Present-day ‘bayanihan’

This is in reaction to former chief justice Artemio Panganiban’s very interesting Oct. 13 column on the Filipino concept of justice, which, he acknowledged, Dean Jose Manuel I. Diokno had discussed in a lecture.

Panganiban dissected the concept of justice in the context of Filipino culture by examining the words Filipinos use to express the concept and other words related to it:  katarungan  (justice, from  tarong, a Visayan word that means straight, upright or correct);  karapatan  (right, from  dapat , which means fitting, correct or appropriate);  batas  (law, which means command);  kapangyarihan  (which can mean power or authority).


After examining these words and the concepts they conveyed, Diokno concluded: “In summary, our language established that there is a Filipino concept of justice; that it is a highly moral concept, intimately connected to the concept of right; it is similar to, but broader than, Western concepts of justice, for it embraces the concept of equity; that it is a discriminating concept, which distinguishes between justice and right, on the one hand, and law and argument, on the other; that its fundamental element is fairness; and that it eschews privilege and naked power. (Emphasis in the original)”

Diokno also gave an analytical definition of “social justice” which is justice practiced not just between two persons (commutative justice) or between authority and subjects (distributive or legal justice), but justice at work in a society, the dynamic aspect of justice as practiced in the social setting.


All this seems to indicate that Filipinos have the basic concept of justice and social justice. What I find missing, though, is the mention of a key concept related to and inseparable from justice and social justice: the common good. Do we Filipinos lack a word for this concept, and so do we lack the concept as well?

The common good is a fundamental teaching of the social doctrine of the Church. It means the good of all in a society that includes the good of each. The purpose of all law and of all structures and institutions and of justice in a society is precisely to attain the common good. The common good is not at odds with the particular good of the individual person because the common good must include that particular good. And yet the common good is, in a way, a greater good than the particular good and can have primacy over the particular good provided that this latter good is not an inalienable one. This is a rather complex concept, yet very important.

In some occasions I am tempted to think that we Filipinos might lack this concept of the common good. We have a very strong concept of the particular, personal good. And there are times we assert our particular good to the detriment of the common good.

Just recently I was passing through a busy two-lane provincial road. An accident happened somewhere along the road and so only one of the road’s two lanes was passable. But soon some motorists invaded the left side of the road to counter-flow, wanting to pass the whole queue. Of course, they eventually blocked the incoming traffic. Where’s our sense of common good here?

The concept of the common good has to do with the idea that in a problem situation facing our society, we are all in it together; it’s either we all stay afloat or we all sink together. We cannot go on our own or think only of ourselves. A person who has a clear concept of the common good will think that if he works for the good of society, he will also end up improving his own lot.

Do we have a word for this concept? What comes to mind is  bayanihan. But people usually associate this word with a whole  bayan  helping another person move his house, or many persons helping a person in need, or any collective cooperative effort. Perhaps, the word is there but the concept still has to develop in our minds and our culture. We all have to be aware of doing what is just so as to build our nation; and all of us can contribute our little share. This is working for the common good; this is our present day  bayanihan.

Fr. Cecilio Magsino is a priest of the Opus Dei Prelature currently doing his pastoral work in Metro Manila. He was ordained in 1984. He finished BS Physics at the University of the Philippines, Diliman and holds a doctorate degree in philosophy from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome.


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TAGS: Artemio Panganiban, Bayanihan, Commentary, Fr. Cecilio L. Magsino, Jose Manuel I. Diokno, opinion
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