Some readers have asked me why I have refrained from commenting on Sen. Grace Poe and her unusual ordeal with questions about her citizenship and residency. I thought initially that as a foundling, she is like those citizens who, according to Ramon Magsaysay, should have more in law because they have less in life.
But this line was immediately shot down by a friend who said that Grace,in fact, has more than most of us. She has citizenship in two countries: the US and the Philippines. And she has had a fairly privileged life, being raised in comparative comfort and going to good schools.
Honesty not the same as integrity
When Vice President Binay opined, obviously aiming at Poe, that experience and competence should be used as criteria in assessing candidates for the presidency, she shot back with a blistering reply: “Honesty is more important than experience.” And then she suggested that Binay should start answering all the questions being raised against him in the endless Senate investigation of his years as Makati City mayor.
Media and public reaction appeared to favor Poe in this exchange. But, on closer examination, it turns out that she is imprecise about her terms and her principles. When she invokes the idea of honesty, she invokes it not in the more familiar sense of “being truthful or not telling a lie,” but in the sense of the virtue of integrity.
In his authoritative book, Integrity, Yale law professor and author Stephen Carter contends that honesty is not a substitute for integrity. One cannot have integrity without being honest; but one can certainly be honest and yet have little integrity. So integrity is a different concept and virtue from honesty.
Carter believes that a person of integrity engages in the hard work of discernment that integrity requires — which means that he or she figures out whether what he or she believes is good and right and true.
As a result of her imprecise use of terms and concepts, Grace has been caught in the horns of a contradiction; she demands that Binay tell the whole truth about the charges against him; yet she herself refuses to tell the nation the truth and the facts of her naturalization as an American and her alleged reacquisition of her status as a natural-born Filipino. My colleague Kit Tatad has written three columns on the subject, complete with references to the pertinent laws in this country and in the US, and yet Poe and her lawyers are yet to answer coherently one single point raised by Kit.
There is a profound point here about our politics. Many Filipino politicians think mistakenly that when they raise the issue of integrity or honesty, the Filipino public will presume that they possess both integrity and honesty.
It was in this light that President Aquino picked the members of the Citizens Peace Council, saying they were all persons of integrity. The chosen ones gladly accepted their designations, believing that the public will see them as persons of integrity.
From censor to censorious
A second point that deserves comment and analysis is how Grace Poe mutated so quickly from being chief censor to becoming a public personality discoursing on ethics in our public life.
I know a number of people who have served briefly as a movie censor; indeed I myself also served a brief, forgettable stint as one. Yet I don’t know any censor who became censorious or sanctimonious as a result of the experience. Most of us just took pleasure in the privilege of being able to watch any movie, in any theater, free of charge. None of us imagined that we were performing a great feat of public service. My chief learning from my stint as a censor is that about 90 percent of films previewed are bad.
In complete contrast, Poe appears to have taken the job seriously, even literally. She is now the most censorious politician in our country.
Censoriousness is the same as sanctimony. It never is a pleasant thing to behold because sanctimonious and censorious people take themselves much too seriously.
Poe, at this stage in her budding political career and on the verge of a possible run for the presidency, needs to get over herself. Even Pope Francis got over himself upon election to his holy office.
It’s significant that in May 2013, when people started getting delirious and star-struck by Poe’s topping of the senatorial polls, Fr. Joaquin Bernas in a column for the Inquirer warned about possible problems with her citizenship.
His reservations then were not answered.