Doing good and being true in a crooked world

Ricardo Saludo

Ricardo Saludo

Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep?

You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them.
— Ezekiel 34:1-4

The foregoing passage from the Book of Ezekiel was, of course, not talking about Philippine politicians. But the divine admonition would easily apply to them. Indeed, those of righteous mind cannot but be dismayed, disgusted, if not depressed by recent reports on the pork barrel kickbacks, the rampant smuggling often in cahoots with politicians’ bagmen, the MRT extortion attempt, and now the coverup under Secretary Florencio Abad (reported on Monday by fellow columnist Rigoberto Tiglao), whose budget agency withheld from state auditors the records on P21 billion of 2007-09 pork barrel, probably to protect administration allies in Congress.

Is there no decency left that even the supposed crusaders for truth, justice and integrity have also undermined those ideals for partisan politics? Are people who try to do good and keep to the straight and narrow just hopeless idealists stubbornly playing straight in a crooked world?

Former senator and minister Vicente Paterno once recalled the remarks of a Public Highways Ministry official about the agency: “There are three kinds of people here—those who ask, those who accept, and those who are fools.” Today, the righteous cannot but feel like fools amid the jerks who shamelessly grab and steal, and the joiners who have decided, if you can’t beat them, join them.

If the Philippines is to become the Godly, patriotic, humane, and nature-sustaining nation envisioned in the oath of allegiance; if every Filipino is to enjoy “the blessings of independence and democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality, and peace,” as the Constitution’s Preamble declares; we need more leaders who are fools committed to truth, justice and the common good, not jerks and joiners serving political expediency and selfish gain.

In this article, let us take a rest from calling down heaven’s wrath and raising hell against bad leaders, and celebrate divinely inspired souls who have shown the kind of  inspirational helmsmanship that our republic and our world sorely need.

For starters, we recall the epochal patriarchy of Pope Saint Gregory the Great (540-604), whose feast was celebrated yesterday. His monumental life and work imbued Medieval Christendom in Europe with holiness, governance, compassion, learning and advancement. Born to a noble and saintly family, he was educated for political leadership and became governor of Rome while still a young man.

Upon his father’s death, however, Gregory gave his great wealth to the poor, turned his mansion into a monastery, and lived as a monk. He founded more monasteries, was made one of Rome’s seven deacons, and sent as envoy to Constantinople in Byzantium, one of the leading imperial powers at the time.

In 590, he became the first monk to be elected Pope. He reformed the administration of Church lands, and used their increased revenues to assist the poor and ransom captives. Pope Gregory also negotiated peace with barbarian tribes and produced countless writings and sermons that gave inspiration and guidance to the faithful, thus cementing his position as one of the four Doctors of the Early Church, along with Saints Augustine, Ambrose and Jerome.

Here at home, among many heroic Filipinos to emulate is Jesse Robredo, widely admired for his achievements as Naga mayor for 19 years and Local Government Secretary for two. Like Pope Saint Gregory, Robredo chose to turn away from great wealth, resigning from a high-paying job at San Miguel Corporation to serve the people of Bicol. Under his rule, Naga rose from a backward city to a prosperous and dynamic metropolis, one of Asia’s most improved, according to Asiaweek newsmagazine. Among his reforms were the online posting of budget and other government information, and the eradication of jutting.

In the Aquino administration, Robredo also persevered despite limits on his clout set by President Benigno Aquino 3rd, who had put the Philippine National Police under presidential shooting buddy Undersecretary Rico Puno. That made it near-impossible for Robredo to fulfill Aquino’s 2010 directive to crack down on jueteng, which was issued amid public controversy over the illicit numbers game, but never mentioned again.

Still, Robredo did not stop fighting for integrity and public service, with several investigations of anomalies on his desk upon his death, including a dubious PNP rifle bidding process reportedly implicating Puno, but now all but forgotten despite President Aquino’s own protestations about the sleaze. Plainly, true heroes never stop striving for what’s right even in the face of powerful obstruction.

A third and final model of right in our land of wrongs is far less known than Gregory the Great or Secretary Robredo. In July, Ateneo de Manila University honored in a special convocation several paragons of service, including the late Robredo, and the most applauded among the four awardees was labor leader Edmundo Nolasco.

With his leg shaking from age, the 92-year-old wheelchair-bound recipient of the Lux In Domino (Light in the Lord) award recalled that his last speech in the institution was back in 1949. In his valedictory address to his high school classmates, Nolasco said then: “It is customary in every valedictory to thank parents, loved ones and school for the sacrifices they have made for us. I believe that there can be no greater expression of our gratitude than that we dedicate ourselves to change the world for Christ and, if need be, to die fighting for this cause.”

For the next six and a half decades, Nolasco dedicated his life to social change, particularly the advancement of workers’ rights and welfare. In his struggle, not only did he face powerful, wealthy and oppressive entities, many of them owned or run by his fellow Ateneans. Perhaps the biggest challenge of all was seeing his family scrape by in a tiny dwelling on his meager earnings in the labor movement.

On July 16, Nolasco acknowledged the award: “I come here this afternoon to thank the Ateneo for showing me in my youth how to use the talents the Lord gave me and for helping me build the requisite resolve to remain faithful to His summons, despite many moments of doubt and discouragement, throughout this journey. With the unconditional love of my family, my wife Ella and our eight children, with the support of the Filipino workers, and above all, by the grace of our loving Father, it has been a life lived with passion, with joy and, most especially,  with purpose and meaning.”

Gregory the Great, Jesse Robredo and Edmundo Nolasco. These are the kind of shepherds who feed the flock and lift nation and humankind to greater heights. Let’s pray that the Lord will send and inspire more of them, not the Herods and Neros to whom our world perennially kneels and cheers.


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