Friday, June 4, 2010

GMA's Presidency

Dear Director Manoling:I write for two key reasons: first, to thank you for the generosity with which you have always heeded the requests of my choir; second, to share with you my thoughts on PGMA's presidency, as the curtain falls on it! You never mince words, you speak your mind out, and you did not take up the refrain of demagogues. In these respects, we are kindred spirits!I cannot understand why we cannot be grateful, and why some go to such lengths as to demonize PGMA, labelling her as 'the most hated president' who ever was. Is not gratitude a mark of nobility? If it is, then do we not exhibit a distressing decline in nobility in the measure that we refuse to be grateful? It was a controversial presidency, to be sure, but that was also in large measure because arrayed against her were powerful, vested interests with immense resources at their disposal with which to erode public trust and confidence in the President. That is not what a democracy is, and that is not what the freedoms of our Constitution were meant to protect. In fact, I am ever more convinced that the way media has conducted itself has been a disservice to democracy -- training its resources in favor of an anointed candidate and its most virulent of attackes on an incumbent President.Dinky Soliman is a good example. She accepted the post of DSWD Secretary but in a recent interview assailed GMA's presidence as doubtful in its legitimacy from the very start. If GMA's election to office was, to her, doubtful, why did she accept appointment? Was this not reprehensible duplicity on her part? Ms. Soliman's decision to quit the Arroyo Government was her's, and for whatever reasons she resigned, her decision must be respected. But it is quite another to question the legitimacy of a President from whom one received the benefit of high public office!In fact, aside from the "Hello, Garci" incident -- blown completely out of proportion by the media -- what proof was there that GMA cheated FPJ? In fact, qualification-wise, was it not crystal clear, except to sycophants, that FPJ was woefully non-qualified for the Presidency of the Republic? Loren Legarda filed with the Supreme Court an electoral protest against Noli de Castro. If, in fact, ballots were tampered with to favor GMA, would the Supreme Court not have taken note of this in its judicial revision of ballots, especially since "President" is only one space away from "Vice-President"? But the Supreme Court found no such thing, and Loren's thousands, perhaps millions, spent on the protest were for naught! What was "Hello, Garci" all about? Never did GMA say "I'm sorry", admitting that she had called up Commissioner Garcellano to tamper with returns. She rather said "I'm sorry" that she made a call which many took to be improper --and that does not yet mean that it was necessarily improper because fault-finders can always find fault even in the innocuous!The world reeled from an economic crisis, and the economies of many prosperous and developed countries went from boom to bust -- but we were spared even a recession. Should we not be saying 'thank you' for an economist-President who steered the ship of state through very choppy waters?Again, so much was made of the ZTE deal: But exactly what was the illegality that the President is supposedly guilty of? Significantly, despite the Senate's length inquiry puctuated by the antics of showmen disguised as legislators, none could put a finger on the culpability of the President. ZTE, a Chinese corporation, was selected, because the government of the PROC, that granted the soft-loan for the national broadband network project, had chosen one of its own corporations -- something that to me is perfectly to be expected. The point I am trying to make is that so many are loud in their cricitism but woefully short on facts and research!She has lately been assailed for appointing a new Chief Justice. Let it be stated clearly for the records: She did so, only when the Supreme Court ruled that she could do so. And if it should be asked why she should be so interested in naming a Chief Justice, should the question not likewise be asked why the incoming president should be as eager, if not more eager, to appoint a Chief Justice? This is not meant to cast aspersions on Noynoy's motives, but to show how bad the argument against GMA's appointment is.Have we kept track of the many Filipinos spared from execution because of her intervention? Did we say how much pride we felt when she presided over a session of the Security Council of the UN, something unimaginable for the likes of FPJ or even Erap?Finally, how many times did her opponents take to the streets, goading the people to do likewise to force her out of office? I find it extremely significant that the expected massing of the nation at EDSA or at Makati to force PGMA never materialized. In fact, the crowds that gathered for the star-studded events of the opposition did not even approach a respectable percentage of the crowd that ousted Marcos and the later one that installed GMA into office as Erap's successor. Does that not say much about the people's abiding trust in GMA and their distrust for those posturing as candidates for her office at the time? She supported Gibo, and Gibo did not win -- but, quite significantly, Gibo came in as third in the line-up. If GMA were as unpopular and as disliked as Jambi Madrigal says she is, Gibo would have done worse than Jambi, but that is not what the numbers show!Whether I am joined by many, or mine shall the the solitary voice, I want to say: "Thank you, Madam President, for the fortitude, the keenness of mind, the intelligence that you brought to office."FR. RANHILIO CALLANGAN AQUINODean, Graduate School of LawSan Beda College (Mendiola)Vice-President for Academic AffairsCagayan State University

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Cynical About May 10

It's the time for self-proclaimed Messiahs -- all promising the people freedom from bondage, a way through the sea of vicissitudes and revelry in the land overflowing with I don't know what.

My disappointment with the process is that attempts at genuine will-formation are frustrated by the very avenues of free discourse and exchange: the media. One television channel in particular is unrestrained and rather shameless in its endorsement of a political candidate -- who obviously will have huge debts to pay should he get elected. Polls and surveys have become tools for the perversion of public discourse, and statisticians and their tools are in the employ of wannabes. It disgusts me that the very same television station that has blatangly disregarded the law by allowing more coverage of its anointed candidate than others -- way beyond the allowance granted by law -- dares proclaim itself the most 'credible'. What gumption!

I dislike candidates who appeal for support on the promise of vendetta -- those who pledge for example to make life difficult for the present administration when they are elected. Why should we vote into office those for whom vengeance is a principal part of their agenda? Galit ka ba sa kasalukuyang administrason?...that of course is the line of one political party, but it is a sentiment common to all who style themselves "oppositionists". So, are we supposed to vote for those propelled by anger?

What I fail to see in the so-called front-liners is genuine humility. Picturing yourself amid the 'madla' is not humility. It's a cheap political gimmick that the discerning rightly out to repudiate. Acknowledging the legacy of one's predecessors, campaigning on one's strengths and exhibiting courtesy towards one's opponents -- these are the qualities of which we are in short supply.

I don't see interesting prospects after May 1o!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Harris' Shocker! Thank God

It's publishers -- Vintage Books -- call it a "national bestseller". I don't doubt this claim. Sam Harris' "Letter to a Christian National" also captivated me. I started reading the book while waiting for my flight from Tuguegarao; I read in on board the plane, continued reading after I had gotten off, and read well into the night until I was done with it. It is most assuredly an engaging book -- and also a merciless attack on religion. So why do I like the book? I like it so much that I recommended it to my brother-priests in the Archdiocese of Tuguegarao.

I like it because it shakes us with necessary rudeness from the 'dogmatic slumber' that has kept us in the Catholic Church complacent. It is a diatribe against the irrationality that is quite undeniably tucked into what passes for religion. It is good for Harris to rally all his readers against rationality so that henceforth, when any preacher -- Catholic, Evangelical, Muslim -- utters anything at all, there better be good reasons for them. It will no longer do to say that only a special form of enlightenment will allow vision. These kinds of pretensions at special knowledge -- already condemned since the Church dealt with the gnostic heresies -- must also be expunged from the life and praxis of the Church itself.

Harris poses a real challenge. If we want to talk about the "virgin birth", about the "bodily Resurrection of Jesus", then it will be well for us to know our hermeneutics well. This is why I have always insisted that our priests should read Ricoeur and study philosophy assiduously, and that religion should at all times be rational. If I should be labelled a 'rationalist' I will take that to be a compliment, preferable to its opposite: 'irrationalist'.

But if Harris is to avoid the very dogmatism against which he raises a loud, justified howl of protest, he must allow for a concept of God that need not take the tracks with which he is familiar. I refer particularly to a development of the insight of Spinoza -- and its contemporary forms in Whitehead, Hartshorne and even Chardin. To mention the name of God is to see the sheer-ongoingness of the universe as leading, despite its many twists, turns and detours, towards higher order, greater benevolence and ethical sensitivity, intelligence and beauty. One's wonder at the emergence of a reflective being like the human species from the tree of primates, one's appreciation of our growing sensitivity to the demands of human rights (whosever rights they may be), our wonderment at the capacity of the earth to heal itself despite the ravages we visit on it is our appreciation, our acknowledgment of what is Divine, Holy and Worshipful. It is not postulating an "extra being out there' called God. In other words, Harris concept of God -- that he rejects -- is one concept; it is the most common concept to be sure, but it is not the only concept there can be about God.

He also blames religion for the atrocities of the ancient and the modern worlds. I have no intention to deny that. It is true that Christians killed in the name of Jesus, and Muslims, in the name of Allah. But people have slaughtered in the name of the Classless Society, and gone to war, dropping atomic bombs along the way, in the name of Democracy. And the slaughter of 6 million Jews was not really a religious act -- it went under the name "National Socialism". The point I am making is that great ideas, cosmic ideas, comprehensive ideas have the capacity to generate great love and immense hate. That is not peculiar to religion. Said simply: Religion does not cause genocide. It is what people do with religion -- and other great ideas -- that kills!

It is also true that people have done good and have achieved heroism without religion or religious motives. That alone is not proof against religion, for it is as true that as many if not more have demonstrated kindness and benevolence to heroic lengths, accommodation of others -- particularly the weakest, the poorest, the outcast -- because of religion. The fact that some can be good without religion does not argue against the fact that religion does lure many to acts of goodness and to good lives.

Having said all that, I encourage every priest, every preacher, every 'miracle worker', every seminary student to read Harris book and try to make sense, not out of Harris, but of what we set out to do, preach, teach and pass on to others in the light of his scathing take on the irrationality that has often been the result of our carelessness in respect to our intellectual responsibility.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Celebrating a Birthday

February 2 is Candlemas Day -- more correctly known in Liturgy as the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. It is also my birthday. Earlier in life, I thought it silly to be coy about one's age. Now, I don't find it very easy to respond when I am asked about my age -- a question I was repeatedly asked on my birthday.

So I would like to find out why this reticence about declaring age -- increasing age, to be more specific. For one thing, society fosters a cult of youth that inches out the aging and the aged. For another, this hesitation about one's age bespeaks of some matter unresolved in me: self-acceptance. And so it is that I am drawn back to a favorite quote from Santayana: "It is better to be enamored by the changing of the seasons than to hopelessly in love with spring." Winter -- in the Philippines, the overcast days and balmy nights of the Christmas season -- has its own allure, and this, I must learn to accept and treasure.

I find myself talking more about memories now and less about plans, which was not so some decades back when I was brimming over with plans. There is that lovely scene in the film which many find corny, but which I honestly liked "An Affair to Remember". When the lady was so captivated by the beauty of the retreat of her beau's grandmother, she exclaimed: "I could stay here forever", to which the wise old woman retorted: "No, you are too young to be here. Go first and make your memories and come back here later in life to savor them." That's a good way of rounding up life: savoring the memories.

Camus, who happens to be one of my favorite authors, had this persistent foreboding about the eventual triumph of death's meaninglessness, but he urged a resolute struggle against it and not to prematurely capitulate: to fight against it, even in the certainty that death will ultimately prevail, that is the height of heroic despair, with stress on the heroic! That's not how I feel though. I believe that a life meaningfull lived cannot be dissipated into meaningless and oblivion in death. Process philosophers deal with this by saying that all of this is prehended by God's consequent nature -- kept my God in a way more perfect that we can keep our memories that many times elude us.

After Mass today, I had this prayer: "Not necessarily a long life, Lord, but a meaningful one!".

Friday, January 1, 2010

Solidarity with Protesting Iranians

I write this piece in red not because I call for bloodshed, but because I call for resoluteness. For days now, BBC and other international news sources have informed the world of increasing protests in Iran coming in the train of disputed elections.

Iran has been a control state for along time now -- and there little has been very little change in the mode of governance from the Shah to Ayatollay Khomeini. As a college student when Khomeini made his triumphant return to Iran, I was appalled by almost daily news of executions of perceived enemies of the fiercely and arrogantly Islamic state. AND ALL THAT THE WORLD DID WAS WATCH. It defies my comprehension of the "holy" how a Supreme Leader can, in this day and age, order the execution of dozens to consolidate his hold on power.

This time some brave Iranians have taken to the streets to demand respect for fundamental freedoms that a President who has twitted the international community and has made light of international law does not recognize as part of his agenda.

The frequently bandied line that "democracy" is a Western construct and therefore not necessarily suitable for states like Iran is unhelpful to say the least, wrong, to be accurate and downright bumpkin. Democracy is the precept of reasoned discourse and legitimation based on rational consensus. What can be so culturally relative about that? -- And that is all that the Iranian protesters demand.

I extend my solidarity to the Iranian protesters, and if it is necessary that an oppressive regime that has no respect for international law, that flaunts its violation of international legal standards be dismantled, then I stand by the courageous who will take it upon themselvs to bring this liberation about.

Respect for the sovereignty of States cannot be a superior consideration to that of the aspirations of a people for true democracy. ONWARD, IRANIAN REFORMERS!