Faith in politics
I have friends who are at the moment in a period of discernment as to whether they should offer themselves as candidates, in possibly the most critical election since Ferdinand Marcos was forced, upon US pressure, to hold snap elections in 1986.
They fear throwing themselves into the lion’s den, pounced upon and eaten up by the ravenous political animals who have long entrenched themselves within the hollow cracks and crevices of their stinking haunts.
My friends’ hesitation revolves around the lack of the so-called “three P’s” that keep traditional politics thriving: pera, pangalan, and member of a political dynasty. The logistics on the ground also seem formidable: They have no party machinery to speak of—no LGU officials to back them, no ward leaders who can distribute food, haul voters to precincts, hand out grease money along with sample ballots, and in general see to it that their votes are at least counted.
It is easy to rant and rave or get paralyzed by despair over the murky depths to which our governance has sunk. The generation that figured in the First Quarter Storm of the early ‘70s is not only ageing but etherized into a stupor by the netherworld of lockdowns. Young people, facing a bleak and uncertain future, descend into depression or lose themselves in cyberspace, ensconced in the virtual solace of a cocoon of images offering alternative worlds.
The Italian statesman Camillo di Cavour was once asked what he thought was the most important quality of a politician. “A sense of the possible,” he answered. It is true that we need to discern what we can and cannot do given present constraints. We must count the cost. We might have to be prepared to settle for a possible good lest we end up simply dreaming of an impossible better.
At the same time, recent history shows that power can be won out of weakness. Even without coercive power, those who possess great moral force could topple despotic regimes. It took a Hindu like Mahatma Gandhi, that great soul of the Indian struggle for independence, to take seriously Jesus’ social ethic of nonviolent resistance. When the British soldiers mowed down his followers at Amritsar, the brutal underside of the empire was exposed. Gandhi galvanized his people by taking a moral high ground that unmasked and disarmed the powers that be.
In our own context, the killing of Ninoy Aquino, meant to put an end to the scattered opposition against Marcos, turned out instead to be the death knell of the dictatorship. A frail, fragile widow in yellow became a symbol of a people’s will to be free. What looked like a children’s crusade and an unarmed siege against the most powerful president we had ever known became a floodtide that swept away the mighty.
More recently, the quiet, incremental work of an unprepossessing leader who found himself thrust into power got the nation on track toward some real progress. Part of the paradox of power is that it has most use and force when it is wielded by those who are most disinterested in its use.
Against all odds, some of us may need to pay the price of whatever it takes to answer the call of this question from Barack Obama: “How do we transform mere power into justice, mere sentiment into love?”
Those who wish to serve but are daunted by the rough and tumble of our politics can begin by taking to heart the example of this year’s unprecedented crop of Olympic medalists. They went in faith, overcoming desperate poverty and the sorry lack of support from an indifferent and even hostile government. As Hidilyn Diaz tells it: “They said this was impossible. But the Filipino can do it. We just have to believe.”
While we may not be aware of it, there is always that margin of mystery where all our calculations collapse. There are moments when we come face to face with an unseen power that foils the best-laid plots of mice and men. We are not unaided. We can go in faith, doing what we can, knowing that no matter how small, it will somehow be part of the growing good in the world.
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Melba Padilla Maggay, Ph.D., is president of the Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture.
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