Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Governance & Lifestyle Lessons from Genesis 1

1. The creative word is superior to the violent action in establishing order and clarity especially in a situation or state of meaningless chaos.
2. Creative governance is both consultative and decisive.
3. As image of God, human beings, male and female, have inalienable responsibilities and rights such as the responsibility to govern wildlife & other fellow creatures on earth and the right to rest and recreation.
4. Vegetarianism is ideal for the attainment of great harmony between humankind and the earth.

The 1st creation story (Gen 1:1 - 2:4) was written during the Exile period (587-537 BCE) after the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and its temple on Mount Zion, and deported the most talented persons and families of Judah to become exiles in Babylon. The exiles felt that their world had been swept away into meaningless chaos, as expressed in Psalm 137:

“By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand wither…”

In a foreign land, the exiles did not simply surrender to their captors but continued their resistance in peaceful and creative ways even though from the depths of their grief some prayed: “O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us—he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks” (Ps 137:8-9).

Many of the exiles must have wondered whether or not their captivity showed that Babylonian culture and religion was superior to their faith in Yahweh, the God of Abraham and Sarah, Moses, and David. Was Marduk, the god of their captors, superior? In the Babylonian creation myth, the Enuma Elish, the universe is created from the fiery battle between Marduk and Tiamat, the dragon of watery chaos. Was a violent event the beginning of the world? If violence were the original principle of the world, would it not imply that “might makes right” in social life?

The faith of the exiles resisted and insisted that, “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” out of a meaningless and formless chaos through clear and effective words: “Let there be light…Let there be an expanse between the waters…Let dry ground appear…” (Gen 1:1-26). Creation is a movement from chaos to order and harmony.

Unlike the pagan gods, the biblical God creates without any mythological struggle. God does so through the creative word, which is superior to the violent action in establishing order and clarity.

“Let us make humankind in our image, in our likeness” (1:26). The Creator of heaven and earth consults the divine council of angels and other heavenly beings. God shows humility in consulting the divine council.

“God created humankind in the divine image, in the image of God they were created; male and female God created them” (1:27). As image of God, humankind possesses inalienable dignity as a co-creator, God’s partner and representative in exercising governance on earth and its wildlife. The Creator governs the universe wisely and benevolently, and humankind ought to govern fellow creatures on earth in like manner.

God blessed the creatures of the sea and air, and directed them to “be fruitful and increase in number” (1:22). Thus, where humankind acts cruelly toward other species or exterminates them by destroying their habitats owing to greed and gluttony, our humanity as image of God is degraded or disgraced.

Just as God is a wise worker who rests on the 7th day (2:2-3), all creatures need periodic rest. Thus, among the inalienable rights of humankind is the right to rest and recreation, and upright people permit adequate rest for their workers and work animals.

The creation story in Genesis 1 expresses an ideal that God wanted from the beginning: great harmony of God, humankind, and the rest of creation.

In this story’s vision of harmony, no human or animal should have to destroy life for food, as God gives to people and beasts “every seed-bearing plant on the face of the earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it…every green plant for food” (1:29-30). Vegetation was seen as being part of the earth and thus with no life of its own.

Vegetarianism is ideal for the attainment of great harmony between humankind and the earth. Excessive meat consumption is unhealthy and unsustainable, and contributes to climate change, as more wildlife habitats are destroyed and more parcels of land are used for the industrial raising of swine, cattle, and poultry. The industrial ways of raising livestock can even be cruel to the animals, and the unnaturally cramped conditions in such farms plus greater human exposure to these densely packed animals make it easier for viruses to jump the species barrier.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Atheism of Marx

During the lifetime of Karl Marx (1818-83), most of the institutional churches and christian monarchs were opposing the labor movements. Because of his revolutionary humanism, Marx embraced atheism and denounced the religions that were condemning the struggle of the working class and which were extolling the status quo as divinely instituted.

Argentinean theologian Jose Míguez Bonino considers the atheism of Marx a functional critique of religion and not a denunciation of religion as such. The churches today should be open to this functional critique, for it parallels the biblical denunciation of idolatry.

Prophetic denunciation has been directed at such holy gifts as the temple (Jeremiah 7:1-15), the sabbath (Matthew 12:1-14), the law (Romans 3:19-31), faith (James 2:14-26), and the love of God (1 John 3:17-18). These are divine gifts, but God’s word condemns them whenever they are turned into mystifications of, and sacred veils for, injustice, inhumanity, legalism, and the amassing of things needed by roofless heads and unfed looks.

In the midst of dehumanizing mystifications, and in the midst of any god we ourselves have made whether it be capital, weaponry, the Leader, or the Party, “only an atheist can be a good Christian,” in the same way that “the early Christians were accused of being atheists and were judged and condemned as such for refusing to believe in the ruling gods of their society” (Míguez 1979).

These mystifications and gods represent a denial of the presence of the Holy Spirit either in our sensuous humanity or in the neighbor, who is a true temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 6:19). “This is real atheism: God is denied in the neighbor and the neighbor in God” (Míguez 1976).

The basic ethic of the humanism of Marx can be summed up this way: “solidarity is better than egoism” (Míguez 1976). This basic ethic, however, is opposed by a deep-rooted element in Marx’s critique of religion which he most concisely expressed thus: “religion is precisely the recognition of man by detour through an intermediary” (On the Jewish Question).

In Marx was entrenched the yearning for absolute immediacy. He yearned for the removal of all mediations and intermediaries in social life, for he regarded even the best intermediary as partially alienating or subordinating. This is the heart of his rejection of both religion and the State. He envisaged the totally emancipated society to comprise of individuals who will be both co-operative and self-conscious. Social consciousness and self-consciousness will coincide completely.

For Marx, the genuinely free individual will know oneself fully, know one’s fellows fully, and be known by them fully. As he put it: “the religious reflex of the real world can, in any case, only then finally vanish, when the practical relations of everyday life offer to man none but perfectly intelligible and reasonable relations with regard to his fellowmen and to nature” (Capital, vol. 1). There will be no need for any Church or State to indoctrinate or to force people to be fit for social life.

Marx’s aspiration for absolute immediacy contradicts his ethic of solidarity, for solidarity can only be genuine when it is a unity among real others. Otherness would disappear if immediacy became absolute. “Solidarity is based on differentiation, on the existence of a real ‘other’ whom I do not absorb into myself or use instrumentally for my own self-realization” (Míguez 1976). Every real other has some aspect external to me, some capacity outside my control, and some degree of discretion, which I neither have given nor can take away.

Marx’s aspiration for absolute immediacy, more than his atheism, is a point of divergence between humanistic Marxism and Christian faith. Christians cannot disavow either the uplifting and humanizing mediation of Christ or the otherness of God. Christians believe that, if someday humanity became fully emancipated and united, it would be due to a great humanizing force that does not fully abide within either humanity or nature.

Sources Consulted:

Míguez Bonino, Jose. Christians and Marxists: The Mutual Challenge to Revolution. London, 1976.

Míguez Bonino, Jose. Room To Be People: An Interpretation of the Message of the Bible for Today’s World. Geneva, 1979.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Run-Off Election for President

House Bill 6183, filed on April 13, attempts a “surgical” Constitutional amendment to require a run-off election with the top two (2) candidates in case no presidential candidate gets more than 50% of the vote. It is “an Act amending Article VII Section 4 of the Constitution, requiring the holding of a run-off election for the position of President and/or Vice President in case no candidate garners more than 50% of the total votes cast, to ensure the election of a majority President and Vice President."

A surgical amendment, as described by Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ, will be the result of the regular legislative process in which there will be committee hearings in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, which will have to approve the amendment by a majority of three-fourths (3/4) of Congress with the House and the Senate voting separately. Below is a copy of the Bill.

House Bill 6183

Introduced by Rep. Raul T. Gonzalez, Jr.


Even before his term of office begins, a minority-elected president is already at a great disadvantage. Instead of “hitting the ground running,” so to speak, a chief executive who is elected by a mere plurality or less than 50% of total votes cast, first, would have to strike alliances with various political groups in order to solidify his hold on power and govern more effectively. Lacking the confidence of a decisive mandate, the newly-elected minority president understandably would be averse to introduce necessary but unpopular reform programs and would be more susceptible to the influence of vested interests.

All of the post-EDSA presidents were minority presidents. Fidel Ramos in the 1992 elections got only 24% of the vote. Despite being reputed to be very popular among the masses, Joseph Estrada, only managed to get 40% of the votes in 1998 while our incumbent president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, got 39% of the votes in the last 2004 elections. By contrast, all except one of our pre-EDSA presidents were elected by majority vote. Manuel Quezon got 68% of total votes cast in the 1935 elections and a resounding 82% in 1941. In the 1946 elections, Manuel Roxas received 54% of the vote while in 1949, Elpidio Quirino got 51%. Ramon Magsaysay won in the 1953 elections with a decisive 69% of the vote while Carlos Garcia prevailed in 1957 by a mere plurality of 41% of the total votes cast. In 1961, Diosdado Macapagal defeated Garcia garnering 55% of the vote while in 1965, Ferdinand Marcos in turn routed him cornering likewise 55% of the total votes cast. Marcos would go on to win in the 1969 elections getting 61% and in the 1981 special elections with an unbelievable 91% of the vote.

What our country needs today is a “surgical” Constitutional amendment to require a runoff election with only 2 candidates in case no presidential candidate gets more than 50% of the vote in the initial run with several candidates. The runoff election will greatly increase the probability that the electoral system will produce a strong national executive who can claim to possess a clear and indubitable mandate from the people so that he can have the political capital to deal with vested interest groups and implement difficult reforms as well as unite our nation especially during crucial times. If allowed to continue, the current plurality system will eventually lead to a situation wherein a candidate could get himself elected president with a mere 20% or even less of the vote in an election with eight or more solid contenders.

BILL No. 6183: "An Act amending Article VII Section 4 of the Constitution, requiring the holding of a run-off election for the position of President and/or Vice President in case no candidate garners more than 50% of the total votes cast, to ensure the election of a majority President and Vice President."

Article VII Section 4 of the Constitution shall be hereby amended to read as follows:

SEC. 4. The President and the Vice-President shall be elected by direct vote of the people for a term of six years which shall begin at noon on the thirtieth day of June next following the day of the election and shall end at noon of the same date six years thereafter. The President shall not be eligible for any re-election. No person who has succeeded as President and has served as such for more than four years shall be qualified for election to the same office at any time.

No Vice-President shall serve for more than two successive terms. Voluntary renunciation of the office for any length of time shall not be considered as an interruption in the continuity of the service for the full term for which he was elected.

Unless otherwise provided by law, the regular election for President and Vice-President shall be held on the second Monday of May.

The returns of every election for President and Vice-President, duly certified by the board of canvassers of each province or city, shall be transmitted to the Congress, directed to the President of the Senate. Upon receipt of the certificates of canvass, the President of the Senate shall, not later than thirty days after the day of the election, open all the certificates in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives in joint public session, and the Congress, upon determination of the authenticity and due execution thereof in the manner provided by law, canvass the votes.

[The person having the highest number of votes shall be proclaimed elected, but in case two or more shall have an equal and highest number of votes, one of them shall forthwith be chosen by the vote of a majority of all the Members of both Houses of the Congress, voting separately.]

The person who garners more than 50% of the total votes cast shall be proclaimed elected. If no person gets more than 50% of the total votes cast, whether for President or Vice-President or for both offices, a run-off election shall be held between the candidates garnering the two highest numbers of votes, whether for President or Vice-President or for both offices. Provided, that the run-off election shall be held not later than three (3) weeks after the recent election.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

What Can Christ's Resurrection Mean Here & Now?

The resurrection of Jesus is his glorification by the loving Father, who has given Jesus sovereign power and authority to establish and rule the new people of God. In Matthew’s gospel, there is only one appearance of the Risen Christ to the “eleven (male) disciples” (Mt 28:16-20) in which he proclaims: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”

A hymn of praise to Christ in 1 Timothy 3:16 suggests that his resurrection, or his state of glorification or being “taken up in glory,” is the same as or parallel to his being “vindicated by the Spirit.” Thus, the New Testament allows contemporary Christians, in light of a particular context, to shift the emphasis in preaching and teaching the belief in Christ’s resurrection.

For Jose de Mesa (“The Resurrection in the Filipino Context,” in In Solidarity with the Culture, 1987), it is more relevant and wise to describe the resurrection in Filipino as pagbabangong-dangal (vindication or raising of dignity) rather than as muling pagkabuhay (return to life). Muling pagkabuhay suggests that the foundation of Christian faith is a spectacular return of Jesus to life or the resuscitation of a corpse. As pagbabangong-dangal, however, we focus on the vindication and glorification of Jesus, who was shamefully executed. Pagbabangong-dangal does not deny his bodily resurrection, but focuses on what happened to his dignity and significance in the eyes of the disciples and the merciful Father.

Jesus of Nazareth was betrayed and abandoned by his disciples and friends, rejected by the rulers of Jerusalem and Rome, and executed in a terrible manner. His resurrection is the divine vindication of his very person and the definitive raising of his dignity. Ibinangon ng Diyos ang dangal ni Jesus sa kabila ng kahiya-hiyang pagbitay sa kanya! (God has raised the trampled dignity of Jesus after his shameful execution!)

Irreversibly, God has raised the trampled dignity of Jesus. Irreversibly, God has taken the side of someone who, in his firm belief in a gracious God, chose to be in solidarity with the poor, the ill-educated, and the social outcasts. The resurrection is the divine vindication of his practice of sharing meals with sinners and outcasts, the vindication of his practice of healing the body, mind and spirit, the vindication of his boldness to publicly condemn harmful social practices, and the vindication of his proclamation that God’s Kingdom is near especially to the poor, the hungry, and those persecuted for their quest for justice. The resurrection is divine glorification of the whole person, practice, and life of the crucified Jesus.

For de Mesa, to promote the resurrection as vindication not only avoids the image of the resuscitation of a corpse but also indicates that faithful Christians are able to see the resurrection, fragmentarily but genuinely, whenever and wherever the dignity of the downtrodden is raised or vindicated. Ang pagbabangong-dangal ay maaaring mangyari at maisagawa ngayon, habang ang pagkabuhay ng mga katawang di-mabubulok ay mangyayari lamang sa katapusan ng sanlibutan. (The raising of the dignity of the downtrodden can happen or can be done today, while the raising of immortal bodies will happen only at the end of the world.)

The resurrection is witnessed today wherever a low-class prostitute finds enough courage and some supportive person(s) to enable her or him to earn a personal or family income in a dignified manner. The beautiful hands and feet of the Risen Jesus are revealed in the deteriorating body of the person with AIDS who faces death with the uplifting feeling of being loved rather than being abandoned. The resurrection is revealed wherever there is a tangible uplifting of the dignity and living conditions of the children of the streets, the daughters of the dumpsite, and the sons of the soil.

This is pagbabangong-dangal. It does not deny the belief in the resurrection of the body at the end of history, but emphasizes the commissioning of Christ’s disciples to proclaim good news to all the downtrodden, to heal comprehensively, to forgive sins, and to erase stigmas among social classes and sectors here and now.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Why Was Jesus Killed?

Critical historians are in agreement that the singular incident that made the Jerusalem officials resolve to hand Jesus over to the Romans for execution was his action of driving out those who were buying and selling in the temple (Mark 11:15-18; John 2:13-19). Jesus overturned the tables of the money-changers, and he would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. The historian E.P. Sanders adds that the priests probably interpreted this action as a threat, on the part of Jesus, to destroy the temple. At the very least, Jesus warned of divine judgment against it.

In Mark 13:1-2, Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple. In his trial before the Jerusalem officials, according to Mark (14:57-58) and Matthew (26:59-61), some persons testify that they heard Jesus utter a threat to destroy it. At the foot of the cross, some passers-by insult Jesus: “So! You who are going to destroy the temple…” (Mark 15:29; Mt 27:40). In Acts 6:12-14, “false witnesses” accuse the deacon, Stephen, that they “heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place [the temple].”

For Sanders, it is highly probable that Jesus did predict the destruction of the temple, and this prediction reached the ears of the chief priests. The destruction of the temple would imply the end of the Jerusalem priesthood, for the primary social role of the priests was to offer temple-sacrifices. This destruction implied the eradication of the high “place” or the eminent social stratum that the priests occupied in Jewish society (cf John 11:47-48), for the temple provided the most prominent justification for priestly authority.

Jesus did not plan to lead a group or a mob to do the actual work of destroying the temple. His prediction showed his belief that God would soon allow the temple’s destruction. Why did he believe that it deserved to be destroyed? Below are the possible reasons:

(1) The temple diverted people away from living a life in the Spirit, a life of sensitivity to the immediate presence of the sacred through which people could worship and please God without the necessity of big buildings and complex systems of worship.
(2) The temple promoted ethnocentrism and false worship, and it would be replaced by an assembly of people with authentic faith and love in their hearts.

(3) The temple system had already been promoting harmful and self-delusive attitudes, and it provided legitimation to the unjust social system.

The first reason fits with the historical portrait of Jesus as a Spirit-filled person who wanted to help people live a life of deep love and spiritual worship of God. In John 4:21-23, Jesus declares to the Samaritan woman: “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain [Mt Gerizim] nor in Jerusalem….A time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks.” In the new heaven and new earth, when God’s Victory over viciousness and sin becomes fully visible, there will be no more temple (cf Revelation 21:22), no more massive and complex cultic structures. In Acts 7:48, Stephen asserts: “The Most High does not live in houses made by men.”

The second possible reason for divine judgement against the temple was its promotion of ethnocentrism and false worship. The temple was an institution that excluded many people. Admittance to the inner courts was restricted to Jews and only to those Jews who were ritually pure. Foreigners were threatened with death if they entered the inner courts. Jesus opposed ethnocentrism, and in his action in the temple, he quoted God’s word in Isaiah: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7; Mark 11:17). Jesus also opposed the hypocrisy and blindness of those guardians of the temple who regarded the gold, gifts, and offerings in the temple as more important than acts of justice and mercy to the poor and the weak (cf Matthew 23:16-26).

Under the aristocratic priests, the temple promoted false worship. The chief priests and the Sadducees were indifferent to the worsening hunger in the rural areas of Judaea and the growing indebtedness and dispossession of the peasantry. The temple officials aggravated the misery of the masses by keeping a record of the debts of those who could not fulfil their economic obligations to the temple such as the temple tax, agricultural taxes, purification offerings, sin and guilt offerings, and offerings for the redemption of first-born sons and animals. In the war against the Romans in 66-70 CE, Jewish rebels took over the temple, and one of their first acts was to burn the records of debt kept there.

In the face of worsening rural conditions, the Jerusalem élite had a general attitude of business-as-usual. As long as there continued to be many burnt offerings and sacrifices in the temple, and as long as the Romans left day-to-day control of Judaea in their hands, the élite were indifferent to the accumulating burdens of the peasantry. What was worse, in the face of worsening rural conditions, the high priestly families lived lavishly in mansions, as shown by the impressive archeological remains of their Jerusalem residences (see Horsley and Silberman, 78-79).

The magnificent rituals in the temple blinded the élite into thinking that, as long as the rituals continued to be magnificent, and as long as the élite themselves felt that they were ritually pure and holy, all would be well with the rest of Jerusalem and Judaea, and systematic attempts were not necessary to help lighten the burdens of the peasantry. Jesus saw what most of the élite no longer could see: the temple system promoted harmful and delusive attitudes.

Because of his prophetic pronouncements and actions especially about the destruction of the temple, Jesus was perceived to be a threat to the social power of the Jerusalem élite. Jesus’ actions suggested strongly to the high priest that he was a dangerous agitator at such a risky period as Passover. At that time, Passover was a pilgrimage festival and one of the three festivals that all male Jews were supposed to attend each year in Jerusalem (see Deuteronomy 16:16). The spread of the Jewish population, both inside and outside Palestine, meant that fulfilling all three obligations was no longer possible. Nevertheless, a lot of people attended each of the major festivals, and Passover was the most popular. Although Jewish law required only males to attend, many men brought their wives and children.

Sanders estimates that Jerusalem accommodated about 300,000 to 400,000 pilgrims during Passover. The large crowds meant that the festivals were possible occasions for civil unrest. Thus, the Roman governor, who usually stayed in the coastal city of Caesarea, would come to Jerusalem with extra troops for the occasion. Passover was always a risky event, as Jewish crowds gathered to celebrate their liberation from Egyptian oppressors, while they were aware that they were presently under Roman imperial rule.

The high priest would have been informed that Jesus was being hailed as a king by some people during his joyful entry into Jerusalem. That in itself would have been a serious cause for concern, for to allow some Jew to be acclaimed king could provoke the Romans to suspect that the high priest was allowing the agitation of a rebellion against Roman rule. The Roman governor would hold the high priest ultimately responsible for any breakdown of peace and order in Jerusalem. Also, if a riot broke out because of a carpenter who had pretensions to kingship, the Romans would be provoked to intervene militarily, and this in turn would provoke patriotic Jews to fight back. Such a situation could easily spin out of control, and many Jews could get killed.

The aristocratic priests had Jesus arrested. There is no agreement as to what exactly happened after the arrest and before the crucifixion itself. Some historians think that a trial before the Sanhedrin, the formal council of the high priest, could not have happened as related by Mark (14:53-65) and Matthew (26:57-68), for it was against Jewish law to hold a trial at night. In Luke, the trial was held “at daybreak” (22:66-71). In John’s account (18:19-24), there was no trial but an interrogation by Annas, the former high priest and the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the reigning high priest.

A brief consultation between Caiaphas and Pilate either before or after the arrest of Jesus would have been enough to secure his execution. Caiaphas was the longest-reigning high priest during the 1st century. Since from the year 6 CE onwards the Romans appointed and could easily replace the high priest, the lengthy reign of Caiaphas (18-36 CE) implied that he had good relations with the Romans.

According to Martin Hengel (Crucifixion in the Ancient World, 1977), crucifixion as a penalty was widespread in antiquity. It was a political and military punishment. The Romans inflicted it on political rebels and criminals from the lower social strata such as rebellious slaves and rural bandits. By the public display of a naked victim at a prominent place, crucifixion represented the utmost humiliation of the crucified. This shameful spectacle was aimed not only to deter others from rebellion and crime but also to magnify the power of the ruler who approved the execution. The shame was aggravated further by the fact that, quite often, the victims were never buried. It was standard practice to leave the hanging corpse to serve as food for wild beasts, scavenger dogs, and birds of prey.

Jesus and two others were taken outside the walls of Jerusalem, nailed to crosses, and left to die. It seems that a few of his female disciples watched from a distance (Mark 15:40), while his other disciples were in hiding. After the shameful execution of Jesus, his remains might have been buried hastily by some of his sympathizers or even by his enemies (cf Acts 13:28-29).

Sources Consulted:

Horsley, Richard and Neil Asher Silberman. The Message and the Kingdom: How Jesus and Paul Ignited a Revolution and Transformed the Ancient World. New York, 1997.

Sanders, E.P. The Historical Figure of Jesus. London, 1995.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Ways & Means Forward on Charter Change

1. This period before the 2010 elections is a wrong time to undertake Charter Change primarily because (a) there is lack of time to work for a consensus among competing elite groups and (b) the President has insufficient political capital and credibility to exercise leadership that can achieve a consensus on the specific changes and the method of change.

2. If a "surgical" change of the Charter were to be attempted by means of the regular legislative process, a prime candidate for amendment would be Article XVII, the procedure for amendments and revisions, in order (a) to specify the method and manner of voting of the members of Congress as a Constituent Assembly and (b) to institutionalize people empowerment by making the People's Initiative process realistic and less cumbersome for ordinary citizens and their organizations. It is sheer wishful thinking to expect ordinary citizens organizations to be able to gather millions of signatures that contain those of at least three percent (3%) of voters in each and every legislative district nationwide, besides the requirement of 12% of total voters, in order for an Initiative process to be recognized as officially initiated.

3. In light of Philippine history, the primary actor for the success of a Charter Change process is the Presidency. Thus, it is imperative for individuals and organizations that are convinced about the necessity of change to actively engage with prospective presidential candidates in order to challenge them early enough to make Charter Change a major campaign issue and to explain publicly their views on the specific changes they will target to attain or to oppose.

4. It is imperative for various Charter Change stakeholders and their organizations to exercise leadership by continuing and deepening the discussions among themselves and their networks and intensifying the education of citizens, especially the youth, on the importance of the Charter, its potentials, and its limitations. Academic and research institutions should undertake and finish studies on particular processes and attempts at Charter Change in Philippine history and in comparable circumstances in other countries.

These were my synthesis points from the discussions at the Charter Change Seminar organized by the Ateneo School of Government with the support of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in Tagaytay City on 29-31 October 2008. There were 25 prominent participants among whom were Dr. Jose Abueva, Atty. Butch Abad, Mayor Constantino Jaraula, Commissioner Rene Sarmiento, Dr. Joel Rocamora, Dean Marvic Leonen, Atty. Camilo Sabio, Atty. Raul Lambino, Dr. Edna Co, Dr. Clarita Carlos, ex-Rep. Loretta Ann Rosales, Lito Lorenzana, Amina Rasul, & Ramon Casiple. Dean Antonio La Viña was the main facilitator.

If I may add, it appears urgent to attempt a “surgical” Constitutional amendment that will require a runoff presidential election with only 2 candidates in case no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote in the initial run with several candidates. The runoff election will greatly increase the probability that the electoral system will produce a strong national executive who can claim to possess a clear mandate from the people so that s/he can have the political capital to deal with vested interest groups and to implement difficult reforms as well as unite our nation especially during times of crisis. If allowed to continue, the current plurality system will eventually lead to a situation wherein a candidate could get him/herself elected president with a mere 20% or even less of the vote in an election with eight or more solid contenders.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

What's Happening to Our Country?

What’s Happening to Our Country? The Life and Times of Emmanuel Pelaez is a recently launched book of Nelson Navarro, a journalist and political analyst who has worked with several Philippine and international media entities. Pelaez (1915-2003) served the country in various offices as Vice President (1961-1965), Senator (1953-1959, 1967-1972), Misamis Oriental Representative (1949-1953, 1965-1967, 1978-1984), and Ambassador to the United States (1986-1992).

“What’s happening to our country?” was expressed by Pelaez as he was being wheeled into the operating room owing to six gunshot wounds from a failed assassination attempt in 1982 which was probably intended to stop his active opposition to the coconut levy that benefited a cartel headed by Danding Cojuangco, the top crony of President Ferdinand Marcos.

The question of Pelaez is one that continues to be relevant today, and ought to be asked by every Filipino in every generation. To have no interest in the question is to be indifferent if not unpatriotic. Pelaez was a patriot, as he expressed his heartfelt concern about our country, even as he was in physical pain and mental anguish in the immediate aftermath of the cowardly attempt on his life.

We can seek the answer to his question with less difficulty, if we read and reflect on the story of his long and colorful life. This story shows us the deep roots of our trenchant national problems such as our weak governance institutions, which are weak especially in terms of upholding the rule of law and holding high officials accountable.

Throughout his public life, Pelaez opposed unlawful violence, more so when he became a victim. He refused to support plans, whether from friends or foes, to take the law into their own hands and resort to violence when they were aggrieved or cheated, for he firmly believed in the principle of justice, which is impossible in a democratic society without the rule of law.

Furthermore, Pelaez envisioned justice as equal opportunity especially for the poor and the rural folk, in the spirit of his model and mentor, President Ramon Magsaysay, who said that those who have less in life should have more in law. Thus Pelaez, the legislator, championed rural community development through the 1954 Barrio Charter Law and the 1969 Rural Electrification Law.

Besides the principle of justice which guided his life in public service, Pelaez pursued excellence in whatever he undertook from his elementary days at Cagayan de Oro, where he graduated valedictorian, his secondary schooling at the Ateneo de Manila in Intramuros where he graduated valedictorian again, his attainment of the number 1 slot in the 1938 bar examinations, and the list can go on and on.

Justice and the pursuit of excellence are two of the core ethical principles that, for the Ateneo School of Government, should be communicated in word and deed and promoted through appropriate systems and practices by contemporary and future leaders in governance and public service. Thus, it is a happy coincidence or a timely development that this book on Pelaez has been launched this year when the Ateneo de Manila University celebrates its Sesquicentennial or 150-year Anniversary with the threefold theme of “Celebrating Excellence, Deepening Spirituality, and Building the Nation.”

The Hon. Emmanuel Pelaez was certainly a nation-builder who pursued excellence in the spirit of his Lord, Jesus Christ, who humbly washed the dusty and dirty feet of his disciples including the feet of his betrayer and the other feet that ran away quickly when their teacher and friend was arrested.

Pelaez himself suffered painful betrayals especially when Marcos broke their gentleman’s agreement to shun the buying of votes at the 1964 Nacionalista Party Convention, which eventually chose Marcos as the standard-bearer against President Diosdado Macapagal. Many convention delegates who initially pledged their support for Pelaez switched to Marcos for thousands of reasons.

The initial bitter feeling from the betrayals, however, did not stay and consume Pelaez, primarily because of the deep Christian faith and values that were nurtured by Jesuit mentors like Fr. John Delaney and Pelaez’s adviser and friend, Fr. Pacifico Ortiz, the first Filipino President of the Ateneo de Manila University.

Pelaez kept to heart what Fr. Delaney told his high school class: “If I had my way, I would put in the office of every public official the picture of Christ washing the feet of his disciples…This must be the symbol of service for all public officials.”

The Ateneo School of Government, the graduate school of leadership and public service which operates from the Pacifico Ortiz Hall in the Loyola campus, congratulates the author, Nelson Navarro, and the Emmanuel Pelaez Foundation for a useful and timely book. I recommend its inclusion as instructional material for one of our core courses, "Leadership in Public Service," in our Master in Public Management program, and I expect that other institutions that offer courses in public administration and political history will find this book useful and instructive.

The Ateneo School of Government has entered into a partnership with the Emmanuel Pelaez Foundation to launch the Emmanuel Pelaez Leadership and Campaign Program in which leadership and campaign seminars will be conducted to prepare reform-minded neophytes especially but not exclusively from Mindanao to organize ethical and effective campaigns for the 2010 elections. We need to put in elective office more reform-oriented politicians. Thus, if you are interested to help us, please let us know by email

I encourage everybody to read the book, learn its lessons as we look backwards to the times of Emmanuel Pelaez, move forward individually, and collectively move this nation forward in light of the lessons of his life.