Thursday, December 13, 2012

Health and Vital Enigmas

In trying to improve the services of the public health system in the Philippines, leaders and conscientious citizens have to adopt or recognize an integral model of health and to avoid an uncritical adoption of the Western “biomedical model of health” which tends to forget or repress existential enigmas and thus to become a narrow and dehumanizing view of health.
According to Anthony Giddens:
“The biomedical model of health [builds on] the belief that disease can be defined in objective terms and that the sick body can be restored to health through scientifically based medical treatment.  The biomedical model of health emerged alongside modern societies.  It was linked to the rise of demographics – the study of the size, composition and dynamics of human populations – and the growing interest of states in promoting public health.” (Sociology, 4th ed)

In the process of building the modern urban environment, sources of existential anxiety such as deterioration and death, chronic sickness, madness, and eroticism got sequestered from day-to-day routines (Modernity and Self-Identity).  These realities remind us that we are inseparable from nature, its rhythms, and its contingencies.
In the process of building the surveilled environments of hospitals, asylums, and carceral complexes, these realities became secluded from regular activities.  The face-to-face presencing of dying and death, the very smell of it, and the laughing and singing of the insane have become unusual phenomena to upper-class and middle-class persons especially in urban locales.

“In pre-modern societies chronic sickness was part of many people’s lives and contact with death was a more or less commonplace feature of everyone’s experience (Modernity and Self-Identity).  These critical yet familiar features of pre-modern life were often enveloped in traditional practices and rituals that offered meaning and solace.  Deep immersion in tradition helped people to appreciate the continuous intermingling of being and non-being in the world.

The Church needs to re-examine and to redesign or restructure creatively its liturgies and rituals in order to help contemporary people appreciate better the intermingling of being and non-being in society and nature.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Power and Agency

Among interacting agents, a disparity of discursive skills, or a disparity in knowledge about rules of formal discourse, can easily lead to a structuration of domination during those occasions and in those settings in which discourses are expected.  In most day-to-day contexts of interaction, a disparity of skills and resources among the agents exists, and thus more often than not, domination structures are reproduced.

For Anthony Giddens, what is more significant is the logical conjunction of the notion of human agency and that of power.  He writes:

“Action intrinsically involves the application of ‘means’ to achieve outcomes, brought about through the direct intervention of an actor in a course of events, ‘intended action’ being a sub-class of the actor’s doing or refraining from doing; power represents the capacity of the agent to mobilize resources to constitute those ‘means.’  In this most general sense, ‘power’ refers to the transformative capacity of human action.” (New Rules)

For Giddens, the understanding of power as domination is narrower than his general conception of power as transformative capacity.  Furthermore, in his view, “the relation between power and conflict is a contingent one.” He continues:

“If power and conflict frequently go together, it is not because the one logically implies the other, but because power is linked to the pursuance of interests, and people’s interests may fail to coincide…Power is a feature of every form of human interaction, division of interest is not.” (New Rules).

For Giddens, the reproduction of a domination structure during interaction does not necessarily imply that there exists a conflict of interests among the interacting agents.  There are contexts when the interests of a dominant person (or group) and a dependent person (or group) do coincide, and although such contexts are perhaps less common than not, they can be significant enough not only for sociological analysis but also for anticipating social changes.

For Giddens, “power relations are relations of autonomy and dependence, but even the most autonomous agent is in some degree dependent, and the most dependent actor or party in a relationship retains some autonomy” (Central Problems).  All forms of dependence make some resources available to subordinates for influencing the activities of their superiors.  Giddens calls this notion the dialectic of control in systems of interaction.

Giddens’ conception of the dialectic of control recognizes that power relations are not constant-sum games.  Social power is not a fixed quantity that gets divided between the interacting parties so much so that when one party becomes more powerful the other party becomes weaker correspondingly.

The dialectic of control is open to a wide range of possible effects: (1) both interacting parties become more powerful, though usually to different degrees; (2) one party becomes more powerful while the other becomes weaker; or (3) both parties becomes weaker.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Human Consciousness

According to Anthony Giddens, practical consciousness is “tacit knowledge that is skilfully applied in the enactment of courses of conduct, but which the actor is not able to formulate discursively” (Central Problems).  It is not the unconscious.

Giddens analytically distinguishes practical consciousness from discursive consciousness, but affirms that both converge in many moments of social interaction.  In the realm of discursive consciousness, “discursive capabilities do not just take the form of propositional statements: ‘discourse’ has to include modes of expression which are often treated as uninteresting in sociological research – such as humour, sarcasm and irony” (Constitution of Society).

A living language is primarily practical consciousness not only because it is both a medium and a product of social interaction.  It is practical consciousness because, in every living language, most ordinary speakers or most native speakers know and use the linguistic rules, and the exceptions to these rules, without being able to state or explain them adequately.

Practical consciousness of a rule involves genuine knowledge or skill that is learned and taught in the doing, and somebody who has mastery of a rule rarely has to “interpret” or “think” (or “talk to some inner self” about) that rule while enacting that rule (New Rules).

Rules and skills for an interaction are not only linguistic.  They include the continuous monitoring of one’s body, of the other bodies present, of the resources the bodies carry, and the setting of the interaction.  Thus, an understanding of rules is inadequate when it is not closely connected to the use or the availability of resources.  Practical consciousness is tacit knowledge of how to proceed, how to go on, especially in the day-to-day contexts of social existence.

In a routine context of interaction, practical consciousness is expressed in a procession of gestures, facial expressions, and conventional remarks, each one of which is, in that context, regular or rational enough so much so that neither the agents nor participant observers see the need for an explanation of each act right after each act is done.  Practical consciousness, however, is not mechanical, no matter how routine is the context.

Practical consciousness entails a continuous monitoring of both one’s own and the other’s behaviour, for the regularity or rationality of even a small gesture does not depend on the gesture itself but on its timeliness and position within the continuous process of an interaction in a specific setting.

For example, a simple smile, which had passed unremarked in one moment, could provoke a demand for an explanation if inserted in another moment or in a different setting.  Any agent could be queried also about one’s untimely silence or pause in a conversation.

To routinely know both the convenient and the inconvenient continuities and discontinuities of interaction in a particular context entails skills that mostly have been learned after a long period of time or after repeated immersions in such or similar contexts.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Language as Structure

A good example of a structure is a living language, which binds a particular people and their practices across the generations and across distances.  Language is a structure that is both a medium and an outcome during instances of communication.  This necessary medium, the irreducible linguistic structure, is implicit in every instance of intelligible communication.
Every intelligible sentence exchanged by talkers, for example, presupposes a practical mastery of the grammar, the syntax, and the morphology of the language in use.  The talkers do not make use of all the possible linguistic rules for every sentence, but every intelligible utterance entails, none the less, a prodigious and complex set of rules.  This set of rules becomes effectively present in its absence, in its evanescent instantiation in every sentence spoken.
“Language is what language does” (Social Theory and Modern Sociology), or “language is practical consciousness” (Karl Marx).  Language is practical, as it facilitates social intercourse, which reproduces it as a social product.  A living language is never private property, and it can never be withheld from the other talkers, who regularly appropriate it.
The regular use of language by every communicative person renders the linguistic structure not only present but also evanescent, as every intelligible expression momentarily reproduces and potentially modulates the structure.  As an intelligible expression unfolds in empirical time-space, the linguistic structure is reproduced in virtual time-space.
A good illustration of the practical, pliable, and evanescent aspects of the linguistic structure is the phenomenon of the ordinary conversation, which never entails strict rules.  Within the flow of conversation, some half-sentences, subjectless remarks, verbless expressions, and prepositional phrases can become crucial moments of communication. 
The actual intelligibility of grammatically vague or mangled expressions disrupts the linguistic structure and “corrupts” or modifies its rules.  Yet it is precisely the practical mastery of the rules of a particular language, as is usually the case with native speakers, which enables conversationalists every now and then to suspend some of the rules without thereby turning their talk into a babel of voices.  The competent suspension of rules is an instance of the presence-in-absence of structure.
Today, most non-aboriginal languages have grammatical rules and standard lexical items in writing, but the practical reality of a living language enables some widely-used slang and colloquial expressions to be accepted eventually into formal speech and writing.  Furthermore, every standard lexical item can acquire novel connotations or even additional definitions through frequent application outside the usual contexts.
In the same process, formal expressions can fall into such disuse that they eventually disappear even from specialized texts.  This is a continuous process of the appearance, disappearance, and modification of the verbal expressions and their connotations, and thus the linguistic structure is never, at any moment, simply itself.

A private act of an individual agent, however, does not introduce a modification of the linguistic structure or of any structure whatsoever.  A linguistic, normative, or domination structure can undergo modification within a system of interaction and not through a private individual act.
The actual intelligibility of vague or inexact expressions, especially during conversation, depends on a mastery not only of linguistic rules, but more so, of corporal and contextual rules and resources.  A mastery of these rules and resources entails a “ramified control of the body and a developed knowledge of how to ‘go on’ in the plurality of contexts of social life” (Constitution of Society).

The spatio-temporal nature of the body, its movements, and the setting of the interaction can often determine the meaning of expressions to a greater degree than formal linguistic rules can.  In the flow of a conversation, for example, a mangled verbal expression can become instantly intelligible within a certain timing, spacing, and positioning of the body and its movements: the speed of gestures, the rise and fall of the voice, the inclination of the head, the facial expression, and the overall posture.

The timing-spacing of the body in day-to-day contexts is an effective expression of the practical consciousness of the agent.  This practical consciousness includes the monitoring and the use of contextual resources, the resources on the interacting bodies, the resources these bodies bring, and the resources near at hand.  For example, power-dressing (religious, military, formal, fashionable, or expensive attire) influences interaction in many contexts.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Structure and System

“In structuration theory structure has always to be conceived of as a property of social systems, carried in reproduced practices embedded in time and space” (Constitution of Society). Structures exist as structural properties of social systems, and interacting agents reproduce these properties, which are momentary media and effects of interaction. As for social systems, Anthony Giddens says:

“Social systems are systems of social interaction; as such they involve the situated activities of human subjects, and exist syntagmatically in the flow of time. Systems…are not structures in themselves. Structures…are characterised by the ‘absence of a subject.’” (Central Problems)

Giddens wants structures to be distinguished from systems; he posits that interacting agents reproduce them at distinguishable levels; the level of virtual time-space for structures, and the level of empirical time-space for systems.

Giddens conceives a structure as a set of memory-traces that momentarily fuse future, past, and present; thus, in this momentary fusion, structure exists in virtual time-space. These memory-traces are continually reproduced, fused, fragmented, and instantiated in the social practices that compose the process of action and interaction.

As sets of memory-traces, structures make it possible for interacting agents to perceive and produce continuities and discontinuities, similarities and differences, in their practices across generations and across distances in time-space. For Giddens, the general effect of structures, or of structural properties, is the binding of time-space in social systems. “Structure is what gives form and shape to social life, but it is not itself that form and shape;” the form and shape, the pattern across time-space, is system (“Reply to My Critics”).

More concretely, structures “can be understood as rules and resources, recursively implicated in the reproduction of social systems” (Central Problems). A rule here should be understood as a tacit generalizable procedure of interaction. As rules, structures include contextual, corporal and communication rules.

For example, in the face-to-face conversation, there are tacit rules as regards taking turns and maintaining some eye contact. Another example, in the restaurant context, the kitchen is, as a rule, off-limits to customers. Rules are not necessarily fixed; they can become points of periodic disputes, and they are alterable.

“All social rules have both constitutive and regulative (sanctioning) aspects to them;” they relate not only to matters that occur but also to those that are expected to occur in an interaction. Following Ludwig Wittgenstein, Giddens affirms that to know a rule is to know how to proceed or how to go on in an interaction. Furthermore, “to know how to go on is not necessarily, or normally, to be able to formulate clearly what the rules are” (Central Problems).

Social rules get translated into action in conjunction with resources: the resources on interacting agents (dress and ornamentation), the resources these agents bring (money, a weapon, a sacred object, or symbolic tokens), and the resources near at hand or within the setting of the interaction.

By themselves, resources are not structural properties of social systems; they become structural properties only in conjunction with knowing how to use them or with some familiarity with the rules of their use. “Stone walls do not a prison make, rather the human, and modifiable, [rule-governed] practices of imprisonment” (William Outhwaite).

For Giddens, structural properties have “no existence independent of the knowledge that agents have about what they do in their day-to-day activity” (Constitution of Society). Thus, as rules and resources, structures are forms of knowledge-capability. This connects directly with the concept of structures as sets of memory-traces that make possible the enactment of social practices, which instantiate, or reproduce simultaneously and momentarily, these memory-traces.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Agency and Structure

To be sustainable, social reform for the common good entails structural changes.  But what is structural change and how is it done?  The structuration theory of Anthony Giddens can help answer the question.

Giddens distinguishes between structure and system, and asserts “the duality of structure.”  He writes: “by the duality of structure I mean that social structure is both constituted by human agency and yet is at the same time the very medium of this constitution” (New Rules). 
Structure and agency form a duality, which Giddens distinguishes from a dualism.  He regards the two aspects of a duality as correlated and interdependent with neither aspect as equivalent nor reducible to the other.  In contrast, aspects of a dualism necessarily oppose or exclude each other.

The concept of the duality of structure rejects the perception that structure is some steel cage that encloses agents who are interacting within the cage, have been interacting before being in the cage, and can interact outside it.  For Giddens, structure enters into the very constitution of action and interaction.  Structure is both a medium and an outcome of agency, and thus, “structure must not be conceptualized as simply placing constraints upon human agency, but as enabling” (New Rules).  Structural constraint and empowerment also form a duality.
The constraint-empowerment duality is illustrated well by the process of learning a language.  Giddens says:

“Since any language constrains thought (and action) in the sense that it presumes a range of framed, rule-governed properties, the process of language learning sets certain limits to cognition and activity.  But by the very same token the learning of a language greatly expands the cognitive and practical capacities of the individual.” (New Rules)
For example, training a child how to communicate verbally, how to substitute words and sentences for its cries and screams, is a form of social pressure.  Yet undeniably, such training empowers the child.

For another example of structural constraint cum empowerment, one can refer to the method of scientific practice.  The scientific method requires the following of some procedures and the avoidance of other procedures in the pursuit of reliable knowledge.  Whether in science or in education, a degree of discipline is required from the participants, and this discipline is both constraining and enabling.

For another illustration, consider the practice of dressing formally.  It disposes the wearers and observers to do some gestures or types of behaviour and to avoid others.  A structure is comparable to a perspective, which enables one to focus on certain phenomena while inhibiting or blurring the vision of other phenomena.  Thus, to say that structure only constrains is like saying that one’s eyes only prevent one from seeing directly the back of one’s head.
The constraint-empowerment duality applies to each and every participant of an interaction.  No participant is merely constrained or merely empowered, although in many contexts of interaction, some participants do tend to be more constrained or more empowered than the others.

As conceptualized by Giddens, the duality of structure denies determinism, whether economic, technological, bureaucratic, or cultural.  Determinism…refers to any theoretical scheme which reduces human action solely to event causality,” which Giddens contrasts with “agent causality” (New Rules). 

Agent causality and the duality of structure are meant to be interlocked concepts, and thus, both have to be understood neither in a voluntaristic nor a deterministic sense.  “The conception of agency in structuration theory resists the polarities of both thoroughgoing determinism and unqualified freedom, while preserving all possibilities between these extremes” (Ira Cohen).
If one wants the common good to be the fruit of structural changes in the economic, political and cultural realms, social reformers have to clarify to themselves what forms of empowerment and constraint would new structures yield and what groups would likely end up more empowered and more constrained in their social interactions.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Jesse Robredo, 1958-2012

Jesse M. Robredo exercised frontline leadership in an excellent way as Naga City mayor and then Secretary of Interior and Local Government.   He had soared ahead despite the deadweight of a powerful uncle, Camarines Sur Representative Luis Robredo Villafuerte, who opposed his nephew throughout most of his political career.

Some deadweight also came from Pres. Noynoy Aquino who treated Robredo like a second-class cabinet member by not submitting his name to the Commission on Appointments for 16 months and by denying him the full powers of a DILG Secretary and instead giving supervision over police affairs to Usec. Rico Puno, one of the president's shooting buddies who had shallow and dubious qualifications.  Also, unlike several other cabinet members, Robredo was never praised or mentioned by Noynoy during his 2010, 2011 and 2012 State of the Nation Addresses.

Jesse Robredo was an excellent public servant. As Naga City mayor for 19 years (1988-1998, 2001-2010), he walked the straight path in his exercise of leadership. For example, the City Administrator of Naga narrated:

“The Mayor once officiated at a wedding.   He was given P200,000 in an envelope.   When he got back to City Hall, he ordered that a receipt be prepared.   He said that we will use it to construct a school and he will show it to the couple so that we can ask for more donations.   I admired him.   He didn’t get the money even though nobody knew about it.”

Other anecdotes about Robredo can be found in "Breaking New Ground: A Profile of Mayor Jesse M. Robredo” by Francis Isaac and Joy Aceron, in Frontline Leadership: Stories of 5 Local Chief Executives, edited by A. Medel, M. Lopa-Perez, and D. Gonzalez, and published in 2007 (ISBN 978-971-92495-2-8).
Robredo transformed Naga from a 3rd class city into a 1st class city and the premier city in the Bicol region.   Average household incomes in Naga are 42% higher than the national average and 126% higher than the Bicol average.
Naga has received so many national and international awards such as the 1997 Galing Pook Hall of Fame Award for Excellence in Local Governance, the 2004 Outstanding City School Board Program, and the 2004 UN Public Service Award for ICT Application in Local Government.
Among the many awards Robredo himself has received are the 1996 Konrad Adenauer Medal of Excellence, the 1999 Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines, and the 2000 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service.
To institutionalize transparency and participatory governance in local legislation and policy-making, Robredo pushed for a city ordinance that established the Naga City People’s Council, which is a federation of local non-government organizations.   The People’s Council operates as an active and official partner, monitor, and evaluator of the city government.   Robredo also instituted the uploading in the city government website of all its procurements, transactions, and licensing procedures and systems.
At the end of his third consecutive term as mayor in 1998, Robredo did not run for another elective office, nor did he field Leni, his wife who is a lawyer, or any relative for the mayoral post.   Instead, he returned to private life and pursued and completed a master’s degree in public administration at the Kennedy School of Government in Harvard University.   Leni and he dislike the establishment of a political dynasty.

Robredo once said in an interview that the assassination of Ninoy Aquino on 21 August 1983 jolted him and made him resolve to do more for the country.  Two days after the assassination, he joined the thousands who lined up to view the remains and pay their last respects.  Afterwards, he participated in protest marches against the Marcos dictatorship, despite the fact that he was a manager in the distribution department of Magnolia Dairy Products, a subsidiary of San Miguel Corporation (SMC), which was controlled by known Marcos crony, Eduardo 'Danding' Cojuangco.

Before he first ran and won as mayor in 1988, Jesse Robredo was helped by his uncle and mentor, Luis Robredo Villafuerte.  As Chairman of a presidential commission under then Pres. Corazon Aquino, Villafuerte obtained a government position for Robredo, who was appointed head of the Bicol River Basin Development Project.   The position helped give Robredo, who was a Manila-based manager of SMC, the necessary public exposure in Naga City before his uncle encouraged and supported him to run for mayor.
During his 1st year as mayor, however, Robredo and his uncle became adversaries over jueteng, an illegal gambling activity.   Robredo enforced the illegality of jueteng.   Ever since, Villafuerte has considered Robredo ungrateful, and has strongly and publicly opposed him through all his electoral battles.
Although he was born and raised in a middle-class family, Robredo understands poverty and the life of the poor. He said in an interview:
“I grew up with my friends who were squatters living at the back of our house.   My basketball teammates were all poor.   When I was already in La Salle, those that I got to play basketball with didn’t go to college.   Somehow, it gave me a more balanced view that there are poor people that needed to be helped.”
Robredo's long stint at Naga City also showed that he had the necessary cunning and administrative and political skills.   As a Japanese researcher on Naga City and Philippine politics attested:
“Robredo has demonstrated his uniquely capable administrative abilities.   He has been able to manage two seemingly contradictory tasks: keeping the city government on a sound financial footing and maintaining his strong political machine.” (Takeshi Kawanaka, Power in a Philippine City, Chiba, 2002)
I distinctly remember how I was impressed by the modest and low-key character of Mayor Jesse whenever he would be invited to give a talk to the off-campus Master in Public Management students of the Ateneo School of Government in several locales outside the National Capital Region.  He was already a "superstar" for local governance teachers and students, but he never acted like one.

Robredo had broken new ground as Naga City mayor and DILG Secretary.  I dare say that he surely is in God's glorious presence.  In Naga, he always began his mornings by going to the Basilica of Our Lady of Penafrancia to pray.  He had a priest-confessor and spiritual director whom he consulted regularly despite his busy schedule as a hard-working public servant.
Jesse Robredo will be sorely missed.  May his family, friends and admirers find comfort despite his unexpected passing.  May his spirit live on in many Filipinos.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Catholic Political Involvement

Catholic Social Teaching affirms that the Gospel of Christ benefits the whole human person and all human practices: economic, political, and cultural.  Thus, every field of human activity is a field of evangelization.  Politics is a priority area of evangelization because it can lead people to the common good or can dehumanize by entrapping them in practices and procedures that violate or degrade human dignity.  Politics should protect and not degrade human dignity, which flows from God’s decision to create human beings, male and female, in the divine image (Genesis 1:27).

In the gospels, Christ fed and satisfied people in their hunger for food, wisdom and compassion.  He also declared that whatever we did, or failed to do, for the poor, the hungry, the sick, the abandoned, or the needy stranger, we did or failed to do for him (Matthew 25:31-46).  In our times, believers who help generate good and steady jobs for the unemployed, or who raise the employment or entrepreneurial skills of the poor, are serving Christ the Lord himself, whose image or face is mysteriously present in every person in need.

Good and wise politics creates the stable environment of rules and regulations for entrepreneurial activities, the creation and maintenance of decent jobs, and the administration of justice.  Politics is the practice and art of governance of citizens for the common good.  It includes the administration of public resources such as tax money and public land, buildings and equipment.

The common good is what preserves or promotes the basic human dignity of everybody, whether one belongs to a minority or a majority group in society.  Thus, for example, a government recognizes the human right of equal protection of law for every citizen, whether poor or rich, man or woman of whatever ethnic or religious group, especially in cases where life, liberty or property is at stake.  No person ought to be deprived by government of what is his or hers without due process.  No innocent person ought to spend years in prison awaiting the wheels of justice which, unfortunately, turn most slowly for the financially poor and those with poor political connections.

Politics is also the art of resolving with fairness the conflicts of interests among groups in society.  For example, there tends to be a conflict between, on the one hand, the interest of wage-workers of enterprises who want higher wages or better benefits, and on the other hand, the interest of investors who want a profitable or higher return of their investments.  Also, the interest of lowlanders to utilize or develop more land and natural resources conflicts often with the interest of indigenous groups of highlanders who want to preserve their ancestral lands and resources.  Politics is a reasonable means to resolve such conflicts without resorting to violence.

Besides the common good, other purposes of the political community of citizens and public authorities are the protection of rights and the creation of effective opportunities for everybody to play an active part in public affairs.

Unfortunately, in many instances in the exercise of politics in the Philippines, the common good is not targeted or achieved, the conflicts of interests in society are not resolved fairly or wisely, and major political decisions are reached without sufficient participation from groups who are most vulnerable to the negative effects of the decisions.  The benefits of political decisions and actions go more to the few rich and those who have strong political patrons or connections, while the burdens or costs of the decisions are borne more by the many who are poor or poorly connected.

Owing to the established or dominant political and economic practices and procedures, there is great inequality of opportunity for a life of dignity in the country.  Most of the poor have seen little or no improvement in their social condition from one generation to the next, and they see elections to political office as occasions for momentary relief from misery through the money or goods handed out by candidates.  Or elections are seen as no different from popular games of chance which can be exciting or entertaining even when people do not expect the games to change their lives in the long term.  

There is also unequal opportunity for political office, and most of the top elective positions are won by members of a few established families, clans or dynasties.  In several locales, dynasties allocate huge resources for bribing election personnel and hiring goons to intimidate voters and to inflict violence on opponents.  Thus, many citizens generalize politics and politicians as dirty or corrupt.

The Church considers politics both a difficult and noble art, and thus encourages those with talent or potential to prepare themselves for the practice of politics and to engage in political activity with integrity and wisdom.  A Christian who neglects one’s duties as a citizen and political actor on earth neglects one’s duties toward the neighbor and thus puts one’s heavenly citizenship at risk.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines asserts that an urgent part of the mission of Catholic citizens is to evangelize politics, to transform politics in the light of the Gospel, or to nurture Gospel values such as justice, compassion and humility within the political field (CBCP, 1997).  This is part of the mission of integral evangelization or the evangelization of the whole person and all human life and activity (PCP II).

As an agent of integral evangelization, the Church is both a teacher and a learner in the world, in the understanding and improvement of human dignity and social life.  As a learner, the Church as the whole people of God has the task “to listen to and distinguish the many voices of our times” (Gaudium et Spes 44), including non-religious voices from the fields of politics and economics.  Also, the Church appreciates the presence of truth, goodness or justice in non-religious institutions.

The Church recognizes that “justice, peace and integral development can be pursued through many political ways,” and the Gospel does not prescribe a particular political system for Christians, whether monarchical, presidential or parliamentary (CBCP, 1997).  Christians should recognize the legitimacy of different points of view as regards the organization of political, economic and educational activities.

The Church is teacher and learner towards the political community but is neither a ruler nor an agency of the State.  “The political community and the Church are autonomous and independent of each other in their own fields” (Gaudium et Spes 76).

The Church accepts the constitutional principle of the separation of Church and State, but considers the principle misinterpreted by those who expect the Church to become silent on matters of politics, politicians, and public policies.  Separation of Church and State should not mean the loss of the public voice of the Church and the confinement of religion either to the individual conscience or to worship activities.

What separation of Church and State correctly implies are the following: the State has no official religion; the State shall not discriminate against any religion, whether of the minority or the majority; no Church or religious group or organization may exercise control over the police or armed forces of the State.  For integral or total human development of all persons in society, honest and prudent dialogue between Church and State is necessary, while they maintain their proper separation or independence. 

The mission of the Church and the purpose of the political community to promote the common good partially coincide, and thus respectful and mutual collaboration between them can be pursued.  Critical discernment, however, has to be practiced to ensure that, in the mutual collaboration of Church and State, the credibility and autonomy of the Church are not weakened.

Integral development is the major goal of the evangelization of politics.  Such human development requires the "creation of structures of participation and shared responsibility" (Centesimus Annus 46) and the pursuit of people empowerment, people’s “greater involvement in decision-making, greater equality in both political and economic matters, more democracy, more participation” (PCP II).  Besides people empowerment and the pursuit of the common good, three other principles should characterize Filipino Catholic participation in politics: defense and promotion of justice, a spirit of service, and a love of preference for the poor.

To avoid harmful division within the community of believers, the Church directs bishops, religious and priests to refrain from partisan politics, especially the use of the pulpit or the Eucharistic celebration for partisan purposes, whether for or against a particular political leader, family, or political party.  Instead, competent and conscientious lay men and women are strongly encouraged to get involved directly in “principled partisan politics” (CBCP, 2009).

From historical experience, the Church recognizes that there can be rare junctures in history when a primarily moral judgment its officials pass about a political event is unavoidably partisan.  This is what happened when the CBCP declared that the 1986 elections were fraudulent and thus Pres. Ferdinand Marcos had no moral basis to extend his rule for another term.

To prepare Catholic citizens for principled participation in politics, whether partisan or not, the basic work that has to be done is catechesis on politics or Christian education in politics (CBCP, 1997).  Such education can take place in the family, the Catholic educational institution, the parish, a base community, a covenant community or a religious organization.

Catholic political education has to include and develop “the missionary aspect of the Church’s social doctrine” (Caritas in Veritate 15).  Catholic political actors who understand this missionary aspect will proclaim explicitly their faith in Christ, when there are opportune times in their political activities.

Scripture says: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)  Thus, every Catholic political actor should be prepared to proclaim one’s faith with both conviction and humility, and with respect for the religious freedom of others, but not during inopportune times so that one’s faith proclamations do not end up like pearls thrown to pigs (Matthew 7:6).

Principled political participation can be pursued by Catholic citizens in many specific ways.  Some can join and be active in civil society groups or citizens organizations that pursue the following: popular education on the rights and duties of citizenship; education of citizens on responsible voting; education of candidates on principled political leadership; election monitoring and evaluation; monitoring the performance of elective officials; monitoring government procurement and service delivery; monitoring the process of deliberation of bills in Congress; advocacy work including lobbying for policies, laws, regulations and procedures that will contribute to political, economic and educational reforms and integral development.

Competent and conscientious lay Catholic citizens who have a talent or potential for elective office should consider seriously to prepare themselves in a systematic way to become candidates, or at least to campaign actively for the excellent or superior candidates.

Perhaps the next level in the evangelization of politics can be the building or strengthening of political parties as necessary institutions in a democracy.  For too long, the dominant political parties in the Philippines have been personality-oriented rather than oriented to platforms or programs; they do not seriously engage in the political education of the citizenry; they are weak in party discipline and thus party-switching by politicians is done regularly.

Catholic involvement in politics in the Philippines has evolved through the decades toward stronger recognition of the need for political education and lay participation in partisan politics.  Catholic education in politics has to include the missionary aspect of the political involvement of believers.

In its political involvement, the Church, the communion of the faithful, is an evangelizer of politics.  This is a challenging and risky mission, but the Church ought to pursue it because of its fidelity to Christ, its head, whose victory over sin and death offers assurance and strength to every evangelizer.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Filipino Poor and the Holy Spirit

Juanita Lamar or Nanang Juaning is an umbrella woman.  She has been fixing umbrellas since her husband died 14 years ago.  A pair of long-nosed pliers, an old knife that also serves as a screw-driver, and pieces of small wires have made it possible for Nanang Juaning of Davao City to raise her 10 children. 

At 65 years of age, she does the rounds of urban poor communities, markets, and parks, and earns 25 pesos per umbrella fixed.  She makes an average of 75 pesos a day, which is enough, she says, to bring home some rice and fish to sustain her each day.

The day-to-day life of Nanang Juaning is a struggle, a constant struggle for her daily food.  This widow works hard, as she seeks out people with broken umbrellas who do not want to buy, or cannot afford to buy, brand-new ones.  She earns her livelihood through a practical ability that many of us do not have.

Nanang Juaning is just one of the many who work outside the domain of regular employment.  She belongs to what is called the informal economy, which comprises the varied activities of neighborhood artisans, handymen, street vendors (selling peanuts, fruits, bottled water, cigarettes), and scavengers at garbage dumps. 

For the very poor in the informal economy, their few possessions can be collected in a wicker basket or a kariton (push-cart), their day-to-day lives are almost pure struggles for survival, and their dreams are as small as mustard seeds.  They are the little people whose daily fatigue tells them that to dream great dreams for themselves is vain or wrong, and to dream of an egalitarian society is foolish or useless.  Wala nang hangarin sa buhay kundi ang makaraos na lamang sa araw-araw sa anumang paraan.

For Nanang Juaning and many others like her, how should Christians witness to the love of God in Christ Jesus?  For those who live in the midst of trash, who play with trash, who earn their living from trash, how do we tell them they are not trash themselves?  How do we tell the sons of the soil and the daughters of the dumpsite that they are sons and daughters of God?  We need to become the Church of the Poor, according to the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II) in 1991.

But how can our current church become the Church of the Poor?  The Conciliar Document of PCP II declares: “Pastors and members of the Church will courageously defend and vindicate the rights of the poor and the oppressed, even when doing so will mean alienation or persecution from the rich and powerful” (131).  Have we truly lived up to this bold statement?  Or do we find such a teaching too hard to practice?

In all honesty, we have to admit that we are still far from being a Church of the Poor, yet we believe that such a radical transformation is possible, first of all, through divine grace, through the action of the Holy Spirit, who animates and renews the community of Christ’s disciples.

The Church of the Poor, a pro-poor Church, is born of the Holy Spirit, who can rightly be called the Mother of the Church (of the Poor).  The Holy Spirit is the origin and the nurturer of the “spirituality of social transformation” which PCP II considers vital for a renewed integral evangelization (262).

If we are attentive to the movement of the Holy Spirit in the events and situations of our age, the church will be able to foster the necessary social transformation and to assist the little people in bringing about justice and harmony in their lives.

To become the Church of the Poor, we have to be attentive to the movement of the Spirit, which is active within and beyond the ecclesiastical domain.  PCP II has acknowledged that, “in many ways, the Spirit shows its presence, power and activity, not only in the Church but in the signs of the times that mark the contemporary world” (212).

In our country today, among the signs of the times are the growth of the informal economy, the emergence of new forms of solidarity among the poor, and the formation of base communities, co-operatives, social enterprises, and self-help groups.  Self-help groups among the poor are born out of some common difficulty such as domestic violence, single motherhood, and physical disability. 

The formation of self-help groups, co-operatives, and base communities show that the Holy Spirit is active among the poor themselves.  In the words of Juan Ramon Moreno, who was one of the six Jesuits murdered by military forces at the Central American University at San Salvador in November 1989: “It is in the poor before all else that the Spirit becomes present, and from them the Spirit speaks today to the Church.”

In faith, we may say that, in our society, the poor person is the most visible sign of the mysterious presence of the Spirit of Christ, for according to the parable of the sheep and the goats in the gospel of Matthew ch 25, our Lord, the Son of Man or the Truly Human One, has identified himself with the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the ragged, the sick, and the imprisoned.  The Crucified and Risen Christ is firmly in solidarity with the poor.

“Baya’y isang Kristong gapos ang katawan, labi’y nakasusi/ martir na sa kurus pinarurusahan at inaaglahi/ at ang nasusunod/ bagong eskribas bagong pariseos” (Amado Hernandez, “Pakikipagtipan sa Diyos”).

The mysterious presence of the Spirit of Christ among the poor enables them to offer something vital to the church.  In the Spirit, the poor can teach the church on matters of life and death.  Thus, to become the Church of the Poor, to be truly in solidarity with them, not only requires the duty to speak boldly to defend their rights.   It also requires the willingness to listen to them and learn from them.  The Body of Christ is not one big mouth and a lot of little ears.

PCP II rightly states the following: “The ‘Church of the Poor’ will also mean that the Church will not only evangelize the poor, but that the poor in the Church will themselves become evangelizers.  Pastors and leaders will learn to be with, work with, and learn from the poor.  A ‘Church of the Poor’ will not only render preferential service to the poor but will practice preferential reliance on the poor in the work of evangelization” (132).

What can we learn from the poor?  What is the Holy Spirit teaching us through them?  Let us listen to some of their voices. 

A street vendor says: “Hindi ko natatanggihan ang mga kaibigan na sa aki’y lumalapit sa kanilang kagipitan.  Pag marunong kang tumulong, marami kang kaibigan.” 

A construction worker says: “Paano aasenso ang buhay ko?  Ni hindi halos ako makapag-ipon.  Siyam ang kapatid ko.  Ang tatay ko, magwawalis ng kalye.  Isipin niyo, paano sila nabubuhay?  Sagad talaga sa hirap.  Gapang.  Kaya halos lahat ng kinikita ko ay binibigay ko na sa kanila.  Gusto ko man mag-ipon para sa sarili ko, hindi ko sila matiis.” 

Another says: “Hindi ko sinasarili ang pera, ipinapadala at iniisip ko ang kapatid ko na may diperensiya.  Kaya late ako nag-asawa.”

For many poor persons especially in the informal economy, their concern for harmonious relationships with relatives and friends is considered more important than the concern for getting rich by oneself.  Thus, when a surplus is produced or when a relatively large profit is earned by somebody in the informal economy, the profit is not usually invested in order to produce more and make greater profit.  Instead, surpluses and profits tend to end up being used to support family relationships and to enhance friendships.

Most of the poor are not highly educated, yet they know that the kind of life that is worth living is the life that is lived in relationships that are harmonious and emotionally satisfying.  What the poor treasure most are loyal friendships and solid family ties.  What they desire most is to be rich in faithful love.  Thus, for the sake of family and friends, many poor persons can be so generous.  They can still give away the little that they have. 

In the gospels, this is the kind of giving that Jesus considers most magnanimous.  If we recall the incident in which rich people were giving large amounts to the temple treasury, while a poor widow came and gave only less than a penny, Jesus declared: “I tell you the truth, the poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything--all she had to live on” (Mark 12:43).

Out of their poverty, many poor persons can still be generous, and this is one of the reasons why many are able to survive from one economic crisis to another.  They survive because they help one another, and they value cooperation more than competition.  The individual who wants to climb the ladder of success in an intensely competitive society sacrifices often enough his relations with his neighbors, friends, and family.

“Tulung-tulong sa lahat/ ng gawaing mabigat,/ at hati sa biyaya at buting tinatanggap;/ bawa’t dampa’y may bigas/ at may tabak sa likod ng pintong nakabukas!” (Hernandez, “Sandigan”)  Hindi pa nangingibabaw ang batas para sa mga hayop: matira ang matibay, patay kung patay, bahala ka sa iyong sarili.

These are rays of hope in the world of the poor which is a world of lights and shadows.  The shadows are many and frightening: they include desperate criminality, addictions, domestic violence, and greed.  Yet in the midst of all these shadows, many of the poor are still able to appreciate life and to hope against hope.  Their hopes are kept alive by the Holy Spirit, which is mysteriously present among them.  Hindi ito isang daigdig na inulila ng pag-asa.

The Holy Spirit sustains the poor’s capacity to share, to co-operate, and to help one another, for the work of the Spirit is communion.  And this communion necessarily involves the sharing of goods with anybody in need.  This is the true spiritual communion, and the first Christians lived it, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles: “All the believers were together and had everything in common.  Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to all, as any had need” (2:44-45).

What can we learn from the poor?  What is the Holy Spirit teaching us through them?  The poor are reminding us that the greatest treasures are friendships, faithful love, and relationships that satisfy emotionally. 

In every true friendship, we can experience the Spirit of God who is love.  The desire for faithful love and true friendship is a holy desire.  “No friends are true friends unless you, my God, bind them fast to one another through that love which is sown in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who is given to us” (St Augustine, Confessions).
“Ang tao kapag mayaman, marami ang kaibigan, kung mahirap na ang buhay, kahit matagpuan sa daan, di man batii’t ngitian.”  Kaya’t “ang tunay mong kaibigan ay nasusubok sa kagipitan.” 

The struggles and aspirations of the poor show that the Holy Spirit is present in their daily life of feelings and desires, for the Spirit is present in our bodies.  As Paul puts it, "Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you" (1 Corinthians 6:16).  The Spirit is God's indwelling nearness or is God-within-us, God who is nearer to us than we are to ourselves. 

The Holy Spirit is God-within-us, within our bodies, and within the universe of animate and inanimate bodies.  “We know so little about the Holy Spirit because he is too close, not because he is too far away from us” (Jurgen Moltmann).

These days, we notice that more and more poor people are attracted to charismatic or Pentecostal gatherings with their styles of worship that are bodily expressive.  Participants dance, clap their hands, raise their arms, sing out loud.  It seems that many poor persons want to glorify God in their bodies, in their sensuousness, and in their emotive expressions in worship and festivity. 

Perhaps during such moments, the Spirit freely moves and partially heals bodies that have been marred by the market, haggard bodies that have been commodified, spiritual temples that have been desecrated.  The festivals of the poor and their preferred styles of worship are occasions for the Spirit to enter blemished bodies to stimulate them in faith, hope, and love. 

The Holy Spirit liberates the poor from self-hate or hatred of their bodies.  “To say ‘yes’ to life means saying ‘no’ to poverty and its humiliations” (Moltmann).  The ordinary and lower-class people who flock to charismatic and Pentecostal gatherings are unintentionally teaching pastors and theologians that there is a vital link between faith and feelings, or between faith and the body with its physical and emotional needs.

Let us discover and preach the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit in the daily life of feelings and desires.  This can help not only in renewing our church but also in forming a structurally healthy society. 

For example, in pointing out to the upper and the middle classes that the Spirit is present in the daily life of feelings, we should challenge them to practise life-styles that primarily satisfy emotionally.  In other words, they should be challenged to seek and sustain expressive relationships rather than to prioritize the accumulation of money or the workaholism in order to accumulate more, to consume more, and to waste more.
Unfortunately, the prevailing global economic system promotes the profit-making mentality that trivializes emotive and ethical matters such as intimate friendship, sexual relations, and the respect for wildlife.  The body, friendship, sex, and wildlife are being commodified, trivialized, and desecrated.

If the upper and middle classes were to open themselves to the spiritual impulse to primarily seek and sustain expressive relationships, it also becomes easier to persuade them to settle for moderate or even less consumption and to live content in frugal circumstances.  Such an outcome is desirable especially in the light of today's ecological problems especially Climate Change which to a great extent are caused by the consumerism and wastefulness of the upper and middle classes.

To recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit in the body with its physical and emotional needs, to emphasize this matter in pastoral and theological work, and to point out its implications not only can intensify church renewal but also can contribute to the formation of a structurally healthy society, where both empty stomachs and empty hearts are filled. 

To help bring about a healthy and humane society, resistance to the commodification of the body has to be promoted.  This is a matter where the belief in the presence of the Holy Spirit within the body can be meaningful. 

We have to often raise the question: why is it that many of our poor people have to break their bodies just to survive or to provide their loved ones the bare necessities in life?  Why are there so many bodies of needy women and children in the sex trade?  Why do many of the rich and the middle class have to subject their bodies and their relationships to unhealthy stress just to accumulate more money and consume more things?

Since the poor aspire also after emotionally satisfying relationships, the struggle especially of poor women against gender oppression, patriarchy, and child abuse in their homes and neighborhoods is no less important than their struggle to uplift their economic condition. 

It is a common plight of working women among the urban poor that, even when their husbands are unemployed, these men still do not help much at home.  The woman comes home from work, and she is still expected to cook, clean, wash, and take primary responsibility for the care of the children.

Come Holy Spirit, give birth, and help us nurture a pro-poor Church for the integral liberation of everybody!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Fetishism and Justification

For Karl Marx, the capitalist system conceals not only the connection between social labour and the surplus value produced by labour but also the social character of commodity production.  In this way, capitalism alienates the labourers from their products, their self-representations, and it establishes the “fetishism of commodities” in which “the social character of labour appears to us to be an objective character of the products themselves” (Capital, vol.1).

For Marx, commodities are products of social labour, of vital labourers who are interlinked.  Commodity fetishism occurs when the perception that commodities are extensively exchangeable, barely refers to the personalities and interrelations of the actual producers in a particular mode of production.  Instead, there arises the perception that commodities are exchangeable by nature, just as the law of supply and demand appears to be a natural law of trade.

Commodities and money are exchangeable because they seem to possess innately the capacity to substitute for one another in objective and calculable proportions.  Such a general belief is a fetishism that conceals and supports capitalist exploitation and the alienation of labour.

Using Marx’s protest against alienated labour and commodity fetishism, Jose Miguez Bonino reinterprets the Pauline-Lutheran principle of “justification not by works.”

For Marx, labour both expresses and transforms the following: the integral person of the labourer, his or her relations with fellow labourers, and their interaction with nature.  Alienated labour is objectified as money and commodities, which appear to be utterly exchangeable and to possess capabilities and values on their own.  The apparently self-exchangeable nature of commodities conceals, homogenizes and deforms the particular personalities and interrelations of the labourers who produce them.
In justification through works, the religious practices become valuable in themselves, and they conceal from their performers the real status of their relationships with God and neighbour.

Self-justifying works are like commodities, they become calculable and impersonal objects.  These works earn calculable merits that oblige God to render in return the equivalent grace or justification.  The interaction of the votary with God is depersonalized and deformed into an exchange relationship.

Those justified by objective “works of the law” boast of their own worth or of their grasp of God’s will (cf Romans 2:17-20; 3:27-28).  They are like buyers who boast of the bargains they are able to buy, or like moneyed and mighty exploiters who boast of their money and might.

A true work of faith is done apart from the care over calculation and reward.  It is a genuine good work, whose value is inalienable from the personality and fidelity of the doer.  And the true work of faith necessarily personalizes the doer into a divine work of love for the neighbour.

For Miguez, justification is not an inward but an integral reality, just as faith, as both gift and response, is not merely psychical or intellectual but integral, a unity of belief and practice.  Justification is God’s gift through the mediation of Christ.

Faith, Idealism and Ideology

To teach and preach Christian love, without taking into account the prevailing social structures, is to make this love blindly idealist and quite susceptible to ideological manipulation.  For Jose Miguez Bonino, idealist hermeneutics facilitate the formation of absolute ideas about God, and debase human corporeality and historicity.  In this way, the faithful God of the covenant could be turned into the immutable God whose heavenly cry beckons us away from radical political activity.  The faithful Son could be turned into the absolutely obedient victim and the substitute prey for a vengeful God.

The idealist tendency is strong in Christianity not only owing to the early infusion of Platonic concepts but also because of the belief in the irreducible power of the Godhead.  For Miguez, Platonic concepts can be expunged from Christianity, but divine omnipotence may not be denied.

A major challenge for pastors and theologians is to affirm divine omnipotence primarily in relation to the concrete empowerment of the oppressed and marginalized groups in these times.  An idealist perversion of the belief in divine omnipotence comes easily when this belief is proclaimed “in the abstract,” especially when the proclamation does not take into account the contemporary needs and struggles of the lower classes (“Christian Political Ethics”).

Abstract affirmations of divine omnipotence promote an idealist view of history, as the historical agency of the poor and the lowly get easily obscured.  One ends up viewing the passage of history as, e.g., the predestined long pull from an immutable God.  In such a scheme, one of the real partners in the divine-human covenant gets smothered, and history becomes only the action and will of God.  From here, it is but a small step toward fatalism and its noxious ideological forms.

It is a necessary task of pastors and theologians to de-ideologize church practices and teachings that have contributed to the dehumanization of people.  In the case of Juan Luis Segundo, he did not aim for the total elimination of ideology from theology and pastoral work, as he believed that faith without ideology is “dead.”  Faith that is not accompanied by ideology will have insignificant effect on a particular social context.  Faith will end up fruitless and lifeless if it only floats on the clouds of timeless principles and does not get incarnated or enacted in a social system.
To de-ideologize theology implies not only the elimination of noxious ideologies but also the assimilation of beneficial ones in order to make theology relevant and well-grounded.  Examples of harmful ideologies are fascism, Stalinism, and androcentrism.  Beneficial ones might be egalitarianism and feminism.
An ideology is any social theory with historic effects whether harmful or helpful, dehumanizing or humanizing, oppressive or liberating.  A social theory attempts to explain the reproduction and change of social practices across time and space.