“Tinimbang ka, ngunit…”: an ordinary priest reflects on the 2018 SONA

“Tinimbang ka, ngunit…”: an ordinary priest reflects  on the 2018 SONA

FIRST, credit is due to the chief executive’s people for steering him to a “cursing-free” content and delivery (at least, from my standpoint) of the written piece. In effect, it was easier to listen to his address and focus on the points that deserve attention. Coming from a more-than-an-hour-long suspension due to an unexpected but highly suspicious ruckus involving the position of Speaker of the House being taken over by Representative Arroyo from Representative Alvarez, the leader of the republic might have been ecstatic or angry, but it did not show. Very few, however, believe he was not in the know. Days before the event news media were abuzz with rumors of a change of leadership in the House, courtesy of the presidential daughter’s behind-the-scenes efforts. The rift between these two intense personalities inspired not so secret unfriendly exchanges doubtless fanned and bruited about by media. When people in power quarrel, those closer to the more powerful of them wins. This was no exception.

As a priest and an ordinary citizen I am appalled not at the former Speaker Alvarez’ downfall but at how treacherous politicking and politicians can be. Still, whatever basest of human emotions and behavior transpired before the SONA, no sign of it was visible in the chief executive’s eyes or face. He could have given it his complete blessing or bitter objection but only a few knew, aside from himself. All the more reason politicians and politicking should follow moral norms.

Even the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines teaches that the exercise of the prophetic ministry means not only “criticizing, condemning” and doing “all it (clergy) can to lessen” what is “bad” or wrong in Philippine society but also “enhancing, encouraging, supporting what is good” in it (PCP II 346-347). Thus, even we priests admit the need to support this administration’s obviously good intentions and programs: anti-corruption measures, stronger defense and promotion of environmental protection and of the welfare of migrant workers, genuinely independent foreign policy, more effective ways to uphold our territorial integrity through peaceful means, peace efforts with all stakeholders in Philippine society, truly poor-friendly tax reforms, and the like. I wonder though how these good intentions and programs fare when gauged by important value tools, such as: (1) truth (are they based on true assessment of facts and conditions?); (2) justice (do they give the country and Juan de la Cruz their due at the service of his life, dignity and welfare?); (3) common good (do they really serve the common good as defined by Pope John, i.e., “the sum total of all conditions of social life which enable individuals, families and organizations to achieve complete and efficacious fulfillment” [John XXIII, Mater et Magistra: AAS 53]? Or are the efforts one-sidedly geared towards material and economic development?)

One thing bothered me after listening to the SONA. I believe it should bother all of us. I’m speaking of the president’s re-affirmation of his commitment to pursue the anti-illegal drug war in a way he characterizes as “relentless” and even “chilling”. If this is to mean more forceful application of the law, it is to be welcomed. But if this means more killings and travesty of human rights, no one, not even government forces, can stand on solid moral ground and at the same time continue allowing such actions. It is clear that the administration is less bothered by its human rights violations record than it is by its own dogged determination to achieve success in the anti-drug war. The trouble is that it seems to see success not in people being brought from drug dependence to drug independence. Success is seen in getting rid of whatever and whoever it defines as involved in, or hindering the resolution of, the problem: drug addicts and pushers (mostly poor), drug lords (mostly untouched or at large), and, figuratively or literally, critics (some politicians, some church leaders, some human rights advocates).

Already the chief executive has been taken to task for falsely dichotomizing human rights and human lives. His statement directed to human rights advocates: “Your concern is human rights, mine is human lives” ignores the fact that the right to life is the first and fundamental human right. It is this false dichotomy that is behind the thousands of deaths and killings directly or indirectly related to the drug war. To recognize the right to life of one segment of the population (those outside the drug war) and to deny it of another (drug addicts, pushers, and their kind) dehumanizes everyone ultimately. To deny the right to life of any human being is to deny not only his humanity but even of the one who does the denial.