Sta. Ana coordinates Action for Economic Reforms. This article came out in the Yellow Pad column, BusinessWorld, 19 May 2008, pages S1/4-S1/5.
Nandy Pacheco is the do-gooder whose mission to achieve a “gunless society” is as noble—and as elusive—as the struggle to compel Gloria Arroyo to resign.
At his Indian summer, he has the will, energy, and the courage to continue the good fight. The struggle is tiring, he says, but his righteous rage moves him to carry on. He hopes the youth will take the lead as his generation, as well as my generation, fades away.
Nandy—it’s comfortable to call him by his nickname despite a generation gap—is the modern Pinoy version of Don Quixote. He is as ingenious, as chivalrous, and as idealistic as Don Quixote.
But unlike the man from La Mancha, Nandy’s vision is practical and achievable. Gun control, or forcing Arroyo to resign, is in the realm of possibility. To illustrate, the advocacy for gun control suffers neither from lack of public support nor from lack of technical soundness.
The difficulty lies in collective action. The gun lobby is well-financed and highly organized and has strong political connections. (The Tuasons, for example, own the Arms Corporation of the Philippines or AMSCOR, which manufactures firearms and ammunition.) On the other hand, the unorganized citizens lack the time and resources to counter the lobby of vested interests, and they thus leave to the few do-gooders like Nandy to act on their behalf.
While Nandy has far from abandoned the advocacy for a “gunless society,” much of his energy is now focused on political objectives—remove Mrs. Arroyo and build a clean, accountable, and democratic government. The vehicle is the political party he founded, Kapatiran.
Kapatiran describes itself as “the politics of virtue, the politics of duty, the politics of transparency, and the politics of accountability.” Kapatiran prides itself as a party that has internal mechanisms for discipline and accountability, which the established parties do not follow. Take the case of what is supposed to be a reformist Liberal Party. In the Senate, you can find a Liberal who is in the majority and another Liberal who is in the minority. And in the Lower House, the Liberal Party, an anti-administration party, is aligned with the majority of congressmen who are Mrs. Arroyo’s chihuahuas.
Kapatiran caught the public imagination in the 2007 national elections. It fielded a few candidates for senator. All the candidates lost. But for a rag-tag party without money, without name recall, and without a core of cadre nationwide, Kapatiran’s debut performance was quite decent. Unlike stronger progressive parties content with campaigning under the stultifying party-list system, Kapatiran had the audacity to do battle with the big parties. That experience, despite the loss, will steel the party for future battles. Being the first mover among the alternative programmatic parties, Kapatiran has earned the public’s respect.
As the cliché goes, Kapatiran is a feather in Nandy’s cap. But he no longer needs any feather. He wants new forces and younger people to lead and reap the gains from the long and hard struggles.
His search for allies and new blood led him to seek an appointment with us.
Despite our common principles and objectives, we really haven’t until now collaborated with Nandy in the political arena. From my personal lenses, his being a visionary and an indefatigable reformer is secondary to his being the father of Vicky, one of Manila’s best chefs.
And so it was a pleasant surprise that Nandy invited us for a meeting. Guy Estrada-Claudio, Mike Alba , Manuel Buencamino and I joined Nandy and his comrades in Kapatiran for this meeting on one rainy day. That Nandy’s home would serve a delicious lunch was enough incentive for me to join the meeting. Indeed, we enjoyed the lunch; Manuel, spare as his words were throughout the meeting, expressed his relish for the black beans soup.
But the discussion was likewise flavorful. Nandy, Eric Manalang, Kapatiran’s president, and Norman Cabrera, its secretary general, explained to us what Kapatiran is all about and why they wanted to see us. Nandy said that he read the papers written by some of us that criticized the lame Jesuit’s Guidelines on how to confront the national crisis spawned by Mrs. Arroyo. Nandy said that Kapatiran identifies itself with our insights, perspectives and positions. Thus, Kapatiran would like to explore ways of furthering our relationship.
Eager to relate with younger people, Nandy, too, wanted to meet Leloy Claudio, one of the paper writers and the 2007 class valedictorian of the Ateneo de Manila. Unfortunately, Leloy was abroad to serve as a judge in a debating tournament. And fortunately, his mother, Guy, joined the meeting.
Guy might not have the debating skills of her son Leloy, who is acclaimed as one the world’s best debaters. But Guy has the ability to express the power of her ideas in a forthright, but friendly, persuasive and charming manner.
In a discussion involving people who have open minds and who show respect for one another, it is not uncomfortable at all to discuss issues of disagreement. And Guy spoke for us when she said that she was uncomfortable about religious beliefs being the cornerstone of public policy, especially concerning women’s reproductive rights.
We noted that Kapatiran’s program is explicit about its religious belief and how this will guide public policy. We affirmed our respect for the belief of others, and at the same upheld pluralism and defense of the rights of everyone, especially the minority.
Since we were asked how we could improve Kapatiran’s program, we said that the fight for the common good could be expressed in ideas and in a language more universal than what are found in the tenets of a particular religion. Mike, for example, said that the core tenets of the Catholic Church could likewise be found in natural law. To limit the principles to what the Catholic Church says can be interpreted by others as being self-righteous or being intolerant. Manuel said that we don’t want a Taliban- type of party to emerge (though Kapatiran is far from that), if we encourage political parties founded on religious dogma.
The Kapatiran officers were most open to our ideas and suggestions. After all, to use Amartya Sen’s term, we do have plural identities. Despite our being different, there is much that unites us in our political goals and in our moral values.
The challenge is how we can promote and practice the moral values that are secular rather than sectarian. Secular morality is as important as good politics, especially in these times that Mrs. Arroyo has instigated and abetted the decay of our moral and political institutions.
It’s time for me to brush up on Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments. In his time, politics and economics had powerful moral reflections. For a local flavor, I look forward to reading Emmanuel de Dios’s Secular Morality and the University, part of the University of the Philippines’ centennial lectures.
And we hope that Nandy Pacheco and Kapatiran will be at the cutting edge of the moral and political revolution.
Is there a way out of the darkness? Where and how do we begin?