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.