News / December 24, 2006

Changing priorities



What the country needs, says the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines is not Charter change but character change.  I think what we need today is neither Charter change nor character change, but a change in our priorities – a change that reflects a greater resolve to put our national destiny in our hands rather than to leave it to the mercy of events.Proponents of Charter change say we need Charter change.  They should tell us instead which of the priorities enshrined in the 1987 Constitution they want to change.  They talk of a shift to a unicameral parliamentary system in the name of efficiency.  We have just seen what an “efficient” unicameral legislature is capable of doing when it badly wants something.  Do we really want this kind of efficiency that is achieved at the cost of democracy?

On the other hand, the bishops have called for character change. This call is too general to have any compelling value; it has confused a lot of people.

Character grows out of the life of a person or of a people. It is the product of many contingencies. It is not something one freely chooses.  But, character need not be destiny.  Long-term changes in character follow changes in circumstances.   With self-reflection and understanding, with determination and effort, a nation may be able to turn away from what it has become by re-arranging its priorities. Could this be what the bishops meant when they called for a change in character?

I believe it is easier to visualize change when it is defined in terms of deliberately taking hold of one’s priorities, instead of leaving these to chance.  Consider, for example, what it would mean for our country if we deliberately prioritize:

  1. Education over debt service
  2. Social equity over counter-insurgency
  3. Ecological sustainability over economic profitability
  4. Local employment over labor export
  5. Political liberty over national security
  6. Poverty reduction over military expenditure
  7. Self-reliance over dependence on foreign assistance
  8. De-centralization over centralization
  9. National development over global integration
  10. Human development over economic growth

What we may immediately notice about this list is that it is not a choice between values and vices, but between two sets of values. Changes in priorities do not just happen; they are fought for in the political arena over a long period. But, even though they are political questions, their resolution is shaped by the moral and ideological concepts that people tap when looking for validation of the stances they take on issues.  Some will quote Jesus or Gandhi; others will cite Marx or Rizal.

Pope Benedict XVI is quite emphatic in saying that the Church itself must not take up the political battle for a just society.  But, he does not take this to mean that it must remain in the sidelines.

In his first encyclical, “Deus Caritas Est,” a tightly-woven document, he wrote: “She (the Church) has to play her part through rational argument and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper. A just society must be the achievement of politics, not of the Church. Yet the promotion of justice through efforts to bring about openness of mind and will to the demands of the common good is something which concerns the Church deeply.”

“The just ordering of society and the State is a central responsibility of politics. As Augustine once said, a State which is not governed according to justice would be just a bunch of thieves: “Remota itaque iustitia quid sunt regna nisi magna latrocinia?”…. Politics is more than a mere mechanism for defining the rules of public life: its origin and its goal are found in justice, which by its very nature has to do with ethics… But …what is justice? The problem is one of practical reason; but if reason is to be exercised properly, it must undergo constant purification, since it can never be completely free of the danger of a certain ethical blindness caused by the dazzling effect of power and special interests.”

Clearly, the policies of any State are ultimately to be measured in terms of how well they contribute to the attainment of justice and the promotion of the common good.  But that is a matter for the people themselves to decide. “The direct duty to work for a just ordering of society is proper to the lay faithful,” says Benedict XVI.

From this standpoint, the prayer-rally at the Luneta the other Sunday was clearly the wrong place to look if one was hoping for a political event to happen.  Those who seriously wish to respond to Pope Benedict’s challenge to the laity to be active politically might want to take a look at the whole-page ad that a new political party, “Ang Kapatiran,” took out the other day in the Inquirer (12/22/06, p.15). This new party draws heavily from the Church’s social teachings in defining its stand on the crucial issues facing our society today. It aims to field candidates in the 2007 elections, but its long-term mission is unmistakably the re-moralization of Philippine politics and governance.

Merry Christmas!