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. …
Thus says the Lord God, I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them.
— The Book of Ezekiel 34:2-4,10
The Holy Mass reading from Ezekiel a week ago was about the ancient nation of Israel, but it could just as well have been written for 21st Century Philippines. And for many Filipinos, the admonition at the end offers hope of deliverance from the rapacious shepherds of today: “I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them.”
On Monday came one of those efforts to deliver the Philippine sheep: the reprise of the Million March in Rizal Park on National Heroes Day a year ago, seeking to abolish pork barrel through a constitutional amendment by people’s initiative.
Targeting 10 million signatures from across the archipelago, the campaign is designed not only for charter change, but also to inform among more Filipinos about the scandal in public spending, especially the Priority Development Assistance Fund and the Disbursement Acceleration Program.
Another initiative, pushed by columnist Carmen Pedroza and her civil society supporters, aims for a new constitution altogether, to institute systemic change. The thinking is that nothing less than a new or radically renovated edifice of nationhood and governance can extricate the Philippines from corrupt leadership and widespread poverty and underdevelopment.
Why can’t we just follow the rules?
One thing that nearly a decade in government and thirtysomething years in policy analysis and journalism have taught this writer is that the main problem with our country is not deficient statutes, politics, and rules. We have countless well-crafted laws, including those against corruption, which have led Transparency International to continually rank the Philippines high in anti-graft legislation.
Where the nation falls behind a host of countries, however, is in implementation. Our rules are broken not because there are many things wrong with them, but because many Filipinos, from the habitual jaywalker and reckless driver to leaders elected to enact and execute laws, keep breaking the rules instead. Indeed, it’s a national pastime to boast how one got away with violating the law, from traffic ordinances to tax and customs regulations and, now, even the Constitution.
Today, no less than the President himself, the highest official tasked with executing the law, devotes a nationally televised address to argue why he should be allowed to get “creative” with public spending statutes, to use the euphemism of his DAP architect and PDAF booster, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad. And now, even one highly respected stickler for truth, transparency and good governance has defended Aquino and Abad and blamed the rules for their violation.
Can’t we just follow and enforce the law for once? Are we as a people incapable of complying with do’s and don’ts in our own country, even as we dutifully abide by them where they are strictly enforced abroad? If we are a lawbreaking nation in our own land, then what’s the use of overhauling the Constitution? Filipinos would just find a way around the reformed legislation.
Centuries of righteous law-breaking
Historians and social scientists have partly attributed the national habit of disobeying laws to colonialism. For centuries, Spaniards, Americans and, briefly, Japanese rulers made the rules that governed the islands, often with little regard for the welfare and interests of Filipinos.
Indeed, in the Spanish encomienda system, the King endowed favored subjects with not just lands, but absolute power over all inhabitants. And many an encomendero used that clout to rule as he pleased and for his and his family’s sole benefit. The admonition of Ezekiel would very much apply to these oppressors, and the first Archbishop of Manila, the Dominican friar Domingo de Salazar, decried those abuses.
Unfortunately, despite such ecclesiastical admonition, abusive and self-serving colonialism flourished—and instilled in Filipinos from centuries past the attitude that it was necessary and even righteous to break the laws of state, since they were imposed by foreigners to the disadvantage of the colonized populace.
And that colonial habit has persisted to this day, entrenched even more by the self-serving legislation and governance of Filipino elites since 1946, as well as their penchant of breaking the law when it suited them. Now, the President goes even further: after being caught violating the Constitution his mother promulgated, he wants to change it so he can get off the hook. Not to mention ruling many more years and not being told off if he should break the rules again.
This has got to stop. If we are to win deliverance as a nation, then it must begin not through another exercise in lawmaking, but through honest to goodness law enforcement and execution. Let people power be harnessed to hold the nation’s rulers, starting with those in govenrment, but eventually encompassing those in business, religion, academe, and other major sectors.A future column will propose concrete measures to begin this indispensable transformation toward a law-abiding Philippines.
In sum, for the Philippines to finally be free of pernicious shepherds, the sheep must join hooves to execute and enforce the law. Only then will divine deliverance come.