess to be men and women of religion to try one more time.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Will There Be a Resurrection?

THAT question was put to me the first Easter season after martial law was imposed—the darkest moment of a dark period in our life as a nation when it looked like there was no way out of the utter hopelessness that was the New Society. It was no less than Ninoy Aquino himself who asked the question. And it is one that comes back now and again to haunt us like a perduring nightmare as we lurch as a nation from crisis to crisis brought about by the bad politics that has been our lot these past few years.

The day Ninoy asked me the question was the first and only time I met him in the flesh. I can’t remember now how I phrased my answer exactly, only that I confidently told him there would be a resurrection. And I meant not only the kind that Christ promised to all who believe in him but the rising too of the nation from the death of democracy we were all suffering from then. He seemed rather skeptical at my answer, and I remember telling myself I would be too if I had undergone the traumatic experience he had had in the jails of the New Society.

He and Senator Pepe Diokno were among the very first ones taken in and dumped in prison the day martial law came into effect on September 22, 1972.

The Dioknos had asked me if I could go over to the prison camp the senator and Ninoy were being held in and say Mass for the family. I did, and Ninoy was allowed to join us. Both prisoners were under heavy guard, and their watchers—I wondered why they had to be as ostentatiously armed as they were that morning when all they had before them were totally harmless civilians—they watched us assiduously and heard everything that was said during and after the Mass, including the question and the answer about the resurrection. We talked freely knowing they were all ears.
It took 13 years for the resurrection of the nation to take place at EDSA, and only then because Ninoy had to be killed first. That morning we didn’t know our rising was going to be contingent on his dying.

It’s now 23 years since that resurrection and conditions in the nation today force us to feel as though we were immured once again in a dark tomb. So Ninoy’s question comes back to haunt us like a bad dream: “Will there be a resurrection?”
As in 1973, I can confidently say yes, there will be one. Not once, but again and again. Just as there will be other entombments, other deaths, that we will go through as a people.

Whence this confidence? It is from what the PCP II—the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines—says about us Filipinos being a basically decent people as I quoted in my last column. Sooner or later, we will wake up, as we did in 1986, and start doing something in earnest about our evil situation. It need not be another EDSA—the overthrowing, peaceful as the manner might be, of a bankrupt political order. There are many forms that our waking up will take. But for now, the hope is it will be in the upcoming elections next year as the agitation builds up against the kind of politics that continues to keep us in thrall.

But there is something else besides that decency that I know will carry us through. We do have another solid characteristic as a people that I’m confident will help bring about that hoped for resurrection: our native resilience—our ability to bounce back after misfortunes and death-dealing disasters. Earthly, natural disasters like tsunamis and earthquakes and super-typhoons. Man-made disasters too, like oppressive kleptocracies, such as we had a generation ago, such as we have even now in the rampant corruption that scars our life today, all sorts of evil life-conditions. These are no match for that resiliency I speak of.

I like to think it comes—like the decency that the PCP II speaks of—from our Christian faith. And this is what gives us hope.

Because as a Christian people, we are a people of the resurrection. A people of hope. A people that strongly believes no matter what kind of death throes we may be undergoing even now, there will be a rising from the dead. It’s the same kind of hope that the Pope in his Easter message says the world today desperately needs in the face of the enormous problems confronting nations everywhere.

“Will there be a resurrection?” As I said, I can’t remember at this remove in time precisely how I phrased my answer to Ninoy’s rather skeptical question. But the gist of it I know was exactly as I’ve just written. And if I can say so with confidence, it is from faith in the Son of Man who did rise from the dead and promised that we, as individuals and as communities, would do the same, repeating, replicating, the mystery of Easter morning in our lives. In big and small ways.
The joy of Easter, its power, its renewed life, continue to be ours as a people.

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Basically Decent People

“If we go by the media reporting today on crimes of violence, graft and corruption, abuse of power, the many grave social ills that plague our nation, we have to wonder about our claims to Christianity. Yet we should not exaggerate our failures. But neither should we minimize them. There is much of the Gospel that has become part of us—compassion, forgiveness, caring, piety—and makes of us a basically decent people. So even as we speak of change and renewal, we see we have a solid base to build on. . .”

The words quoted above are from the final document of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines which was held back in early 1991. I quote them here because what they lamented 18 years ago about “crimes of violence, graft and corruption, abuse of power” etc. still characterize very much—perhaps even more depressingly so—our life today. And they also carry a message that we sorely need to remind ourselves of today.

That Council was called for the purpose of renewing our life as a Church—and through the Church, the nation. But today, a full 18 years later, that renewal still eludes us. So we try again as we have tried again and again with each season of Lent—as we are doing right now in this Lenten season of 2009. Each time we do this reviewing and repenting, the current year always seems to be worse than the last. And that’s the reason I quote here what the PCP II said in 1991: to remind ourselves that, whether our social ills are the same or worse, we nonetheless are what the Council says: still a basically decent people, still possessed of “a solid base to build on” for the momentous and ever-pressing task of religious and social renewal. A make-believe, self-deceiving attitude? I don’t think so. The alternative is to give in to the temptation to despair.

The Council document urges us not to exaggerate nor minimize our failures. A balanced way of assessing hard reality, it is something we might be lacking in these difficult days. I strongly suggest hence that we ponder them over and over in what is left of this Lenten season. For the times are hard. And the temptation is there to despair, crushing, deceptive. But good times or bad, our task of evangelizing presses us on. And no matter how daunting are the circumstances of living, no matter the difficulties put in our path in our stumbling efforts to be faithful to the Gospel, the persistence of wrong-doing, the rampant corruption, the never-ending thieving, all that is bad in the politics of the nation, we must press on confident that somehow, despite our weak faith and weaker doing of its mandates, God’s grace will come through and work good despite our many evils.

But what is that “solid base” that the PCP II document says we are to build on? I thought I’d best answer the question with something I learned as a young priest.

Back in the mid-60s after ordination, I was sent to Bukidnon while still engaged in graduate studies to familiarize myself with the work of our Jesuit missionaries there. I remember attending a meeting of priests where one of them used “nominal Catholics” to describe the people’s faith and their practice of it. An Italian missionary, freshly exiled from Communist China, on hearing the term went ballistic: “Nominal Catholics, my eye!” he stormed. “You don’t know what you are talking about!” We were all taken aback by the vehemence of his outburst. In stunned silence, we listened as he went on more calmly:

“None of you have had the experience of living in a non-Christian milieu. I have. In my old mission, people suffered much from the incursions of bandits. These would barge into town, ravaging the helpless townspeople, robbing, raping, killing. Time and again, after their raids, you would see raid victims lying around murdered in the streets. And nobody would dare touch them. Killings happen here too at every fiesta. [Bukidnon in those days of heavy migration from the Visayas was like the Wild West of cowboy-Indian lore in the States.] But here, when killings occur of total strangers, sooner or later, without fail, someone would come and take their bodies off the streets, care for them unasked. Theirs are the acts of real Christians!” And he ended with the observation that our people were no less Christian than his own in his native Italy.

Basic decency—we Filipinos have that? Bombarded as we are day in, day out by horrendous reports of corruption and sleaze, it is easy to forget that we are, despite our bad press, by no means a nation of criminals. The sins of the few are generalized to the many, their evil repute foisted on the many, and we suffer, not only in the way the rest of the world looks at us but in a real diminishment as well of the good life.

But precisely because this is so, we have to ask why the many good and decent folk allow the not so good and not so decent few to flourish and decide for us what we are to suffer. So, as our thoughts turn towards repentance and metanoia, I suggest we give that question more than a passing thought. For the answer we give it will be hard proof of our claim to Christianity and will help bring the peace of Christ more deeply into our life as a nation.

A basically decent people—the corruption of some should not, does not, make us less so. But all the more reason then that we build our Lenten renewal on the fact.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Solidarity and Citizenship Building

IT’S an unyielding mystery to many observers of the Philippine scene how we Filipinos are so thin-skinned about any slur, real or imagined, that foreigners cast on us as a people; but when year in, year out, studies on corruption world-wide invariably place us among the lowest ranked, i.e., the most corrupt, of all the countries surveyed, we hear not a word of protest, not even a whimper. Possibly because we do not need those studies to tell us something we already know in our guts to be the unvarnished truth?

The mystery is deepened when we consider how we take inordinate pride in our being “the only Christian nation in Asia” (a title no longer ours since 2002 when East Timor became independent), yet somehow are not bothered much, if at all, by the negation of that proud claim by the corruption that has become so entrenched in our nation’s life. What this strange fact seems to point to is that we are all somehow willing accomplices in the crime of the guilty few among our people. But are we?

Lent will soon be upon us, a time of conversion, of renewal. It is as good a time to ask that question seriously for our renewal as a Christian people. Since our Alay Kapwa theme for this year is Citizenship Building and Solidarity towards a Culture of Peace and Integrity of Creation, we can’t do worse than make citizenship and solidarity the focal points of our effort at renewal. For in the noxious climate of corruption we live under these days, it is precisely the lack of authentic citizenship and solidarity that characterizes those among us who are notorious for battening, at our expense, off the poisoned fruits of corruption. It is the lack too in those of us who accept without a murmur of protest the destructive evil that their unfettered corruption is causing the nation.

Yet it is not just any kind of citizenship or solidarity that we must build to spur us on to action. Not sheer patriotism or nationalism. Not pride in ourselves as a people or love of country that puts loyalty to nation above everything else. Not any of these. Neither is the solidarity we seek just any kind of unified thinking or action, any kind of cooperative work or endeavor for a common end. The citizenship and solidarity we need and must build cannot but be Christian citizenship and Christian solidarity, that is, citizenship and solidarity that are solidly sourced in the faith of the Gospel and that impel us to work selflessly, mightily, for the common good. Such was the citizenship and solidarity that the late Pope John Paul II, in his time, exhorted us again and again to develop and nurture in ourselves.

How do we make this happen? Where do we begin?

Last year, at the start of the Lenten season, our bishops suggested that we come together and form ourselves into discerning groups—“communities of discernment” they called them—to see what the besetting problems of the nation are, to ask what we could do together about those same problems. Their suggestion did not, unfortunately, receive the wide response it should have gotten, even though we already have, ready-made, thousands of such communities of discernment in our BECs—these should by all means be mobilized for that purpose.

This year it has become even more urgent that we try again to do as they asked in view of our worsening political—and economic—situation.

General elections are scheduled for next year and the frenzied efforts by self-interested politicians to make them utterly academic by their determined attempts to change the constitutional charter before then—and only in order for them to remain longer in power—are all that we hear about these days. Are we to let them have their way? For their way is a big part of the corruption that we say we must do something about now.

In our discerning, we will most certainly find there is no one answer to the many evils our nation is suffering from. But in concentrating on the one sin of corruption, we should be able to see that our simple coming together in genuine Christian citizenship and solidarity is already an act that strikes at the roots of that destructive sin and the evil culture it has given rise to. For it is precisely the will to act together unselfishly for the common good from a strong sense of faith that is the necessary condition for the correcting of that unacceptable culture: That will to act for the common good negates from the very start what is wrong about the primary principle of the corrupt, namely, the putting of their private good before the common good of us all.

What specific acts will be decided in our coming together to discern how to move effectively against corruption in its many forms? That will depend on the creative imagination of the discerning groups we form. At this stage we can only suggest strongly that we do not forget the place of prayer in our communal action against our great evil—prayer for enlightenment and wisdom to do what is best by our people, prayer for strength, for courage, for heaven’s help. Now more than ever, we need the Spirit of Wisdom and Understanding to be with us.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Of Laughter and Red-hot Coals—the Humor that Saves

CAN our vaunted Filipino sense of humor be harnessed to help us get through the sickening corruption of our times? The question occurred to me when I received the two jokes recounted below from an American religious, Marist Brother Kevin O’Neill, who’d worked with us once in Malaybalay. The jokes, evidently, are going the rounds of Filipino communities in the States that he is in close touch with.

The first is about how corruption is supposedly looked at differently in America than in the Philippines.

Q. What’s the difference between corruption in the US and the Philippines?
A. In the US, they go to jail. In the Philippines they go to the US.

And the second is about Filipino super-expertise in corrupt practices:

Three contractors are bidding to fix the White House fence. One is from the Philippines, another from Mexico and the third an American. They go with a White House official to examine the fence. The American contractor takes out a tape measure and does some measuring, then works some figures out with a pencil.

“Well,” he says, “I figure the job will run to about $900: $400 for materials, $400 for my crew and $100 for me.”

The Mexican contractor also does some measuring and figuring. “I can do it for $700”, he says. “$300 for materials, $300 for my crew, and $100 for me.”
The Filipino doesn’t do any measuring or figuring, but leans towards the White House official and whispers: “$,2,700.”

The official, incredulous, says: “What? You didn’t even do any measuring like the other guys! How did you come up with such a high figure? How do you expect me to consider your service with that bid?”

“Easy,” the Pinoy explains, “$1,000 for you, $1,000 for me, and we hire the guy from Mexico.” The next day, the Pinoy and the Mexican are working on the Fence.

Jokes only—but with a special sting (because right on target?): the first reminds us that the worst practitioners of the “art of corruption” among us are the relatively well-off, people who really don’t have to steal to survive and who almost always get away with their criminal thieving. The second shows how our supposed penchant for improvisation makes for superior inventiveness even in corruption—a deplorable misuse of a God-given talent?—and for ease in enticing others to become complicit in its evil. Actually, it is this same devious talent that prompts the thoughts I’m proposing for consideration in this column: Is it possible for us to think of humor not just as a mechanism to cope with the evils corruption brings in its wake but for something more drastic—to imaginatively, creatively use humor as a means of purging the body politic of the poison that it is?

The reasoning behind my proposal is probably most simplistic, but I put it down in black and white anyway in the hope that it will catch and start more of us thinking along its lines. I have only two arguments to make: one from Philippine culture, another from Christian faith.

First, from culture: If there is one glaring defect common to the corrupt in our nation today it is their utter shamelessness. So we should ask ourselves: Can humor—jokes, laughter, even ridicule at their expense—help cure them, re-enkindle in them an ordinary Filipino sense of hiya? I don’t know for sure, but I believe it’s worth trying. Add this to the praying I suggested in my last column as one thing we could do.

And secondly, from faith: Prayer and ridicule don’t seem to go together. In fact the latter could well deny the former, at least in this sense, that it seems to sin against Christian charity. But then Christ himself constantly used ridicule against his enemies among the Pharisees of his time. And so did Paul the Apostle in his quarrels with Judaizers. He even talks of pouring red-hot coals over the heads of one’s enemies by doing good to them (see Romans, 12, 21)—something we will be doing to our corruptors if we are to be able to help them, through ridicule and humor, to cease from continuing the harm they’re doing. So, pouring burning coals on their heads, as Paul teaches? It is a thoroughly Christian act of charity that we should give more thought to in the intransigent fix we are in as a people. For laughter and humor can indeed be salvific—for both the corrupt themselves and the victims of their corrupt ways.

An afterthought: If the jokes I cited above are being widely circulated among Filipino expatriates in America, I suspect it is in reaction to the deep shame they feel in the constant citing of their country of origin as one of the most corrupt in the world today. So they trade jokes—even painful ones—for their possible cathartic effect.