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There’s the Rub

Heaven and earth

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Leave God out of it.

I cringed when I heard newly appointed Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno speak of owing her mandate to heaven. Her exact words were: “Gratitude has to be given to God… the promotion came from him alone.”

Her sense of course, as she amplified in her impromptu remarks before the Supreme Court community, was that she did not lobby for her position, she got it as a matter of course. The choice of her as chief justice was not the product of politics, it was the product of merit. But if that was her meaning, then she should have put it more directly and plainly. Or at least in ways that do not carry extra baggage or invite unnecessary flak.

Surely it is a sign of wisdom, if not of the expansive vision or imagination one expects of justices, never mind the chief one, that one remembers the historical antecedents of such claims? Not too long ago, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo also said, “God put me here,” in a brazen effort to fend off charges of being illegitimate. An assertion that really asked for it, given that the world had just heard her, or her DNA-imprinted voice, plotting “with a Comelec official” to cheat her closest rival. She was promptly disabused of the thought that God had been known to take the form of Garci.

Sereno’s statement does not just open her but the person who appointed her to the same type of ridicule. Expect her detractors to promptly disabuse her of the thought that God has been known to take the form of P-Noy. Though that is not a contrast between heaven and hell that God and Garci is, it little helps someone whose enemies have been busily—and quite ironically coming as they do from the Gloria camp—depicting him as trying to act like God.

It’s also a little ungrateful. What’s wrong with thanking the JBC for including her in the shortlist and the President for reposing his trust in her? A trust she means to live up to by being the best chief justice she could possibly be, by acting as God and conscience, and not as her appointing power, dictate? That’s more sensible and decent.

I do believe P-Noy’s choice of Sereno as chief justice was inspired and couldn’t care less that Tony Carpio’s group boycotted—but of course it was so—the flag-raising ceremony in her first day in office. Which makes me wonder why the President didn’t show the same inspiration in his appointment of the new DILG head. Sereno’s was a case of fitting the person to the vision, whereas the other one was just fitting the vision to the person. I’d be more worried if there was instant camaraderie among the justices, which would suggest that Sereno has been sucked this early into the old boys’ club.

But given that Sereno will not lack for detractors as she begins her (long) journey of a thousand miles, or 18 years, she can do with being a little more careful about the way she frames thoughts. The quality of her future decisions depends on it.

* * *

The good news is that there’s an enlightened archbishop in the Vatican. The bad news is that he just died.

But not before unburdening himself of his oppression, which had to do with his favorite church calcifying right before his eyes. In an interview by the press before his interview by St. Peter, the archbishop of Milan, Carlo Maria Martini, let loose a few broadsides at Vatican.

“Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up. Our rituals and our cassocks are pompous…. The Church must admit its mistakes and begin a radical change, starting from the pope and the bishops. The pedophilia scandals oblige us to take a journey of transformation….  (Not doing so) loses the future generation…. The church is 200 years out of date. Why don’t we rouse ourselves? Are we afraid?”

Well-loved and admired (thousands of Milanese flocked to his wake), the liberal-minded Martini was one of the favorites to succeed John Paul II, until he admitted to suffering from a rare form of Parkinson’s. An epic loss to Catholicism.

But if the Vatican is 200 years out of date, you can just imagine how much farther we are. We are the only country outside the Vatican—a city-state of 44 hectares and 800 inhabitants—that outlaws divorce. Catholics elsewhere do not. We are the one country in Asia that regards contraception as murder, quite apart from corruption. I wish I could say that we have the only batty group that values the life of the non-existent over the living, but there’s also the US Republican Party which, as Andy Borowitz tweets, “if its platform is any guide, is staunchly pro-life until you are actually born.” We are the only country whose moral guardians want to expel professors in institutions of higher learning for endorsing contraception. And we scoff at Islamic intolerance.

Paraphrasing Martini, “The fervor is waning, the churches are big and half-full, and the flock will not be led astray. Your rituals and your cassocks are pompous. The Church must admit its mistakes and begin a radical change, starting from the cardinals and the bishops. The Pajero scandals oblige you to take a journey of self-examination. Not doing so makes you lose everything. The Church is whacked out of time. Why don’t you rouse yourselves?

“Are you afraid?”

* * *

I do not, I repeat, I do not, have a Facebook page or Twitter account. I say this again because friends have alerted me to the fact that some people have been tweeting in my name. I do not particularly mind that people reprint my columns right and left, I believe in shareware, but I do mind that poseurs express opinions right and wrong in my name. I do wish they would stop, since I have neither the time nor the energy to force them to do so.

But the public is forewarned: Interact with them at your peril.


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