When Alice was lost in Wonderland, she asked the Cheshire Cat, “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat. “I don’t much care where,” said Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
We keep talking about changes in the political and economic system in our country, but we have to talk first about our society and ourselves.
We should much care where we want to get to as a people. We cannot change the political and economic systems without changing the values which shape the way we look at the world. We have to find the pearl of great price in today’s Gospel reading and sacrifice much so that we can possess it.
As a Filipino Christian, what is your new life in Christ worth to you? Do you love the word of God more than gold and silver, as we sing in today’s Psalm? Would you, like the characters in the Gospel today, sell all that you have in order to possess the kingdom God promises to us? If God were to grant any wish, would you follow Solomon’s example in today’s First Reading – asking not for a long life or riches, but for wisdom to know God’s ways and to desire His will and in doing his will build a nation of brotherhood and freedom?
What do we really value as a people? What is of utmost significance for us as a nation? What is the price we have to pay so that we can possess what will make us thrive? If we do not much care where we want to go as a people, it matters little what we do as the storms that batter our country become stronger because of climate change. It matters little how we react as political storms batter the country with the PDAF and DAP scandals, impeachment complaints are filed left and right and rumors of coup d’etats fill the already polluted air.
We cannot separate our social assumptions from our political and economic systems. We first have to figure out what kind of society we really want: a democratic society populated by responsible persons who thrive on interdependence and community, or a nation of patronage in a culture of consumption where citizens feel dependent on dole-outs and services from corrupt authority figures, and who are unwilling to take full responsibility for their actions.
We need a shared framework about what Filipinos as human beings are “for” and how we might act and what we should strive for or resist. We need to redefine today what it means to be human in the absence of the kind of sustained, millennia-long reflection philosophy and the teaching of the humanities in the Philippine context. If we do not repair the damaged vehicle, it matters little who is driving it.
Values of the people in Smokey Mountain
During many conversations and Bible sharings in Smokey Mountain, I often asked the scavengers what they consider the most important questions in life. They summarized them into three: What does it mean to be a human being?; How can we live together as brothers and sisters?; and, How can we give the children a good future?
Their answers can be summarized into three principles from which we drew the core values of integrity (from the Latin integer, whole), solidarity, creativity: pagpapakatao (becoming human), pakikipagsandiwaan (being one in spirit with others) and pagkamakasaysayan (being historical).
We made diwa, the root word of sandiwa, one in mind and heart, into an acronym for damdamin (feeling), isip (thought), wika (language) and adhika (passionate intention, dream or ambition). Sandiwaan means shared humanity and shared destiny.
Pagpapakatao for the scavengers means becoming all that one can be, constantly striving for wholeness and the fullness of life. It also means having unchanging principles to live by while adapting to the changing times. They would think that one goes against pagpapakatao if as a politician, one takes money that belongs to the people. This value also goes against the mediocrity that has plagued our damaged culture for so long —pwede na yan!
Pakikipagsandiwaan is the dynamic connectedness with other human beings as brothers and sisters. One loses this dynamic connectedness if one thinks only of his or her own interests and not the welfare of the community.
Pagkamakasaysayan means that the world is historical—it had a definite beginning and will someday end. Human beings are historical too with a past and with a future. They need to be creative to adapt to changing circumstances if they are to thrive in an evolving universe.
Our leaders therefore should not be myopic in making decisions, but think of generations yet to come and leave a lasting legacy that will make others remember them with honor and affection.
For the scavengers, historicity means isaloob ang kahapon (put the past in your innermost being), isapuso ang ngayon (put the present in your heart), and isadiwa ang bukas (put tomorrow in your spirit). As historical beings, we are duty-bound to create a positive human future and fulfill our destiny as loving, thinking, relating and dreaming human beings. In the light of these questions and the accelerating changes in the world, the values of integrity, solidarity and creativity are the most crucial in order to live more humanly in an evolving world.
Politicians who come from the upper classes mostly are alienated from the majority of the populace’s view of the world. The middle class have also been brainwashed by our education to think like Westerners and embrace their values. While I catered to the understanding of “person” as an individual substance of a rational nature, for example, identity among the scavengers is always understood as shared identity.
Filipinos understand themselves as beings-in-relation. Their languages have many words for being in relationship—pakikipagsandiwaan, pakikiisa, pakikisama, pakikitungo, pakikisalamuha, pakikisangkot, pakikialam, pakikisali, pakikipagkapwa. They are more prone to say “we” instead of “I.”
The people in Smokey Mountain do not define themselves apart from each other. Their understanding of themselves is characterized by the intense experience of the self as a member of a group rather than as a separate ego. Our leaders have lost this sense of belongingness with the masses. They think only of themselves and so they have always betrayed the people. But they have mastered the art of using the people’s pakikisama and utang na loob to perpetuate their political dynasties.
Just like the scavengers of Smokey Mountain who transformed their community with communal values they themselves chose, we have to start as a nation by re-examining our collective values and envisioning a society where persons once again matter. What is worth striving for?
What should we accept, what should we question, and what should we resist? What system of ethics do we use, where does it come from, and how does it persist through time?
So you do not start with the PDAF and DAP scandals and ask how to redesign Philippine politics and economics. You start with life, with human life and the life of the planet, and ask: How do we generate the conditions for the Filipino’s flourishing in an evolving cosmos?
Ano ang Pilipinas na ating adhika?