The more the merrier
Writing a newspaper column, I realized, is a joy. But it requires investing some amount of time: doing research, listening to readers, watching the news, and actually sitting down to compose an essay. The other things I do, the day job I keep, do not give me enough time to do what is truly enjoyable.
There is a happy solution. The Inquirer has decided that starting this month several other members of the Cabinet will now also reach out directly to a newspaper audience, sharing this valuable space, distributing the writing load, and opening up to more ideas.
Those on the opposite side of the aisle might not agree with this. But there is democratic virtue in government officials keeping up a dialogue with the public. One might not agree with what we say or with the policies we espouse, but if we dare to be there in your morning paper, sitting beside your cup of coffee, it might be possible to induce a conversation.
It should not be the lecture sort of conversation, which is really an attempt to talk down to the other party. I imagine a conversation between equals, a dialogue between civilized adversaries. We may disagree; we do not have to be disagreeable.
Our society lacks honest, truthful and decent conversation. It is always tempting, especially in the wide anonymous spaces of social media, to snipe at those we disagree with, call them names and accuse them of some imperfection with wild abandon. This is what the faceless critics do. They are the barbarians inhabiting the digital space.
As our democracy matures, as our social media evolves a much stronger communal ethic, it should be possible to conduct a clean combat of ideas. We will get there. In the meantime, we have to persist in a world infested with faceless critics.
In this world where character assassins hide behind the cowardly cloak of anonymity, it takes a certain courage to put out ideas, to venture an essay, with your name and photo attached to the piece. I admire all the opinion writers out there who dare write in their own names against the slings and arrows of the anonymous.
As a rule, policymakers ought to be also pamphleteers. They should immerse in the marketplace of ideas and argue strongly for the policies they represent. The administration we serve stands for transparent government. That means the ideas that enlighten the policies we pursue must be put out for the public to appreciate—or to argue with.
This might be a tough idea for the know-it-all of this world to digest: Those who work for government also have ideas of their own. They might want to share those ideas. They definitely have a right to hold them. They enjoy parity in the public discourse. Democratic citizens are best served by the opportunity to listen to all sides.
No one should claim monopoly over the space for political debate, including venues such as the Edsa People Power Monument. That is a disservice to building a democratic culture. Tolerance is the touchstone of liberal democracy. I may disagree with what you say but will fight to the death for your right to say it, as liberal theoreticians put the point.
So bear with us. The functionaries who will fill this editorial space beginning this month do want to be part of our civil conversation. Of course, we have a point of view. Of course, we have opinions. Of course, we have ideas. And it is part of our democratic commitment to put them out for our people’s consideration.
The entire democratic tradition, through the centuries, evolved on the basis of the public square. This is where reasonable and tolerant men come, with open minds, to converse with other citizens. It is the mutual quest to perfect what we know and to test what we opine in the arena of free debate that enlivens the public square. We do not come nameless and faceless to the conversation. But we do come with an honest mind.