When I was in my teens and on the cusp of an activist “career,” one buzzword we heard often was “split-level Christianity.” This referred to the tendency of many Christians, including or especially Catholic Filipinos, to live their faith at two separate levels.
One was the level of public Christianity — attending Sunday Mass faithfully, observing the sacraments, even joining religious groups and participating in such things as retreats, devotionals and shows of piety.
The other was the private, personal and really the more truthful one. For many, the “private” practice of Christianity involved flouting the very same teachings displayed in public. The split-level Christian attended Mass faithfully but in the course of the week kept or maintained an illicit relationship, paid wages to employees and house help well below the legal requirement, cheated the government of taxes, paid bribes to corrupt officials, and, appearances to the contrary, epitomized the very sins that a public Christian denounced and prayed novenas for.
It’s been decades since we got so hot and bothered about “split-level Christianity,” to no avail. But today we can also talk about an offshoot of it — split-level politics.
Survey after survey, especially those conducted by the Social Weather Stations (SWS), reveal that Filipinos care a lot about a candidate’s (and official’s) honesty and integrity. Indeed, the latest of these polls shows that one in four Filipinos choose a candidate “who will not be corrupt.” Indeed, through the decades, Filipinos of voting age have said again and again that the qualities they look for in candidates they will support are honesty, integrity, being true to oneself, and willingness and ability to help the less fortunate.
Now, how to explain then the most recent Pulse Asia and SWS polls where, asked to name the candidates they would vote into the Senate, a great many respondents gave the names of personalities (many of them current or former senators themselves) embroiled in corruption charges and linked to legislation that ended up making life harder for most of us?
Cringe-worthy, for instance, is the inclusion of accused and/or convicted senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Bong Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada among the top-ranking candidates. The three (well, Manong Johnny is in a somewhat precarious situation) are ensconced in comfortable positions among the Top 12. Joining them (though barely hanging on) is Imee Marcos who, despite living in denial of her family’s record-breaking plunder spree, is trying to sell herself as something like an “action lady” with answers for all the country’s problems.
And yet we still have the gall to say we value honesty, integrity and “performance” in judging who’s worthy of our vote?
It would be funny how voters go for the familiar, the well-known, the glib and good-looking, despite knowing all their failings and faults, if we didn’t have other better, more worthy, and yes, truly honest, qualified and capable candidates.
Facing an uphill climb for reelection is Sen. Bam Aquino, who has proven through his performance in the Senate that he truly belongs in that august body. His output — including laws on free college education for the poor and championing small and microenterprises — shows how he has translated academic preparation and an activist bent into workable and realistic laws that truly answer the needs of poor and hardworking Filipinos.
Then there’s former senator Mar Roxas, a recent father of twins, who has proven, despite President Duterte’s nasty swipe at him, that he can join and work with different administrations to make life better for all.
I guess by now you know where my heart and mind are leading me in May’s elections. One pleasant surprise has been Chel Diokno, who I met when I joined Maria Ressa, then still with ABS-CBN, and other journalists, in filing a pleading before the Supreme Court against police and military surveillance of media establishments. Chel kept quiet through most of the proceedings, but since then his “woke lolo” persona and ease in public appearances excite me about the prospect of having him join the body where his father, the late human rights defender “Ka Pepe,” had been quite an exemplar.
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