“By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; let them not feed, or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence which is in his hands. Who knows, God may yet repent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we perish not?” When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God repented of the evil which he had said he would do to them; and he did not do it.
— Jonah 3:7-10
In the escalating scandal upon scandal now engulfing the nation, with leaders and institutions muddied in illicit funds by the billions, what’s the way forward?
For most people, that’s another way of asking who will win in the end—President Benigno Aquino 3rd or the growing ranks of opponents unhappy with his policies or threatened by his actions. This writer has said that the administration will likely rule till its term ends at noon on June 30, 2016, since its challenges cannot possibly exceed the far greater political, economic, fiscal and climatic threats survived by his predecessor with much less government resources and public and media support.
But Aquino winning (or losing, for that matter) does not necessarily mean the nation will move forward. For victory in the political arena often allows winners to falsely portray themselves as impeccably righteous and just, while unfairly demonizing and decimating their foes. Advancing true reform and the welfare and rights of the people, especially the poor, are lost in the smoke of battle. And the lesson learned is not how destructive ambition and conflict are, but how to destroy one’s rivals and stay on top at all costs.
Consider the impeachment of then Chief Justice Renato Corona. Many Filipinos heaved a sigh of relief when the half-year of weekday squabbling and posturing, complete with rumors of senatorial inducements, finally ended in a 20-3 vote. The CJ’s conquerors promptly extolled the triumph of the rule of law and good governance over a big fish who betrayed the nation’s trust. Now, it turns out that Corona’s condemners may have committed far greater anomalies than failing to report bank deposits, and the claimed assertion of constitutional justice was actually its distortion by pork barrel.
No, both democracy and morality do not advance when one side lords it over another by perpetrating the very excesses it purportedly sought to expose and punish. What’s worse, the whole battle royale only stores up animosity and vindictiveness for even more agitation and conflict for the body politic in months and years to come. Meanwhile, the sufferings and needs of the people are neglected, if not exacerbated; and underhanded tactics are entrenched as the acceptable, unavoidable way of politics.
Plainly, in seeking a truly beneficial resolution to this latest test of wills and ills, the way forward cannot begin with adversaries pointing accusing fingers at one another and scheming to use the quest for truth and justice in bringing down rivals. Rather, if those tenets are to be truly and fully served, all sides surely must first acknowledge that they share in the stain of corruption. and must join hands in seeking forgiveness and forging a new conduct.
You’ve got to be kidding, many may scoff. Political enemies standing together to atone for their sins and mend their ways? No way. Besides, with all the dirt that has come out, from congressional PDAF to presidential DAP, the people will want some big names in jail. Who those unfortunate souls will be depends not on who is guilty, but which has the clout to send its rivals to the court and the klink, while protecting their own camp.
So far, it has been the Aquino administration putting opponents in the dock while sparing its allies and even insisting on the righteousness of its methods and tactics. In the Disbursment Acceleration Program controversy, the President shows no sign of backing down and means to keep implementing DAP. In sum, the powers that be shall admit no error and will accept nothing less than the conviction and incarceration of those who dare to challenge their dominance.
But there is another way, one that the nation’s moral and spiritual authorities must needs explore to spare the nation from even more division and strife, and advance true reform and the welfare of the people. This alternative must begin with God’s admonition to the sinful city of Nineveh in yesterday’s mass reading from the Book of Jonah, quoted above: the collective confession and turning away from evil by every soul from the king down. This is the salvation of a sinful land, not the politically driven prosecution of one corrupt bunch by
If contending factions follow the wholesale penance of Nineveh and, first and foremost, cease their excesses and begin making amends by helping the needy, then as in the Book of Jonah, the ill that lies in store for the sinful land will be stayed. For ultimately, God seeks not the punishment of sinners, but their conversion and redemption. And if the Almighty can desist from exacting justice if there is a real change for the better, then the people too, counseled by their spiritual mentors, can forgive the perpetrators shall all truly and sincerely end the entrenched corruption of the past.
Will the power elite now locked in battle learn from Nineveh and collectively confess their failings and commit to the right path and the common weal? It will take a miracle not unlike the renewal that swept the Assyrian capital city shaken by God’s call for repentance delivered by the prophet Jonah.
Barring that act of God, the political arena looks set for more mudslinging and finger-pointing in the contest to see which side can get the people to hate the other more. That cannot but propagate the sentiment of one reader who commented on a column about the explosion of pork barrel and smuggling under Aquino: Is there no one we can trust?
If our leaders persist in another round of excoriating one another in their quest for victory masquerading as justice, then the people may just give up on all of them.