AFTER ordering US missile strikes against Syria because of its use of chemical weapons against its own people, President Trump called on “all civilized nations” to rally in opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
A foreign diplomat says that the Philippines cannot presume to be one of the civilized nations referred to, because of all the extra-judicial killings (EJKs) in the drug war, and the brazen maltreatment of women by President Duterte and Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.
Brazen, immoral behavior of public officials, sooner or later, takes a toll on a country’s reputation.
I thought at first of leaving the issue of serial adultery and sexism in our public life to colleagues who have more insights to share with readers.
But then I realized that Duterte and Alvarez would succeed by default in silencing all criticism and opposition to their behavior, if their aggressive rhetorical questions—Sino ang walang babae? Sino bang walang kaligayahan? (who does not have a mistress? who does not have pleasure?)—are not taken up by Filipino men who have privately made marriage work and ardently reject their views. These officials will presume that society has waved “the white flag of surrender” to their lifestyle.
Cynicism vs hope
It strikes me that the most effective way to answer the President and the Speaker, is to place their negative view of marriage side by side with a positive view of the institution, and to contrast their demeaning view of women with our more normal, protective regard of women, be they mother, wife, sister, or daughter.
Duterte and Alvarez profit when their views make people feel awkward and hesitant to discuss the marriage vow and commitment and fidelity. They win when scholars write about marriage, only to write about its failings, and to argue the case for divorce.
Yet the big fact is that marriage matters to the great majority of people—in this country and elsewhere. Most Filipinos will be married for much of their lives. At least 8o percent of Filipino households are households of married people.
It’s stunning to note that nine out of 10 people in America tell pollsters that they would marry the same person again. Duterte and Alvarez obviously will not; it’s insane to think of them as a model for others to follow.
What to tell the millennials
To answer our high officials, I thought it would be good to quote these telling words of one professor in his book on integrity -Integrity, by Stephen l. Carter (Harper Perennial, New York, 1996). He wrote:
“Marriage is an institution of enormous beauty, even if that beauty is too often marred by fallibility. Whether one believes, as I do, that the institution is God-given and state-encouraged or whether one believes that it is a human invention that has been functional over time, one cannot avoid the simple fact that the great majority of people cling to the ideal of marriage with an almost romantic affection. Surely, we cry at weddings because we can scarcely bear the beauty of the union we are witnessing – and also because hard experience has taught us of its fragility.
“We marry out of hope, or fear, or desire,or desperation, and certainly out of love, and yet I believe that in every marriage, no matter how begun, there is that kernel of possibility that this is the one for the ages.”
At this time, when there are millions of millennials among us who still have their lives to live, we have a clear choice of what to offer them:
Do we offer them the cynicism of President Duterte and Speaker Alvarez?
Or shall we give them the kernel of possibility that they can have a union for the ages?
More than a promise, a contract
To Duterte and Alvarez, marriage, monogamy, fidelity, and perhaps civilization itself, is just hypocrisy. Rules of conduct and behavior for public men are irrelevant.
The marriage vow is the most important promise we make in our lives. To say otherwise is cheating.
Carter writes further on in his book: “Marriage is a civilizing institution, a means of curbing desires or inclinations that might otherwise make social stability impossible. The device through which marriage performs this crucial function is the notion of fidelity.”
The marriage vow is more than a promise not to cheat. It is a promise to stay, to care, to treat with a most profound affection: “to love and to cherish.”
Then comes the clincher: at the heart of the wedding vow is a central notion of integrity. Fidelity means keeping your word.
Marriage is more than a promise; it is a contract.
The moral force does not depend on the sacramental nature of the ceremony. In almost all religions, the formality of the occasion embodies the expectation that the duties and promises will be fulfilled.
Of course, marital commitment does not last forever. It does not always work. Marriages do end, some parted by death, others by the loss of love.
A nation of misdirection
In parading their lives and their treatment of women, President Duterte and Speaker Alvarez compound their betrayal of commitment because they are among the highest officials of the land. They are supposed to be role models, whether they want the responsibility or not. Public office binds them to a rule of conduct and behavior. They are duty-bound to obey the Family Code and the Penal Code.
I fear that with the flawed officials that inhabit our government, we have become what a social critic called “a nation experienced in misdirection.”
Our society does not stand by the values it professes to live by.
Our people are beguiled into looking in one direction while we are busy somewhere else. The public learns to laugh at indiscretions, and dismiss them as peccadilloes. The media culture rewards people who can get away with being bad. Misleading sound bites are more attractive than a principled argument.
I like the definition of corruption by one lawyer and ethicist. He said, corruption is getting away with things that we know to be wrong.
Our public life is infected by the everyday spectacle of officials who get away with things that the rules say are wrong, and, worse, that they themselves know to be wrong.
Secretly, most men probably envy Hugh Hefner, founder and publisher of Playboy, and his gospel of sexual freedom.
But with the horrifying result of the sexual revolution that Hefner helped unleash—an America plagued by all kinds of venereal diseases—men know now that it is better to learn sexual responsibility, than to envy Hugh Hefner his lifestyle.