Are you voting for Barabbas?
Last week, on the Monday a strong earthquake struck off the coast of Zambales and wrought substantial damage in Pampanga, two speeches also made an impact. They were addressed to the participants at the 2nd Conference on Democracy and Disinformation, but their real audience was an occasional resident in the Palace by the Pasig.
The former ombudsman of the Philippines, retired Supreme Court justice Conchita Carpio Morales, gave a rousing address on “democratic decay in the Philippines.” She linked the erosion of democratic institutions to the new information disorder in the starkest terms possible to a lifelong anticorruption crusader.
“Disinformation and misinformation are forms of corruption. It is not difficult to explain why narratives on human rights and corruption are among the favorite topics for ‘fake’ news and hate speech by the enemies of democracy,” Morales said.
She had choice words for plunder-charged senators. “The upcoming election on May 13, as we may unfortunately expect, may be again a manifestation of our people’s political literacy. I am reminded that among the frontrunners in the senatorial election are ex-senators whom I would rather see faulted than elected.”
But perhaps her strongest criticism was reserved, startlingly, for the judiciary.
“Having served the executive branch and the judiciary, I am inclined to conclude that the balance has tilted against the judicial branch. While the 1987 Philippine Constitution enshrined judicial activism through, among others, judicial review of actions and decisions of the two other branches, much still has to be done to promote the independence of the courts. Here, I am reminded of your recent statement [she was referring to the Consortium on Democracy and Disinformation’s joint statement on the first arrest of Maria Ressa] which characterized ‘a frail and compromised justice system.’ I can’t help but agree with your generous characterization.
“The absence of a checks and balances mechanism plus a timid press present a clear and present danger to democracy. One just has to rule by fear and intimidation to impose tyranny.”
The bishop of Caloocan, Pablo Virgilio David, keynoted the conference with his thoughts on the nature of truth in an age of disinformation. In a revealing interview skillfully conducted by journalist Patricia Evangelista before he read his speech, David spoke for many other people when he described the government’s signature antidrugs “war” as the biggest lie of all.
Listening to him discourse on how different philosophers and theologians understood truth, one could glimpse the renowned professor behind the controversial pastor; but he did not create the impression that he was too fine, his sensibilities too refined, to be taking such a leading role in the pushback against the violence of the so-called war. He drew his strength not only from the people he served but also from the sources that formed him—not least of them, scripture.
“The evil one is often presented in the Scriptural narratives as the purveyor of falsehood. In fact Satan is regarded as a Prince of Lies in Christian tradition. In yesterday’s [Easter Sunday’s] renewal of baptismal vows, the first vow, which is a rejection of evil, is formulated this way: DO YOU REJECT SATAN?”
In the same way Morales draws moral authority from her profound understanding of the rule of law, David draws prophetic power—the power to proclaim the truth—from his assured acceptance of the truth of Scripture:
“In the Scriptures, the purveyors of disinformation are often portrayed as instruments of the Evil One. We have, for instance, the snake character in Genesis 3 (who tricks Eve with half truths and outright lies). We also have Cain in Genesis 4, who lies when God asks him where his brother is. He says: ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ We have the wicked accusers of Susanna in Daniel 13. We have the detractors of Jesus and their false testimonies against him before Pilate in Luke 22:2,37.”
He ends his address with a question:
“In one of my postings during the Holy Week, I noted that Pontius Pilate gave the people a chance to vote which prisoner deserved to be released for the Passover Festival. The choice was between Jesus and Barabbas. They elected Barabbas, and had Jesus crucified, relying on the strong public opinion that the Sadducees had successfully generated against Jesus.
“I ENDED BY POSING THE QUESTION, ‘WILL YOUR VOTE IN MAY BE FOR JESUS, OR FOR BARABBAS?’ It can only be for Jesus if the truth still matters to the one who votes, and allows his vote to be informed by experience, understanding, judging, and decision-making.”
On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand, email: [email protected]
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