This column, I realized on rereading it, can also be understood as an attempt to understand what “Christian” does not mean. Published on January 8, 2013.
Allow me to tie up some loose ends from 2012, stories and letters which have nagged at me for some time. Let me start with the most recent.
My friend Joan Orendain, the popular publicist, wrote “An open letter to Manny Pacquiao” the other week; the letter to the editor saw print on Dec. 27. It offers what she calls “a Christian point of view” for the just defeated boxer “to consider.” But in fact I saw nothing specifically Christian in Joan’s unfortunately dismissive attitude to Pacquiao.
The online version of the letter ran up impressive statistics: almost 3,500 shares, over 500 recommendations on Facebook. I can understand the letter’s appeal, beginning, as it does, with the candid confession that it was written by “one who is pleased—not happy, just pleased—that you lost your last two fights.” But to borrow Joan’s opening putdown, it seems it was Joan herself who turned out to be “in a highly confused state.”
Let me highlight just two curiosities.
Joan made sure to describe Pacquiao’s expensive purchases as “not tastefully designed” not just once but twice—as though good taste, however defined, were a Christian virtue. Assume, for the sake of argument, that Pacquiao has bad taste in houses and jewelry. So what? The proper Christian attitude, or so I think, is to assert that our material possessions do not define us.
Joan also faulted Pacquiao for not training “for months on end.” She even asks: “Who do you think you are, training seven weeks (if that) to Marquez’s 16 weeks?” If the proper Christian attitude is to call a spade a spade, I’m afraid I will have to describe this question as born of ignorance. To prepare for his fights, especially since he became a much-talked-about boxer in 2003, Pacquiao has always spent just six to eight weeks in training. His own coach, reflecting the wisdom of other trainers, knows that there is such a thing as overtraining, and of peaking too soon. Marquez’s training camp was the eyebrow-raising exception; why would it be used as a benchmark to judge Pacquiao?
Joan’s conflicted, confused stance can be seen most clearly in her last two paragraphs, where she advises Pacquiao to hang up his gloves because “it’s obvious you are a hopeless case” and then, bobbing and weaving, pivots to say, “Still, should you prove me wrong, I’ll be okay with that.” Akala ko ba obvious na?
Joan has issues with Pacquiao—and I’m okay with that. My only real concern, as a Pacman fan, is to be told her point of view was Christian.
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Last September, the academic Leloy Claudio and the writer Miguel Syjuco challenged Senate Majority Leader Tito Sotto to a debate on the reproductive health bill. It was a popular move, judging from the reception on social media and the news stories the tactic generated.
And it was a clever tactic, designed not only to force Sotto to listen to the pro-RH arguments but also to jump-start a stalled legislative process. Syjuco, the prizewinning novelist, spelled out the crucial condition: “debate must occur no later than the day after your final turno en contra speech, and should cap discussion and guarantee voting in the Senate before the end of session. The wheels of democracy must be allowed to turn.” (Quote courtesy of the Yahoo News story.)
I must say, though: Even as I sympathized with the two young men’s advocacy, I couldn’t help but think that there was something wrong with the challenge itself. Was it because Claudio and Syjuco had inserted themselves into the deliberative process as though they themselves were on the Senate floor? I couldn’t accept the counter-democratic alternative, that only senators can engage other senators in debate. Was it because the proposed debate, on an issue of transcendental importance to women, involved only men? I thought there was something to that, until I realized that I would have the same misgivings if any one of the many women who had taken a high profile in the campaign for the RH bill served as a substitute.
Was it because Sotto was obviously their intellectual inferior? The argument in favor can be summed up simply enough: In a struggle of national import, advocates must be able to take the fight to where the opposition is most vulnerable. And yet, and yet. I found the whole debate gambit disagreeable, precisely because it was only Sotto, hardly the intellectual juggernaut standing in the way of the RH bill.
If Claudio and Syjuco challenge Sen. Ed Angara to a debate on the Aurora economic zone, or Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile on truth in biography, then perhaps I will find myself joining in the chorus of praise.
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The worst analysis of the US presidential vote I read was a series of tweets released into the ether by a Filipino journalist on election day. Self-described as “neutral” on Philippine politics, he transposed his neutrality onto the American presidential race. Unfortunately, I cannot find those tweets at the moment. When I do, I hope I can explain exactly why I thought he found his reading of President Aquino’s politics reflected in Obama’s America.
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One last point. After Pacquiao lost by decisive knockout to Juan Manuel Marquez last month, his mother “Mommy Dionesia” immediately blamed the loss on Pacquiao’s religious conversion. I read many denunciations of this alleged religious factor on Twitter and Facebook; a very good friend even wrote, categorically, that Pacquiao’s loss had nothing to teach us about religion.
I must disagree. I do not mean to say that I hold with those who think Manny’s conversion was the cause of his devastating loss. I only mean that part of the role of religion is precisely to serve as a source of meaning. Those who think conversion cost Pacquiao can teach us something real about the religious impulse.