An onion-skinned government, a consenting people, a persecuted but cautious Church

An onion-skinned government, a consenting people, a persecuted but cautious Church

Be vigilant. Stand firm in the faith. Act manfully and be strong” (1 Cor 16:13).

Sensitiveness is closely allied to egotism. Indeed excessive sensitiveness is only another name for morbid self-consciousness”— Bovee

THE title of this write-up suggests three of the realities perceptible in present-day Philippine society. I know it can be so easy to simply agree with me or sneeze at these observations. But indicators for these are not so hard to come by.

The international community has been taking notice of the country especially since the election of its current head, and mostly not in a flattering light. There is little doubt that perception often takes center stage in our media-(especially-social-media)-driven world. Naturally perception may not be accurate all the time; but it is extremely difficult to shake it off when it is shared by a bothersome few who can stir up difficulties for a Third-World country like the Philippines not only in international power play but also in simple PR.

Nowadays a country may theoretically believe it can run its own affairs as it pleases. Globalization, however, is its harshest reality check. Most countries, particularly those with nebulous colonial past like ours, publicly protest their unflappable determination to achieve their clearly-stated as well as intentionally obfuscated goals of governance. It is at times unnerving to find that certain high public officials could show so much naiveté in believing they can never go wrong in governing simply on the strength of high popularity ratings that a favored leader generates or on the basis of their expertise in local and international laws. The trouble is, no matter how their lady governance model may try to put her best foot forward especially for the consumption of potential investors and avowed allies, her slip sometimes shows, and it does not always look unstained. Take the case of the government’s drug war, the question of human rights violations that have hounded it, and how government critics or opposition figures are treated.

International observers, buoyed by local sources of information and by their own sleuthing, have noted how the drug war has wasted thousands of lives—even if the exact figures are still to be determined—mostly from among the poor. But, apart from silencing formerly drug-infested communities, its efforts have scarcely made a dent on the still-ongoing drug trade spearheaded by big international and local drug lords and syndicates. Very little impact is perceived on these big drug lords in terms of identification, arrests or incarcerations. In fact, of the few who were in jail some personalities were recently released and the act gained for the government a measure of notoriety in the now-infamous Good Conduct Time Allowance scandal. The present dispensation seems to have ignored the fact that many conscientious observers, with power or influence, have been watching. One is almost tempted to ask: Is this country trying, with eyes barely open, to be treated as an international pariah?

And yet when foreign observers, with power or influence, criticize the drug war and its human rights ramifications, as well as the continuing harassment and efforts to publicly shame, isolate or jail local critics, high government officials cry “brazen attempts at interference” in the country’s internal affairs and condemn such acts as “affronts” to national sovereignty. International bodies such as the International Criminal Court, the UN Human Rights Watch and some US legislators have been calling for more objective probes into the same drug war, a more independent justice system to try critics and the release of a lady senator perceived to be confined on trumped-up charges. The local response has been a predictable but hollow recourse to non-interference and critics shaming.

One glaring problem with the present government approach is that it seldom thinks from out of the box. It often behaves like a magician bringing out the same bag of tricks. While its responses are obviously and predictably political defense mechanisms clothed in legal and pseudo-social respectability, it has ignored simple common sense. For instance, responding to criticisms in an obstructionist way does not make the criticisms go away nor make the government an innocent victim of foreign meddling. On the contrary, it only heightens suspicions that the government may be hiding damning pieces of evidence that objective investigative efforts may easily uncover. And, even assuming that the international bodies and organizations are wrong in their perceptions and judgments on the Philippine situation, certainly the current Philippine authorities are not the competent sources to so declare. Their almost blanket refusal to see evil and hear evil in certain realities and policies affecting the drug war’s victimization of the poor, human rights violations and the persecution of critics using the law as weapon does not speak well for their objectivity. One asks: Is this not common-sensical enough?

The Church has been also among those at the receiving end of this persecution. The four prelates who are now facing sedition charges together with some opposition figures may just be some of its unfortunate and very public manifestations. Even the most uninvolved ordinary citizen who happens to be Catholic easily recognizes this; he is the first to recognize that his Church is often regarded with hostile eyes, its priests, bishops and beliefs sporadically subjected to public ridicule and shaming. There have been spirited and loud protestations from both members of the hierarchy and the lay faithful. But since the government has trained its targets on other more pressing issues of governance, the official Church has preferred to stay in the background, cautiously watching. It admittedly rises to make its voice heard from time to time often as a reaction to what it sees as contrary to faith and morals in the country as a whole, not just in the way the present regime does things. Some may feel such actions are not enough or a little too late. That is perfectly understandable.

But ironically the Church’s more-than-two-thousand-years-old counter-cultural Gospel values could also be invoked by powerful people of faith to push the ecclesial community mainly to the side of prudence; thus, our often largely cautious stance.

But I wonder: Would John the Baptist—whose role of preparing the way of the Lord the Church has inherited—have recommended, in times like this, prudence over courage?