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Armchair radicals

By John Nery
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:12:00 04/22/2008

Filed Under: Politics

I've read Jing Karaos' take on the so-called Jesuit guidelines for political action, written before Talk of the Town featured Manuel Buencamino and Men Sta. Ana's arch critique of the Easter Sunday document issued by the Philippine Jesuits' Commission on the Social Apostolate. I've also read Boyet Dy's response to the Buencamino/Sta. Ana critique, lately making the email rounds. I agree with both, but I must say I found each excruciatingly polite.

Buencamino and Sta. Ana have committed the old crime known in the free-spirited Sixties as libel by label; it will do all of us who take part in the public discourse good if we say so plainly?and call them to account for their intellectual dishonesty. (Leloy Claudio's critical response to the guidelines, which also came out in the April 13 edition of Talk of the Town, is a different matter. It is, in my view, a sincere effort to engage the issues.)

The thrust of the Buencamino and Sta. Ana critique can be summed up neatly enough in the label in its title: "Jesuitic placebo." Essentially, they criticize the guidelines as an exercise in casuistry, in merely clever double talk.

"On the one hand, it says that GMA's [Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo?s] resignation is one of 'principled moral conviction,' but in the same breath, it 'ceases to be a real political option' because GMA will not resign voluntarily. On the other hand, it recognizes that people power is a 'precious legacy.' But in the same breath, it says that people power 'in its current usage ... is problematic because it is often equated with popular insurrection and takeover as a method of regime change.' Such casuistry is also known as being 'jesuitic.' The Commission's message, stripped of the double talk, is that it is against political actions calling for people power and GMA's resignation."

Actually, no. In fact, I think the guidelines bring us to a position I've staked out before: It's "2010 or earlier." What the document does is to describe each option as realistically as possible. This is the same tactic Buencamino and Sta. Ana use, to try to discredit such options as the naming of an independent counsel. Should we privilege their reading of reality over that of the Jesuits, simply because of what they think of their ex-mentors? (Mine too.)

I myself do not agree that resignation is not a real political option; if the rambunctious world of Philippine politics has taught us anything, it is that we must be open to surprises. (How many of us, to give a small example, actually thought Benjamin Abalos would resign from his post?)

My point: Buencamino and Sta. Ana do nuance too. (Here's a risible example: "The independent counsel is just another name for the Ombudsman, an office that didn't even need to be created if the Department of Justice was doing its job in the first place." Apparently, in their reading of the Constitution, they scanted Article XI.)

But (in their view), if they do nuance, it's insightful. If the Jesuits do it, it's, well, "switik."

I have also read the two gentlemen's initial and separate responses to the guidelines; I see their Talk of the Town piece as a sanitized version of what they really think, cleaned up to meet the Philippine Daily Inquirer reader's middle-of-the-road preferences.

Consider Sta. Ana's column in BusinessWorld, titled, "The Black Priests." (Black, incidentally, because the Jesuit father-general used to be called the Black Pope. Black on account of the color of his robes, not because black is the antithesis of white. But one wouldn't know it from reading Sta. Ana.)

Sta. Ana attacks the very basis of the guidelines by essentially calling outgoing Father Provincial Danny Huang a liar. Huang had endorsed the document as precisely a set of guidelines, not a manifesto. "But how can the document not be a statement or a manifesto or a position when it contains not only an analysis of the political crisis and the options to address it, but also 'non-negotiable principles' and action points?" Apparently, for Sta. Ana, guidelines are intellectual invertebrates. They cannot have a backbone.

In his initial response (as far as I know, and taking colleague Manolo Quezon's word for?or rather hyperlink to?it), Buencamino takes issue with several aspects of the Jesuit document. Two struck me in particular.

First, his blithe dismissal of the guidelines' preferential option for the poor: "'Prioritize the poor' reinforces a mistaken belief that justice etc. are luxuries only the well-fed can value ... Filipinos have become apathetic not because they are more concerned about feeding themselves but because the system is unresponsive ... But that's just me and that's just them." Actually, I understood this nonnegotiable principle to mean exactly what the document said: "the search for the truth is integrally linked to the fate of the poor. Corruption and dishonesty have made the lot of the poor worse." To give priority to the poor means to understand the current crisis in its deepest dimension: It's the poor, the powerless, who are the victims yet again.

Second, his eye-for-an-eye reading of the nonnegotiable principle of active nonviolence?This "shackles the opposition more than it does the administration. It allows the 'State' to defend itself through whatever legitimate means necessary. But if you believe the administration is illegitimate then no self-defensive action other than preventing wanton vandalism and violence is permissible."

Two quick replies: It is the poor, always, who end up the victim of violence. And the people power Buencamino and Sta. Ana claim to know so well is in fact the highest expression of active nonviolence. Rushing to EDSA in 1986 to serve as a shield?some shackle.

But that's just me, and that's just them.

* * *

Email: jnery@inquirer.com.ph

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