Under normal conditions, given his overwhelming mandate, President-elect Bongbong Marcos should be able to govern the nation in relative peace. But some unresolved issues could present some difficulties. The extreme Left has become more aggressive, which means students on campus, political militants in the Church, trolls in the social media and the usual suspects in the Western press. And there is the matter of Church-State relations.
Two post-election statements by two important religious personalities could drive the debate. The first is a letter to the Ateneo Community by Rev. Fr. Roberto C. Yap, S.J., president of Ateneo de Manila University, delivered on May 11, two days after the election. The second is a statement by Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, D.D., bishop of Kalookan and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), delivered on May 12, three days after the election. Both deserve an earnest moral response.
In his letter, Fr. Bobby, as he is known to many, tried to cheer up the politically dispirited members of his community over the outcome of the May 9 elections. He asked them to have a “good cry” over the loss of their presidential candidate, but never to allow pain and anger to take over their lives. This obviously brought much-needed comfort to many Ateneans who had to endure the trauma of having backed, with all their passions, the losing candidacies of Vice President Leni Robredo and Sen. Kiko Pangilinan at the urging of some priests and religious who had tried to present them as the nation’s “correct moral choice.”
Very few expected Bongbong Marcos and Sara Duterte-Carpio to lead by more than 100 percent of the votes of their closest rivals. But that is exactly what happened. “Why did it happen? How did we allow our nation to simply forget our history?” Fr. Bobby asked, in obvious disbelief.
No doubt the supporters of Robredo and Pangilinan did everything to help them win. But their numbers were simply not enough. In a one-man, one-vote system, the majority will always exploit its numerical advantage, and the minority can do nothing about it. So they voted overwhelmingly for BBM, and Robredo’s supporters could do nothing about it. This was not a case of anyone “forgetting history,” as Fr. Bobby puts it; it was rather a case of the overwhelming majority “reexamining history and deciding to correct what to them was an egregious 36-year-old historical mistake.”
We see this in the healthiest of democracies. In 1945, after Sir Winston Churchill and his allies won the war against Nazi Germany, he lost the British general election and was forced to step down as the preeminent political leader of the British Empire. Nobody chided the British people for “forgetting” that this was the man who sent the English to war and to victory against Adolf Hitler. In the ebb and flow of British parliamentary politics, the British electorate returned him to power in the general elections of 1951; and again, nobody chided the British for returning to power a man they had repudiated six years earlier.
There are other examples.
In the case of Ferdinand Marcos, a new generation of Filipino voters, mostly young and belonging to the underclass, appears to have decided to give him, through his son Bongbong, “a resounding vote of confidence” after he was humiliated in one of the first “color revolutions” run—as Mike Billington of the Executive Intelligence Review (May 20, 2022) belatedly tells us—by US Secretary of State George Shultz and his neocon Deputy Paul Wolfowitz in 1986. This is also how the Indian journalist and writer Viswa Nathan, editor-in-chief emeritus of the Hong Kong Standard, sees it in his article on the Philippine elections in the Asia Sentinel, a web-based publication focused on Asian affairs.
It is the same 1945 Winston Churchill story, except that where Churchill was brought down from the pinnacle of power to the abyss of political defeat after winning the great world war, Marcos got vindicated through his son only in 2022 after having been humiliated 36 years earlier. This story is not so much about the rise and fall of a particular political leader as it is about the alternating tides of political opinion that chooses the leader in a democracy. Conservative today, Labor tomorrow, or vice versa. If it is the prevailing rule in the great democracies, why can it not be the rule as well in our country?
“Our nation is broken and fragmented, … shattered by greed and deceit,” lamented Fr. Bobby. No Filipino disagrees with it. But clearly BBM’s stunning majority did not fracture our democracy. The nation was already broken after EDSA, as shown by the six coup attempts against the revolutionary president Cory Aquino between 1986 and 1987. Precisely because of this, the “dictator’s son” ran for the presidency in 2022 on the promise that “together we shall rise again.”
“Let us use this moment as an opportunity to begin the arduous task of making whole again our heavily damaged democracy,” said Fr. Bobby. “First, let us allow ourselves to feel the pain and sorrow. Have a good cry, rant with a friend, debrief with fellow Ateneans. However, do not allow the pain and anger to take over and lead you into toxicity and negativity. Let us reach out to others, especially beyond our normal circles, search for common ground and meet with our fellow Filipinos eye to eye, heart to heart…Engage with them…and try to understand where they are coming from…Listen especially to the poor and the powerless, yuong mga nasa laylayan ng lipunan (those on the hemline of society).”
Fr. Bobby referred to the ancient Japanese art of kintsugi, the painstaking task of repairing broken pottery with lacquer and precious metal, usually gold or silver. “Our task now is to repair and put the broken fragments of our nation together,” he said. The task will be “tough, painful and exhausting.” But It is “not the time to give up on our country…Despite the hardship, continue fighting. Stay vigilant. Keep your guard up. Fight for the truth always, do not let lies whitewash the sins of the past. Do not ever lose hope. Lastly, always choose the more loving option. Loving our country and our fellow Filipinos is the bravest thing we can do.”
The allusion to the Japanese art is impressive. But while the overwhelming majority saw the nation irretrievably broken in 1986 and wanted to make it whole again by electing a new government in 2022, the oligarchic elite, including some supposed guardians of our morality, saw it differently. To the majority, the triumph of the democratic process was equivalent to what Fr. Bobby calls the “kintsugi treatment” on our broken democracy; but to the powerful elite, it was a further fragmentation of our democracy.
Although the elite liked to talk about a “preferential option for the poor,” in reality they were unprepared to welcome the poor into the governing class. So as soon as it became evident that the CDE classes made up the bulk of BBM’s 31 milllion-plus majority, they were quickly reviled for having allegedly made “the wrong choice.” In the unforgettable language of our good friend, Bishop Ambo David, the highly esteemed bishop of Kalookan and CBCP president, they had allowed themselves to be “seduced by darkness.”
It had the sound of eschatology, and I could not believe it. Scripture tells us that at the Final Judgement, each one of us shall be judged and either brought fully into the light or cast in total darkness. But the Ultimate Judge, not anybody else, will pronounce the sentence as he separates the goats from the sheep.
To be sure, the good bishop counselled his followers, “Do not give up on people who have been seduced by darkness.” However, this nominal call to charity, whatever its merit, did not say how Vice President Robredo, Sen. Pangilinan and their supporters, with all their well-known feet of clay, became bearers of light, while BBM, Sara Duterte and their supporters, just because they never disowned their faults, became denizens of darkness.
It seemed pure and simple political prejudice. But it had no basis in the teaching of the Church or in the correct practice of our faith. It cannot therefore stand uncorrected; the Church authorities should find the time and the courage to correct it. We need to purge the practice of our faith or our simplest everyday manners of all political prejudices, bring back the basic norms of civility and charity in discussing our political and religious differences, and try to rise above the rigid positions we have taken during the last political exercise.
In the name of God and country, we must allow the incoming administration, whatever we think of it, to perform or fail, according to its real merits. Accompanied by our religious, moral and political leaders, we must try to lift our society from any false need to judge one another unkindly because of our political or other human differences.