Tag Archives: morality of politics

Column: Not my kind of Catholic intellectual

Published on August 14, 2012.

I would like to explore the idea that an American congressman currently in the news represents the emergence of a new kind of Catholic intellectual, but let me begin with a short note about my kind of Christian politician.

When I saw the Inquirer’s front-page photo of President Aquino visiting flooded areas last week, joined by Risa Hontiveros, Joel Villanueva and other close political allies, I cringed. I thought it was a mistake. The opportunity to join the President as he made his rounds has an undeniable appeal; it was a chance to make common cause yet again with a consoler-in-chief who was also a friend. It was also an opportunity to be of practical service, to physically distribute relief goods or to listen patiently to survivor stories. Continue reading


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Column: What ‘daang matuwid’ does NOT mean

It’s a process, not an end-state. Published on February 8, 2011.

THE AQUINO administration’s pledge of right conduct and good governance does not mean the repeal of human nature. In my understanding, the promise of daang matuwid (the straight and narrow path, in biblical terms) is not a guarantee that all corruption will be eradicated. Rather, it is a commitment to honest public service, with an assurance that, when corruption does rear its fetching head, the government will not stand transfixed, but will move immediately to cut it off.

The right biblical analogy, in other words, is to the reality reflected in the first Psalm, which speaks of two ways of life: that of the upright and that of the wicked. It is not an analogy to the Apocalypse, which speaks of the final days and the overthrow of the old. Continue reading

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Column: ‘Politico,’ ‘Inglisero,’ ‘hacendero’

A first attempt to “classify” about six weeks’ worth of criticism against a new administration and the new President. I forgot to explain, to the non-Filipino reader who may stumble upon the column, that “Inglisero” meant English-speaking. Published on August 10, 2010.

I became interested in the types of criticism being leveled against President Benigno Aquino III and his administration, now all of six weeks old, when he was criticized soon after his proclamation for, essentially, fulfilling a campaign promise. Criticism is vital to public discourse, of course; in opinion journalism, it is nothing less than the primary function. But it can and ought to be studied and critiqued. Continue reading


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Column: Adulterer, yes; plunderer, no

The moral hazard that is Estrada’s return to politics. Published on January 26, 2010.

The decision of the Comelec’s second division to qualify Joseph Estrada for the presidential election in May, reached on the ninth anniversary of his people-powered ouster from Malacañang, invites the Filipino citizen to consider, yet again, the ex-president’s sins against the nation.

In two recent editorials, the Inquirer observed the distinction between the legal impediments Estrada faces (which the second division blithely set aside, in favor of a sweeping populism) and the moral hazard that Estrada’s return represents.

This distinction, I think, is crucial to our evolving understanding of the democratic project.

Many Filipinos object to the very idea that a failed president can serve in the presidency again. But as the first editorial pointed out, the issue before the Comelec was whether the Constitution—not past performance, not much-publicized adventures in morality—bars Estrada from running for reelection. In other words, the notion of “failure,” of whether Estrada was a “good” or “bad” president, ought not to figure in the legal debate.
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Column: How do we know she wasn’t a saint?

The first of four reflections on the role of the Aquinos in the life of the nation. Published on August 4, 2009, three days after Cory Aquino’s death.

In a balanced piece he wrote for Global Post, colleague and good friend Caloy Conde cast the extraordinary reaction to the death of Cory Aquino in religious terms. “She was the closest the Philippines ever had to a living saint. And when she died on Saturday, from colon cancer at the age of 76, Filipinos grieved as though they had just lost one.”

I can readily agree with the second assertion; the first, however, needs qualifying. Surely we have had living saints before, in the sense that Caloy described and that Cory would have understood: a person with a saintly reputation. (My own list would include two exemplary religious three centuries apart: Mother Ignacia del Espiritu Santo, the founder of the RVM Sisters, and Benigno Dagani, a Jesuit missionary in Mindanao.)

The core assumption behind Caloy’s use of the phrase, as I understand it, is perception: Cory was perceived by many to have the qualities of a saint. This emphasis on wide reputation makes sense, in the light of an intriguing note I also read on Facebook, readily dismissing the possibility that Cory was a saint.

How do we know she wasn’t? Continue reading

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The proper task of the critic

Found a note I made just about 20 years ago, in which I copied the definition of “the proper task of the (social) critic,” as defined by J. Peter Euben, a university professor writing for the New York Times, in his review of “The Company of Critics,” by Michael Walzer:

exposing false appearances of his own society and pointing at the systematic abuse of power; giving expression to his people’s deepest sense of how they ought to live, using the common language which he raises to a new pitch of intensity and argumentative power; reiterating the regulative principles by which one might set things right; and insisting that there are other forms of falseness and other, equally legitimate, hopes and aspirations. Such a critic is bound but never wholly bound to the life he shares with others. He is never uncritical of those in power or of his allies whose similar complaints he often regards as wrongly directed or incompletely stated. He is at once inside and outside, a member apart, a critical patriot, civilly disobedient, committed to a democratic politics that is never democratic enough.

Something about this nuanced formulation (a response to Walzer’s idea of “connected criticism”) struck me in the gut when I first read it, years before I became a full-time journalist. Indeed, the phrase “at once inside and outside” stuck in my head, as a noble ideal of writing and a neat summing-up of the writer’s ideal life. I still think the same way today.

Of course, when I first read it, I had no idea that in 20 years’ time I would be able to find the original review online and, if only I owned a Kindle, buy the book off Amazon — “in under a minute”!

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Weber’s “Politics as a vocation”

The second paragraph of the famous lecture (referenced in the preceding post), thus:

What do we understand by politics? The concept is extremely broad and comprises any kind of independent leadership in action. One speaks of the currency policy of the banks, of the discounting policy of the Reichsbank, of the strike policy of a trade union; one may speak of the educational policy of a municipality or a township, of the policy of the president of a voluntary association, and, finally, even of the policy of a prudent wife who seeks to guide her husband. Tonight, our reflections are, of course, not based upon such a broad concept. We wish to understand by politics only the leadership, or the influencing of the leadership, of a political association, hence today, of a state.

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Column: Moral vs moral

Published on April 21, 2009

Why waste time in a political column discussing morality, when politics is the art, not of the ideal, but of the possible? This kind of feedback tells me I must have failed to carry my point across, in last week’s “Big Talk” about morality.

Democratic citizenship is a decidedly moral undertaking; that is to say, republics are founded on the possibility of public virtue. It is essential, however, to distinguish public virtue from private.

Emilio Jacinto’s “Kartilya,” the founding document of the Katipunan, does not explicitly make that distinction, but is surely based on it. “The life which is not spent for a great and sacred cause is like a tree without shade, if not a poisonous weed.” By great and sacred cause, Jacinto could not have meant one’s personal integrity or even the well-being of one’s beloved family (for many Filipinos, the unfortunate true limit of our generosity). He could only have meant the needs of the emerging nation. To place the nation’s welfare ahead of one’s own—that is the citizen’s ideal life, and is the finest example, the pattern-setting template, of public virtue.

The implication is hard to escape, and even harder to accept: In politics, personal virtue is not necessary. Continue reading

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