Of coups and the common good


Powerful concepts in the wrong hands (minds?) are immensely dangerous. Never downplay the awesome power of an idea. Never belittle a theory, for one truly profound soul put it very well: In matters of great importance, there is hardly anything as practical as a good theory! A misused theory can very well be the progenitor of much folly. One such concept is “the common good.” In law, it is advanced as the justification for the awesome powers of the State—police power and eminent domain. In moral theory, it is posited in conjunction with claims and demands for just distribution. Recently, the justices of the Supreme Court were treated to an unsolicited lecture: When you talk about the Constitution, they were rhetorically asked, is it just about a piece of paper? And the scolding went on: Look to the common good!

So just what is the common good? Nakinabang naman ang nakararami! No, the heiress was not really saying anything we had not yet heard before. In a speech that history will long remember not so much for the soundness of the position it advanced, nor even for its literary quality but for its sheer audacity, the Executive Branch of government, through its Head, instructed the Third Branch of government on how the Constitution is to be read: his way.

The Supreme Court was taught that there was a provision of the Administrative Code it had overlooked. Of course, no mention was made of the fact that the public respondent—they! —never called much attention to it either in their pleadings before the Court! But the motif was the same: How can something that benefited so many be wrong?

Although it is possible to trace its roots to the musings of earlier philosophers and moral theorists, the “common good” figured prominently in the treatises of the High Scholastics of the medieval period. From them we learn that “the common good” has nothing to do with counting beneficiaries, and still less with justifying breaches of the law by appeal to numbers appeased. It is not some kind of social reservoir from which society’s members may freely pick what they need—or what they fancy! It is a rather involved notion because it coupled the concept of a person as sui juris (self-determining, self-governing) with the necessity of social and political life. It cannot be the duty of the State to make the individual flourish. That would violate a cardinal mark of personhood – autonomy. But society had the obligation to make it possible for the individual to flourish, if he so desired. And so, the “common good” refers to the sum of circumstances—structures, services, resources—that must be present so that those properly motivated may actualize their optimal potential!

The Constitution is a requisite of the common good. It allows for organized and structured co-existence. It stabilizes behavioral expectations. I can, for example, reasonably expect that while waiting for a cab at a road curb, I shall not be assaulted by a passer-by who may dislike the color of my shirt, and this is the reason that we are rightly appalled when this happens. The people ordain a constitution to protect themselves from whim, and fancy, and the vagaries of temper and mood. And to urge that the Constitution need not be taken seriously when “the many are benefited” is to urge precisely what is antithetical to the common good: disorganized, unstructured co-existence.

Whoever advocates cavalier treatment of the Constitution plays a dangerous game, no matter that she apparently champions the cause of a million beneficiaries. That is exactly what coup plotters and adventurists believe—that the Constitution can be shoved aside “for the common good.” So there is some nasty, performative contradiction in trifling with the Constitution, and at the same time warning against coup plotters and silencing coup mongers. And this is a contradiction that is not only logically and pragmatically troublesome. It is enticement to dismantle the structure to which is owed the cohesion of society at a time when shared beliefs and values, unquestioned common norms and world-views, can no longer do the job that law—principally through the Constitution —achieves.

As for the Supreme Court venturing a judgment beyond the Constitution, that would, in itself, be a coup all its own. Please re-read the job-description of the judiciary!



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  1. I can hear again the instigators here. Kung makialam at magsalita ang CBCP (as one) sabihin ng commentators dito, “nakikialam na naman ang Simbahang Katoliko in violation of the separation of Church and State”, at kung medyu silent naman ang CBCP, sasabihin “where are the priests & bishops…?” Ano ba talaga??? The CBCP has also many friends and experts in Civil Law, Canon Law, in the business matters whom they consult before they make public pronouncements on national & local issues…

  2. Fr. Aquino rightly explained why common good and good faith cannot be used to justify when an executive branch of government violates the constitution just to spent billions of taxpayer’s money. Mabuti sana kung siya si dating MR. LEE ng Singapore or MR Park ng South Korea na nagpaunlad sa kanilang bansa pero si Noynoy? Wala yan mahal na mahal niya ang mga oligarchs, katunayan nga may impending plan na ibebenta na ang mga government hospitals sa mga rich businessmen na kaibigan niya para may pera na naman para isuhol sa mga allies niya sa kongreso at kapartido.

  3. It is time for the Catholic church to stand up against the wrongdoings of this administration and their allies in congress. People do nut trust anymore the legislature and the executive. Daang matuwid at kayo ang boss ko are the slogans of this administration. Puro kasinungalingan at personal na interest ang nasa isip. Matakot sana kayo sa Diyos kung may Diyos kayo, mga senator, mga congressman, mga taga executives branch. Maganda sana ang layunin nyo pero mali ang pamamaraan.Ang gusto pa ng mga alipores ni Pnoy isang term pa sa kanya. Maawa kayo!Umikot kaya kayo sa mga urban poor para makita ninyo ang katayuan nila.Huwag lang kayo mg stay sa opisina ninyo.

  4. So what is the stand of the cbcp re this present govt prostituting our constitution? Where are the priest who easy rallied and condemn the arroyos… Who claimed to have moral obligation to correct what they perceived to be wrong… I think father you should be the one to explain this matter to cbcp… For the good of our country