Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Why I am not joining the bandwagon of popular opinion

I got this piece in my inbox days ago. It was written by Fr. Chito, a Salesian priest and my former rector in the pre-novitiate seminary. Rather voluminous, but it's an enriching read, I tell you. So, what are you waiting for? Read on...

You would think that during Holy Week at least, passions will give way to sober reflection, to a more balanced, prudent, and objective reading of events and reality that, once again, for the nth time, seem to stare our national body politic in the face.

I speak about the media frenzy that revolves around the so-called “search” for “truth.”

But before I proceed, let me first of all lay down very clearly what I believe in, and am convinced about:

First and foremost, like every believer with feet firmly planted on the ground, I also value and uphold the search for truth. What truth am I talking about? Being what is known in philosophy as a “universal” term, that big thing called truth needs a little unpacking and unraveling. If all one wants is the flimsy truth about what time is it at any given time and place, that would be an easy thing to find out. One simply looks at – and trusts – a good, functioning watch. But if one wants a more hefty level of truth that goes beyond telling time, say, scientific truth, then we rely on the educated word of scientists, experts, and researchers who have spent all their entire lives on the subject at hand. When it comes to really saying exactly how many planets revolve around the sun, due to my antiquated scientific knowledge, and owing to the fact that I am no astronomer or physicist, the current “truth” about the issue is best left to the scientists. We lesser mortals could wrangle till we are black and blue in the face and the issue will not get resolved with any semblance of credibility and finality, unless we take the word of experts about the issue. For such truth to surface, one consults people who possess expert – and thus – credible, advice.

The airlanes and the streets, along with college and university campuses, are currently filled with so much noise about the search for “truth.” Whistleblower Jun Lozada claims to have spilled the “truth” about massive corruption perpetrated by some key members and allies of the current administration. For reasons that are best known to him, he decided to run to a bevy of nuns and a cacophony of divergent – if, strident – voices from a group made up of traditional politicians, a few Church leaders, religious leaders, and an interesting group of political “has-beens.” Although it is very hard, at any given instance, to clearly identify what truth they are brandishing like a light saber of Star Wars fame, and what truth they are looking for, if one analyzes all the sound bytes from a multiplicity of interested parties and personalities who all mouth the same hue and cry, they all seem to find common cause in the so-called “truth” about the alleged collusion of people in high places, reaching all the way, to Malacanan, on the now household by-word, the botched NBN-ZTE deal.

If, for the sake of argument, the real aim of this motley group is to expose the “truth” about possible criminal activities of people in high places, then I find it very strange that the said process is done on national TV, with no less than the honorable legislators, the Senators, as protagonists. Last thing I heard is, the constitutions of the land safeguards the distinction between three branches of government, and that legislators’ job is not to prosecute, but to legislate. For resolution about our solar system dilemma, we take resort to scientists and ordinarily we take their word for it. But this leads me to another interesting group of players in this ongoing telenovela that is fast becoming a comedy – and, worse – a parody of the judicial system.

Enter the vociferous religious leaders … the scene portraying a crying and shaking, and mortified looking former government employee, who styles himself, “media-hype” style with a cute moniker like “probinsyanong instsik,” segues into an unfolding drama of misplaced passions, misguided zeal, and misdirected acts purporting to be worship and adoration of the true God, with a lot of un-holy anger thrown in for good measure! With their light sabers of “moral truth” and religious “outrage” that would shame the good Lord, driving out the money changers in the temple, they cry out for “truth” even as they lambaste and condemn to hell the persons about whom the very truth they are still searching for has apparently, already been applied hook, line, and sinker, with the full fury of their un-holy anger. Picture the crusader of “truth” personified, and all you can think of is a Roman Catholic Mass hastily organized some place, (designed for maximum media impact and exposure), and after the so-called “sacrament of love and unity,” all you can hear is – quelles orreurs! – hate speeches and slogans asking for heads to roll in government.

Now, the big question … what truth are they really looking for? Given the habits they wear (mostly during rallies, but hardly on other occasions), we could safely assume that they are in search for moral truth. Now, given their theological training and all (some even in renowned universities in Europe and elsewhere), we could safely assume that the moral truth and teaching from Scripture and Tradition, upheld for centuries by the Church they all claim to belong to, has not really changed over the past 8 years (since the devil woman took office!), and definitely not in the last 20 centuries. We could assume that they ought not to be searching for that truth in Ayala avenue, and in university auditoriums, but in theology lecture halls, and in their community prayer and reflection. What truths, for example, are we talking about here? To name some, here they are: sin, injustice, dishonesty, lies and lying, graft, corruption, stealing, bribery … the list is legion. They are all discussed in high school and college theology classes. Every self-respecting catholic or Christian student or former student, could rattle off the moral truths about sin, and its opposite, grace or virtue in the life of the believer.

But what then explains the anger? What explains all the zeal and passion and the fury? I would assume they want something else, on account of the fact that they have found common cause with interesting individuals who really have little interest, and thus, can boast of little love lost for the finer nuances of moral theological thinking ( no matter how much they quote and endlessly misquote the Lord’s words, “the truth will set you free.”). I assume they want more than just the moral truth they ought already to know. I assume they want heads to roll. What else explains the “non sequitur” slogans and name-calling directed against the devil woman and her cohorts?

I would also assume that it is not really so much moral truth they want, as “teachings” that would ride along with what they want. How else explain their vociferous rantings against the bishops, who they claim “are not in touch with reality,” or who “are playing deaf, dumb, and blind” to all the shenanigans being perpetrated by this administration? After the Bishops talked about the moral truth of a “culture of corruption” that is found in all levels of society, after the Bishops took to task the President and called for the dismantling of all obstacles to truth, these self-proclaimed “guardians of morality” now declare the Bishops as hopelessly blind, deaf, and dumb, for their taste? How about venting your ire against some media outfits who have already decided what is true for them? Didn’t the Bishops also call the mass media to task? Didn’t the Bishops also call the so-called oppositionist politicians to set aside their ill concealed ambitions and personal agenda? Weren’t we all cautioned against subverting this and many other issues to our own sinister agenda?

There is something seriously amiss in this highly engaging telenovela. Abetted and supported by the so-called “media moment,” a whistle blower who was part of the system of corruption just a few months ago, has suddenly been catapulted to near-divine status, called a “hero” for modesty’s sake (thank you!). Mobbed and adulated everywhere by the supposed guardians of truth and objectivity, the very people on whom millions of young people depend on for their education, the self-proclaimed “crusader for truth” now inflames the passions of the young, idealistic, and easily manipulable students, who are being doled out daily lessons on how to be a “responsible, “law-abiding,” and “democratic” citizen without really trying hard to respect rule of law. In a clear example of collusion pushed to the extreme, with no parallels in recent history, the guardians and teachers of moral truth, legislators, educators, mass media purveyors, and executives in and out of government, have suddenly decided to become accuser, judge, and executioner all rolled into one.

There is something seriously amiss in this culturally and morally polluted air … To ruin a republic, all one needs is cutesy antics of a self-confessed grafter and corruption peddler, hugs and loving kisses from wild adoring throngs of people who should be very busy educating children in their expensive schools, and a lot of help from the greatest kingmaker of them all – the mass media. They not only report events. No … in these postmodern times, they stir up events, create scenarios, and make heroes come out of the woodworks, and alleged “criminals” fall irretrievably from grace when given a trial by publicity. Pity the veiled specie of the people of the cloth, for mass media purveyors and self-centered politicians with all their not-so-hidden agendas, are having the time of their lives making use, taking advantage of, and getting a whole lot of media mileage, courtesy of these veiled creatures who, like the swine spoken of in the Gospels, have curiously decided to hurl themselves en masse in the arms of this natural-born actor with a penchant for working the crowds with his memorable sound bytes like “bubukol,” and “probinsyanong intsik,” along with well-timed copious lachrymal performances to tag at the hearts of the same swooning veiled creatures. What better media image can you get than having a representative few of the mitered elite, along with hundreds of the veiled class to lend an air of shallow credibility to your cause, never mind if what one hears from both of them is more proper of a Plaza Miranda style “miting de avance” or more akin to a raging fervorino, not from a Padre, but more like from a cadre of Kilusang Mayo Uno?

There is something seriously amiss in this morally confusing times … when everything is held in suspicion. The so-called “hermeneutics of suspicion” is applied everywhere and at all times. The Senate does not trust nor believe in the Supreme Court. The Mass Media have drummed it into the national psyche that nothing will come out if cases are filed in the office of the Ombudsman, owing to the fact that the clueless ombudsman, is reported by media as really playing by the rules of “kamag-anak” or ka-klase” incorporated. Nothing that is remotely related to anything that smacks of the long-arms of Malacanan will ever be taken seriously. With such posturings, what these so-called “oppositionists” really do is dig their own graves. If everyone is so untrustworthy… If all branches of government are “beholden” and if, even “bishops” are under the payroll of Malacanan, with the second biggest archdiocese in the Philippines declared summarily as “the diocese of Malacanan, then who in his right mind would believe the very senators who espouse such a position that pushes all of us dangerously close to anarchy? If there is no one who is trustworthy, no … not even institutions, then who can poor Juan de la Cruz trust? Can we then really trust the honorable senators who now find the time of their lives being, for all practical purposes, telenovela stars who sashay and fret their hour upon the stage called the Senate? If all institutions are that untrustworthy, then why should we trust the Senate at all, on the basis of their own supposedly objective reasoning? And I would like to ask my kind and gentle reader … whom would you rather trust and believe? Those self-proclaimed guardians-of-the-truth women of the veiled class, who despite the honest and sincere declaration of the good Cardinal Archbishop of Cebu that there was no prohibition made on priests to celebrate Masses for Lozada (whatever that means!), continue to rant and rave against the good Cardinal and his alleged prohibition? Tell me … whom would you rather believe? I am not even sure those who belong to the same type and color of the veil those loquacious sisters wear would take them seriously. What they are speaks so loud, people can’t hear whatever they are saying.

There is something seriously amiss in our culture … when prayer meetings are planned and held by hotel pool sides and lobbies, even before the “real action” takes place. There is something seriously wrong with some people’s theology of worship, when Masses are purportedly celebrated for Lozada (why … is he dead yet?) or for “truth.” Since when was there any Mass that was not for truth? When the Lord commanded us to “do this in memory of [me]” could there be any Roman Catholic Mass that is not at the service of saving truth? Unless of course, there is some other truth they want … and that is the big problem.

Second, I would like to state for the record that the great silent majority whom I would like to think I represent, also want to get to the bottom of all these accusations. As a professor of Moral Theology myself, I have, for years, been a passionate voice against a dysfunctional political system that creates a monstrosity called “public service” that has always been associated with guns, goons, and gold. I am not writing this to exonerate anyone. And mind you, I have not taken anyone off the hook! Whilst I was initially sympathetic to the truths that the hero-of-the-day-fast-becoming-a-forgettable-fixture in all our TV screens, has been saying, I simply cannot seem to find it inside me to join the bandwagon of a motley group of interesting characters with agendas as varied as there are faces. I simply cannot see myself being used, manipulated, and taken advantage of, by powerful hidden players who stand to gain from all this political brouhaha of gargantuan proportions.

There is something seriously amiss in our damaged culture… This sounds like a put-down … this smacks apparently of hopelessness. But I would like to think not all is lost yet. I would like to believe that ever so slowly and gradually, the Filipino people is learning precious lessons to live by. With so many accusations hurled against this administration, with so much that they, most likely, are guilty of, with so much of that “culture of corruption” deeply embedded in our society in and out of government, by this time, we should already be out by the millions at EDSA and beyond.

But no … we hold ourselves in check. We really do not need to search for this truth. We already know it in our hearts. We are a corrupt and sinful people. The Bishops are right. We are all in it together. We all co-construct this sinful mess that is Philippine politics. We all have turned it into a monster that feeds on patronage, capitalizes on personalities, and thrives on deceit, manipulation, bribery, and scandal upon scandal. It is no rocket science to ferret out the truth that we already are in the know. Corruption is alive and kicking in and out of government. Whoever is in power now – and then – though most probably are as guilty as hell about what many vociferously accuse them for, did not invent corruption. They may have more responsibility for it, and some of them may have become too callous even to think of themselves as guilty at all of any wrongdoing, but the truth about that is not the problem.

The real problem lies in our ability or inability to handle truth.

For in the final analysis, the silent majority who choose not to be co-opted by the flavor of the month rantings of some of us who may have decided to spill the beans because they were left holding an empty bag, like you and me, already know the truth that the bishops describe. But that truth has to be situated and framed in the bigger context of a real, postmodern, globalized world. Moral truth and our passionate search for practical applications of the same, leads us to look beyond material truth. At a time when our country is teetering closely on the edge of another social upheaval, getting dangerously close to anarchy and utter chaos, given the morally damaging nature of such alleged (and unproven, unsubstantiated accusations), we take resort not to clear, cut-and-dried, one-size-fits-all rule to follow. There is no such thing. We resort to the good, old, prudent process of moral discernment.

Moral discernment does not take refuge in the quick-fix solution called the “blaming culture” that looks for culprits and punishes the culprits mercilessly. Moral discernment is not facetious finger pointing. Since it begins in the heart of each one, it begins with good old acknowledgment of one’s own sinfulness, not that of others. Second, moral discernment does not follow a linear-thinking pattern. Discernment is not at the service of a revolution by impression, but a revolution by contrition. Rock-throwing and muck-raking is the hallmark of Pharisaical, holier-than-thou moralistic do-gooders, who are out for a kill, not out in search for God’s will. “Let him who has no sin cast the first stone.”

Moral discernment, especially in the midst of a veritable dilemma, has to factor in and weigh consequences. In this case, however, contrary to popular perception, it is not a simplistic toss-up between acting and not acting when faced with an allegedly corrupt government (already pronounced guilty by mass media). No … as a moral theology professor, I cannot reduce it simplistically to being confronted by a choice either not to act and watch the guilty parties laugh their way to the bank with their loot, or to go out to the streets and give the “guilty” ones the boot. No … first and foremost, prudence would dictate, and rule of law would corroborate that the accused are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Secondly, as a moral person, endowed by God with the gift of the power of reason, I would like to lay claim to my innate freedom and power of choice. I am not about to be co-opted by the bandwagon of popular opinion that says that if I don’t do anything (the way they want me to) then I support and prop up an evil administration.

No … I have the power to choose to do and act differently. I am not always duty bound to do the right things (right in the sense that the majority thinks it is) right here, right now. But I am bound by the principle of prudence, to do things rightly. And that right means I still have other alternatives. I cannot afford to reduce my existence, my individuation, and my citizenship in this country to either getting beaten or beating anyone or everyone to a pulp. For me to have this power of choice, I need to do moral discernment.

I would like to believe that the silent majority, without many of them knowing it, have been doing this silent act of moral discernment. They weigh consequences. They refuse to be co-opted by the powerful, abusive, and manipulative media. They refuse to join the bandwagon of a noisy few who have decided to “search for the truth” but in the meantime, to also declare by their actuations that they have already found it. Those who watch by in silence (suffering silently in the process) have decided to follow the beat of a different drummer, other than the warring giant media networks and their irresponsible commentators and newscasters (who all have become editorial opinion-makers).

They know the truth that matters – moral truth that concerns them as much as the vociferous few who fan the flames of hatred. As they await the material truth about the extent and nature of collusion of people in high places in this high-profile corruption laden deal, they refuse to be coerced into an action that would bring in more problems than solutions. Believing in their heart that “bonum ex integra causa,” (goodness is born out of the totality), they know they cannot resolve something evil, by resorting to something that is also evil or at least, not good. Believing that if it is truly good, it must be good at its source, in its execution, and in its effects, they cannot find it in their heart to do something that appears good right now, but which will not translate to doing things rightly. Knowing that some of those who push and goad and cajole (and finance this ongoing telenovela) are not exactly the saints that they expect those now in power to be, they hold their ground and wait patiently and prudently. Weighing consequences, without in any way agreeing to the evil that could possibly characterize this administration, they have decided to solve this evil, not by resorting to another evil, but working silently so as to restore trust and faith in the institution that is, after all, designed to uphold the common weal.

Now you know just why I am not joining the bandwagon of those who push this revolution by impression. Simply put, I don’t like the company. “How vain it is to build a fence by destroying a wall on the other side.” (Kahlil Gibran).

Fr. Vitaliano Chito Dimaranan, SDB, MTL, CAS, PhD
Professor of Moral Theology/Pastoral Counselor/Therapist