Published on March 17, 2015.
The papal visit last January was a forceful reminder that populism is not necessarily a bad thing. Too often identified with the masa politics of Joseph Estrada and other celebrities-turned-politicians, populism in the Philippines was usually understood and practiced as nothing more than an appeal to the basest motive, the lowest common denominator. (Mea culpa.)
In Pope Francis’ embrace of popular piety, animated by his practice of the so-called theology of the people, we find the positive meaning of populism. In “Evangelii Gaudium,” referencing the pope of his formative years in the priesthood, Francis wrote: “Popular piety enables us to see how the faith, once received, becomes embodied in a culture and is constantly passed on. Once looked down upon, popular piety came to be appreciated once more in the decades following the Council. In the ‘Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi,’ Pope Paul VI gave a decisive impulse in this area. There he stated that popular piety ‘manifests a thirst for God which only the poor and the simple can know’ and that ‘it makes people capable of generosity and sacrifice even to the point of heroism, when it is a question of bearing witness to belief.’”
Popular piety, then, is founded on a culture of respect for the common life (what a British critic, in an entirely different context, referred to as the ordinary universe). Populism at its heart is not the angry mob or the paid crowd, but the community of the poor and the simple. The emotion that pumps through that heart is not vengeance or self-interest, but “generosity and sacrifice even to the point of heroism.”
With Mayor Junjun Binay’s blatant appeal to his constituents to protect him from the agents of the government he himself serves, we find the complete opposite. I do not discount the possibility that many of those who ran to City Hall to put up a human barricade against Department of Interior and Local Government officials seeking to serve the suspension order of the Ombudsman did so out of genuine conviction; they were perfectly within their rights. But the statements emanating from Binay and his top allies are another thing altogether. In them we find the irresponsibility of reckless leaders who do not have their supporters’ own wellbeing at heart. Continue reading