The Month of Arts

Passengers of LRT 1 and LRT 2 were feted last January 20 with flash performances from various groups and individuals tapped by National Commission for Culture and Arts (NCCA) to usher in the festivities calendared for February, the month of arts.  Reports described the reaction of the crowd as one of surprise unaccustomed as they were to finding themselves treated with various artistic shows while queuing for tickets or wiggling their way to the LRT coaches.  The efforts of  NCCA, as well as various cultural agencies and art groups, deserve to be lauded for their sustained campaign for the continuing public arts education.  Much remains to be done no doubt but given the sad reality of the place of arts in the national budget and government priority, not to mention the less than meager resources of arts communities themselves, one can only sigh with amazement when such a feat is successfully pulled off. 

 

But taking the element of surprise aside, it makes us wonder whether the performances merited anything more than curious glances from the commuters. It’s hard to imagine they would really pause to take in the dances, songs, on-the-spot painting or performance poetry staged for them.  If they simply move along while the show was going on, such reaction would not have been unusual by Philippine standards.  Not that the public won’t pay attention but the kind of attention to come from them would probably be a lot keener had it been a movie shooting of Bea Alonzo and  John Lloyd Cruz  that welcomed them at the train station. 

 

The ambivalence of Filipinos concerning arts is probably best reflected by the popular confusion that surrounds the words arte and art. Through some historical and  cultural mix up, the word arte, a derivative of the Spanish word for art has come to mean for most Filipinos as a gesture or behavior that borders on the artificial and frivolous,   A person is described as maarte, not because he is artistic, but because of certain actuations that are perceived as contrived.  He fails to evoke sympathy or good will due to expressions which are seen as incapable of being taken seriously. 

 

A corollary of this ambivalence would be the confusion between the words artista and artist, its English counterpart.  Artista, in Filipino, refers to showbiz personalities, that is, entertainment celebrities whose looks and talent capture wide public liking.  In former times, looks and talent were necessary dual requirements to qualify as artista.  These days however, it seems the qualifications have been relaxed so that one can become an artista on mere face value or some bodily enhancements.   These misplaced aesthetic criteria (or more pointedly, the lack of them) explain why despite their being excellent artists, outstanding members of the film industry like directors Marilou Diaz Abaya, Mike de Leon, Ishmael Bernal and Lino Brocka are never considered artista by popular standards. The same is true for writers like Pete Lacaba, Ricky Lee, Butch Dalisay or musicians like Willy Cruz, Rey Valera and George Canseco.  They bring in artistry into the movies they are once a part of yet they never reach the same stellar acclaim enjoyed by a Daniel Padilla or a Sir Chief except probably within the limited circles of people in the know.

 

The confusion between art and arte and the overshadowing of artists by artista in our consciousness are actually a result of our miseducation on the arts that have long alienated us from our own culture and creative traditions.  Our tastes have been so desensitized that we become easy captives of films like My Little Bossings which demand nothing from us in terms of engagement and sensibility.  We think of movies the way we think of TV and songs on radio.  They are our constant sources of quick entertainment to distract us from the discontents of modern living.  In some less complicated past, there was no divide between life and art for, in its bare simplicity, life itself was one aesthetic experience.  That was when rice plains were home to the songs of the wind and birds took pleasure in tree tops and tall grasses in their dances.  There was ritual in the rising and setting of the sun and folks could recite in their verses their version of the poetry of the moon and stars. It might even be thought that Fabian de la Rosa and Fernando Amorsolo did not really create art; they merely captured art in the scenes they painted half certain we would lose sight of them had they not immortalized them in their canvas the way we no longer see them now in the age of reclamation areas, gated communities and gigantic malls.

 

It doesn’t help that in our schools, art is relegated to the mere ornamental, something to add color to the celebrations of Linggo ng Wika, UN Day, Teachers’ Day, Foundation Day, field demonstration and Christmas party. The result is a generation after generation of students who harbor the unfortunate idea that art is an excess baggage;  that time spent on NVM Gonzales or Franz Arcellana or F. Sionil Jose is time wasted; that learning the Filipino of Rolando Tinio, Rio Alma and Alejandro Abadilla is a lost cause; that Sinulog and Dinagyang are but mammoth street parties. There seems to be an unconscious, unspoken effort to subordinate art to hard sciences and professional courses so students can acquire unhampered, so they say, the necessary skills to qualify them for jobs abroad.  The recent Kto12 educational reform of the government seems to affirm this.  The reform is introduced because our students, it says,  need to be ready and equipped for the global world.  Through this program, education, officially, has been reduced to training and skills acquisition. Arts and humanities have taken the back set for the sake of human resource importation.  One wonders which type of poverty is worse: empty wallets or barren soul?   When they earn their degrees, our graduates would fly out of the country hoping they can make it better elsewhere.  It is a sad irony that we sacrifice education on arts and humanities so we can send our young professionals abroad to places where citizens have nothing but supreme appreciation for things cultural and artistic.

 

Meanwhile, in our homeland, casinos, hotels and shopping complexes continue to rise.  We have no more public museums to house our shared memories or public galleries to shelter the expressions of our national spirit.  Parks and public squares where people used to congregate to enjoy the morning sun or sing and dance under the moonlight have given way to commercial spaces.  Festivals no longer mark our life cycles and have become mere marketing events for tourism.  When art is disjointed from life itself, we turn to movies not for stories they would remind us of but for the things we hope they would keep forgotten.

 

The function of art is to enhance our imagination, to strengthen our capacity to hope and to animate our desire for the different and the possible.  If only for that we need more artists in the government to infuse optimism and dynamism in the way we look at ourselves and in the manner we do things for and among each other.  I say artists, and not some artista who cannot even render justice to the word entertainment.  

 

Arts help us remember, beside the beautiful and the sublime, who we are and who we can be. Rose Fostanes sang her way to the finale of the recent X Factor Israel knowing there was more to her than her ordinary caregiving chores.  She blends her voice with those of Brillante Mendoza, Kenneth Cobunpue, Miguel Syjuco, Marivi Soliven, Rodel Tapaya and a host many other artists who give us reason to see our being Filipino in a different light.  February, the month of arts, invites us to take it from them.

(This piece was published in the online magazine Rappler.com under the title “Artists and artistas.” See http://www.rappler.com/life-and-style/arts-and-culture/50047-artists-vs-artistas)

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Postscript on Quiapo: Private Piety, Common Faith

As in the past years, millions of devotees flocked to Quiapo last January 9 to celebrate the annual feast of the Black Nazarene.  Hordes of barefoot pilgrims once more flooded the selected thoroughfares, which, for that day, were cordoned off from traffic for what is considered in the Philippines as the mother of all processions.  Thanks to the local TV networks, what used to be a mere religious procession has now become one giant reality show that lends the plight of the contemporary Filipino a human face in a way even the best soap opera or the most edgy of indie films would never capture.  The TV outfits always have a special eye for anything that draws a huge crowd trusting that wherever people congregate, ratings won’t be far behind.  For the foreign tourists unfamiliar with a religious festivity of this magnitude, the feast of Quiapo was definitely a sight to behold. For the cynics however, it was but a one-of-a-kind enlarged flash mob. For the devotees among us, the scenes from the feast of the Black Nazarene were an unassailable testament of the enduring religiosity of Filipinos.

 

Of these, it is the latter, I suppose, that seriously calls for a closer reflection given Quiapo’s religious character.  I don’t really have anything against popular profession of piety.  After all, mass demonstration of faith is not something endemic to Catholicism alone; various religions like Islam, Judaism and other Christian churches also have their own versions of public display of pious affection.  The Quiapo procession however distinguishes itself from others for its almost Dionysian sense of abandon despite its conservative provenance as a Catholic devotion.  Observers note how the number of devotees that converges in Quiapo continues to swell year after year and with this increase also rises the toll of physical injuries, petty crimes and the heap of garbage left behind by a sea of penitents.  This has been the recurring story of the feast of Quiapo, a story which definitely detracts from what can actually be an inspiring narrative of a people’s testimony of faith.

 

As it is, there is really nothing harmful in the performance of piety in the public space.  What really invites rethinking is the romanticization of a religious outpouring in the name of a piety which has not grown larger than the devotees’ private intentions.  Religion, admittedly, is a personal experience and surely one that incorporates the desires, anxieties, conquests and aspirations that a person brings into the rendition of his religious engagement.  But then religion too is an ethical relation, something that requires transcendence of one’s self for the sake of the other, whether that other is a fellow pilgrim or his country or the very divinity that animates one’s religious devotion. 

 

Last January 9, something truly bothersome was caught by the TV cameras when the statue of the Black Nazarene was almost overcome by a multitude of devotees vying for a spot nearest to the image.  This took place even when the Mass officiated by Cardinal Tagle was still in progress and the procession was yet to commence.  Later on, while in transit, there were also those who literally defied all odds  to find their way up the Black Nazarene’s carriage and render what is thought to be the supreme gesture of homage and sacrifice – a touch, a kiss, a mere wipe with a towel or hankie which would seal the wish for a miracle. People would risk lives and limbs for that moment, throwing all sense of public order and public safety to the wind.  At one point, a group even attempted to remove the barricades at the MacArthur Bridge specifically put in place to reroute the procession and prevent the weight of almost three million pairs of feet from massing over an aging bridge at the brink of collapse. 

 

These incidents magnify what has been a regular fare in our day-to-day exchange.  Increasingly, yet unconsciously, our society is transforming itself into a mere aggregate of individuals, a pseudo-community where the personal is the primary determinant of choices and actions.  We have yet to identify with a self larger than our own and pursue a good that we can collectively aspire for and enjoy.  It is as if society is but a venue for our competing individual wills.  We are lulled by the illusion that we are one because we occupy the same space.  The veneer of unanimity effectively hides the deep-seated fragmentation that marks off one’s motivations from others’. We see each other as co-inhabitants and not yet as co-actors hence our potential as a people for a collective ethical action has yet to concretize itself in terms of an actual personal as well socio-political change.  We mistake our proximity with unity and our parallel interests as common goals and daily the corrosive effect of this state of affairs is palpably present in the crises which weigh on our families, our systems, our institutions even our religions.  The scenes at the Quiapo procession are a painful remainder of what can happen even to something as lofty as religion once overtaken by private piety and individual devotion under the guise of common faith. Apparently, even the divine dispensation is not spared from the cut-throat competition once spoken of by Thomas Hobbes as the state of nature. One wonders what happens to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth who as a servant thought of the other ahead of himself, away from the hysteria and pressure of the crowd.

On Democracy, Political Dynasty and Citizenship

Democracy is rigged and, despite the homage bestowed upon it, is actually a farce that derides the way politics should be. In fact, it has never been operative, not even, in the self-appointed bastion of democracy, the United States of America. What we often witness, dramatized in our cable TV, accented by news networks and chronicled in websites, magazines and dailies are the appearances of democracy. What is at work, what rules the world, since the supposed nascent of democracy is plain and simple aristocracy, that is,  the rule of the few, who, thanks to their effective machinations, are able to sustain their will to power under the mantle of an appearance of democracy.  Democracy is a masquerade that has duped us and we are the unwitting, unwilling victims of our sorry political naivete.

This, in a nutshell, is how I gather the remarks put forward by Prof. Peter Simpson, a visiting scholar from the City University of New York, in a recent forum held last March at the University of Santo Tomas and it came to mind in the aftermath of the country’s midterm elections.  There was a host of vital issues at stake last May 13 but nothing rubbed closer to the problem of democracy in the Philippines than the question of political dynasty.

Last April 21, the Philippine Daily Inquirer featured in its “Talk of the Town” segment a survey of all the senatorial bets’ position on political dynasty.  Expectedly, outsiders of political dynasty were critical about it; those who came from traditional political families were rather ambivalent in their stand while the newbies from the emergent power clans hid their outright endorsement of their pedigree’s power trip behind the oft repeated appeal to the popular will as the final arbiter of their political fate.

As they are, the candidates’ responses merely show why we can’t hope to see any resolution of the problem of political dynasty in the near future.  Those who are against it have too little power to even make a dent and those who are part of it do not even see it as a problem, much less, why it is so.

The success of the likes of Binay, Ejercito, Aquino, Angara and Villar was a clear testament to the political advantage of those with greater access to resources, social network, media, political machinery and more importantly a family name that catches the electorate’s pygmy memory.  In the future, we might indeed have a Senate with 24 seats occupied by senators whose main distinction would no longer be their last but their first names. Legislative districts will no longer be classified in number but identified according to the leaders’ lineage.  Provinces and towns might even be re-named according to the genealogies of their political lords and the Philippines’ 7,100 islands will be transformed into family enclaves, reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Macondo in One Hundred Years of Solitude.

This scenario will have rendered unnecessary the writing of critiques similar to Eric Gutierrez’ The Ties That Bind or Sheila Coronel et al’s The Rulemakers or Primitivo Mojares’ The Conjugal Dictatorship.  No one after all will find it tasteful to read on something that has become the normal state of things.

Prof. Kaelin’s insights on “The Problem of Family Politics” (PDI, April 22, 2013) were particularly instructive.  There really is a genuine need to re-think the already blurred relationship between the family and the state in the Philippines.  Appeal to popular will or the invocation of the family’s genetic love of public office, I mean, public service will hardly contribute to the quality of debate regarding political dynasty. It will probably take time for members of these political dynasties to realize that the issue is neither their political future nor the satisfaction of their insatiable heroic desire to serve but the survival of our democratic life.  More than leadership, democracy is about citizenship; more than government, it is about empowerment and it certainly depends for its flourishing on the possibility of equal opportunity, autonomy and the absence of hegemonic rule.

Prof. Simpson’s critical attitude towards democracy becomes understandable when seen in the light of something like Philippines’ political landscape.  Apparently, democracy earns its bad reputation because of its inherent vulnerability to abuse and manipulation.  At the end of the day, what we see in practice is not really democracy but democracy in its perverted form.

It is possible that the debate on political dynasty will yield positive results when the focus shifts from the question of how to downgrade the power clans’ will to power to how to upgrade the capability of citizens as the primordial sovereign.  We can mitigate this constant ancestral itch to rule when we expand the political, economic and cultural space necessary for the citizens’ self-determination.  In the long run, what will save democracy in this country from further decay is not computerized election but citizenship education.  

It is about time that Filipinos recognize ourselves not as constituents but as citizens.  It is only as such, following Aristotle, that politics becomes a meaningful and liberative practice.

Recalling Sartre

In the former times, when a kid is asked what he wants to be when he grows up, the answer one would usually get is that he wants to be an astronaut, a doctor, an engineer, a soldier, a priest.  These days however, when a kid is given the same question, the answer most likely one would hear is that he wants to work in America, in Australia, in Canada, in Singapore, in Dubai or anywhere but home. This observation resonates with a remark made by Prof. Randy David in one of his recent articles entitled “Migration As A Way of Life.’  Prof. David noted: “Migration studies report that more than 10 million Filipinos, roughly 10 percent of our population, today live and work in about 193 countries. These figures have prompted analysts to speak of a Filipino diaspora. The term is a derivative of the Greek word “sporas,” meaning “scattered like seeds.” We are a seafaring people and long-distance travel is not unknown to us. We have had waves of Filipino migration to Hawaii, Guam, and the rest of the United States, as a byproduct of our colonial ties with America. But, for a long time, the rest of the world was unmarked space for us. Indeed, throughout its colonial past, the Philippines had been more of a receiving than a sending country, attracting over the centuries migrants from China, Japan, India, and from as far as Lebanon…Our kind of organized migration is vastly different from that pursued by young people elsewhere, who might spend time traveling, studying, or living in other cultures in order to gain international experience. They do not stay abroad out of desperation or necessity.  They don’t leave young children behind. Most of them come back to start families and build their careers hand in hand with the development of their societies.”

More and more Filipinos are leaving their own county out of this growing consciousness of nothingness which has become a phenomenological fact of our daily lives.  Such nothingness manifests itself in different forms and levels of deficiency, from basic nutrition to public healthcare to quality education to public order to good governance to name a few. It is precisely this awareness of nothingness which impels one to create himself according to Sartre. But as we have seen, such self-creation is defined these days no longer in terms of a self-project.  With the advent of global economy, underwritten by liberalist ideology, self-creation has been equated with mere acquisition of skills considered marketable in well developed countries such as those mentioned above.  The current generation sees their becoming no longer as a meaningful pursuit but as an endeavor towards a more profitable future.  Certainly there is nothing wrong in aspiring to earn more; what makes the situation lamentable is the reduction of human potential to mere acquisition of profit.   This obsession with profit, either in individual or social scale, is the chief characteristic of the modern society and it infects the way individuals look at themselves and the manner with which they relate with one another and the world at large.  Sartre’s notion of freedom as the key to human creativity has no place in modern society.  There is no need to be free after all; our fates have been decided and our journeys has been charted by the gods in the Olympus of the global economy long before we could learn how to dream   Our needs have been subsumed by the needs of the market.  Our hopes are pinned on the worldwide financial forecasts.  Our angst hangs in the balance of the shifting behavior of the global trade.  The only freedom left in us is the freedom to choose which skill to acquire to match the demands of the labor market or the freedom is to stay home and starve ourselves to extinction.  Such is the famous Sartrean irony of freedom.  Whether to be the worlds’ laborer or to remain poor in one’s own country is a matter of a personal cboice.  Freedom is both our transcendence and condemnation.  There is really no exit out of it.  The Sartrean notion of freedom is a celebration of individual autonomy and at the same time, a phenomenology of the irony of the human condition.  Sartre’s existentialist philosophy is an exploration of the inherent promise and problem of becoming human which freedom itself underlies.  Sartre reminds us that:  “Man is all the time outside of himself: it is in projecting and losing himself beyond himself that he makes man to exist; and, on the other hand, it is by pursuing transcendent aims that he himself is able to exist. Since man is thus self-surpassing, and can grasp objects only in relation to his self-surpassing, he is himself the heart and center of his transcendence. There is no other universe except the human universe, the universe of human subjectivity. This relation of transcendence as constitutive of man (not in the sense that God is transcendent, but in the sense of self-surpassing) with subjectivity (in such a sense that man is not shut up in himself but forever present in a human universe) – it is this that we call existential humanism. This is humanism, because we remind man that there is no legislator but himself; that he himself, thus abandoned, must decide for himself; also because we show that it is not by turning back upon himself, but always by seeking, beyond himself, an aim which is one of liberation or of some particular realisation, that man can realize himself as truly human.”

There is therefore something definitely remiss then when the individual is disempowered of his ability to surpass himself and relegated merely as a cog in the machine of global wealth creation; when the individual as a being for-itself is reduced and restricted into a mindless being in-itself by the lords and masters of profit.  Sartrean philosophical anthropology, when read with critical caution, is a good reminder of the beauty of becoming human, which sadly, is gradually fading from the appreciation of the modern individual.  Or maybe it has not really faded but suppressed by a caricature of himself as free man inside the cage he himself gilded with gold and silver.

Learning Western Philosophy at the University of Santo Tomas

As we know, philosophy is Greek by origin.  The word philosophy itself is of Greek pedigree.  The whole Western civilization was born and cradled in Greece and much of the things we now know and see are part of this Greek legacy which the Philippines received by virtue of the Western expansion into our shores in 1521.  We know from our basic world history that Spanish culture, like others in most parts of Europe, was a by-product of Latin culture which is itself a progeny of the Greek culture. Jose Rizal himself, our national hero, was a huge fan of Greek poetry and literature as shown in his winning play El Consejo de los Dioses written in 1879 and awarded grand prize in the 1880-1881 literary contest sponsored by the Liceo Artistico Literario de Manila to commemorate the death of Cervantes.  The said piece, we should remember, was written when Rizal was still student of Ateneo, a school’s name which was taken from the Greek term athenaion (or atheneum in Latin), a temple of Athena, where Greek poets used to gather and read their works in her honor. Other schools which identify themselves as academy or liceo (lyceum) are also using names of Greek vintage.  Academy is a school associated with the Greek philosopher Plato and lyceum takes from the learning hub put up by another Greek philosopher and Plato’s student, Aristotle.  Even the Catholic church to which the majority of Filipinos belong is a beneficiary of Greek thinking.  St. Thomas Aquinas, the scholarly patron of the university, nourished himself from the genius of the ancient Greek intellectual giants.

When we use the term philosophy therefore, we have in mind Western philosophy, the kind of philosophy we inherited from the Greeks.  We need to use the qualification “western” in order to distinguish it from another breed of philosophy called “eastern” philosophy which is a way of thinking that germinate not from the West but in places like Asia, India and the Middle East.  Unlike its counterpart in the West, Eastern philosophy developed through closer kinship to religion and ethical life. It does not rely on heavy intellectualization and is given more to poetry and cultivation of a life lived according to an enlightened way.  The Western tradition however banks strongly on abstraction and chasing after ideas, which invariably are also referred to as form, theory, concept, or first principle or universals. Whereas the West emphasizes “grasping” of an idea, the East underscores “surrender.”  While the West puts premium on the mind, the East pays more attention to the heart. The West takes pride in being logical; the East finds pleasure in being spiritual. It may even be said that while for the West philosophy is love of wisdom, for the East it is more like the wisdom of love.

This is not to say that philosophy can be dissected into regions or geographic locations. In a school setting, the distinction between East and West is suggested merely as guide for academic discussion.  One thing we must emphasize about philosophy is its being universal, that is, it is something that is common and shared by all.  The desire to know belongs to us all as human persons , says Aristotle. That is one thing that binds us as members of one human community.  To promote philosophy therefore is to enhance appreciation of this natural patrimony of our common humanity.  The line drawn between the East and the West is purely a pedagogical tool.  Deep down, whether the person is Eastern or Western, as long as there is genuine desire to know and dialogue, there is philosophy in action.

The decision to begin our study of philosophy from the Western tradition is not arbitrary.  It is not even a decision for us to make. As suggested earlier, by virtue of our conquest, we were annexed by the Western powers around 1521 and since then, became more kindred to their influence instead of our Oriental and Malayan roots. Western philosophy is part of our endowment as members of a University founded on humanistic aspirations.  The figures that stand on the precipice of the Main Building testify to this.  The goal of studying philosophy is not really to make us philosophers or philosophy majors much less clones of the leading figures of Western philosophy but to make us philosophical, that is, to make us active shareholders and able participants in the creation, protection and cultivation of the common heritage of values, attitudes and beliefs that affirm our common humanity.  Such common heritage is what we call wisdom.  At the end of the day, it does not really matter whether one begins from the East or from the West because genuine philosophy always leads one to a path that meets the other. We seek and name it in different ways but deep down, true wisdom is one.

Minding Good Friday

The featured preacher on the second day of the retreat was a diminutive fellow, probably in his early to mid 30’s and who, according to his self-introduction, was also an active player in the preaching circuit.  He was also, as he claimed, a radio host and a book author.  In fact, he told his listeners, copies of his latest work were on sale outside the hall and that they, members of the audience, were bidden to buy them, adding in jest, on the pain of death.  He admitted he accepted the invitation to preach in the said retreat aware as he was of the prospect of huge receipts from his book. From start to finish, that would be the constant refrain of his preaching.  Each time he tried to make a point or cracked a joke, he would refer his listeners to his book in case they wanted more.  The audience loved him and was practically at his finger tips for the most part of the session.  They would laugh at the slightest suggestion, shrilled when he sang and reacted instantly to any remark he mouthed.  It was indeed a highly successful marketing pitch, garbed in the tone and language of a spiritual retreat. During the break, the listeners stepped out of the hall edified, “touched” as they described themselves, and went back to the session later clutching a copy of the book bought from the sales preacher.

Later that day, another preacher came in, a healing preacher according to the description found in the programme.  In his homily, the preacher narrated his journey from being an average pastor to becoming a much sought-after healing minister for over a decade now. He had travelled to different places said he and has delivered countless people from various illnesses through his miraculous touch.  He would remind his audience every now and then that it was not he but the Lord who heals. The actual healing session took place after the mass has ended.  It began with the healing preacher giving out basic instructions on what was about to happen: where to fall in line, how to keep oneself disposed, what to expect when one is “slain” by the Spirit.  Towards the end of his introductory remark, the preacher mentioned his “special request.”  He announced that a group of volunteers would walk around the hall with empty baskets in hand and members of the audience were encouraged to manifest their generosity by filling up those baskets with their “love offering”.  Proceeds from those offerings, said the priest, will go to a special project he was undertaking.  The audience was kind enough to understand and to oblige.  When the baskets gained weight, praying began and soon, people started to make a queue to receive the minister’s extended hand.

Both preachers appeared at the same spiritual retreat, on the same day and for the same reason of spreading of the Word.  They certainly did not charge anyone for what they did but that doesn’t mean they didn’t earn a profit out of it. If even the thought of fusion between God and mammon in the former times was considered sacrilegious, the two preachers showed how conveniently it can be done these days.  It is not just a case of money changers and peddlers swarming at the temple gates as reported by the Gospels; what we have here is prayer itself converted into a commodity, something that can yield profit or traded, a good that can tempt anyone to be a vendor, a buyer or a thief.

Karl Marx once called religion the opium of the people.  He was talking about the hallucinating effect of religion and its capacity to alienate people from the real state of affairs.  If he were alive now, he would probably be surprised to find out that even the religion he had in mind then has been displaced by capital.  Capital is the new religion of the people.  It is the Golden Calf mounted at the center of most modern institutions for worship and adoration. One wonders what kind of devotional purpose can explain the relation between the expression “In God We Trust” and the way we look at money represented by the mighty US dollars where that expression is found.

By capital we mean not just physical money; it also includes the acquisitive drive that it inspires, the illusion that more is better as well as the misbelief that everything can be commodified. It is not religion but capital that speaks when one hears a Catholic devotee glorifying his favorite patron saint for a material reward which he has received or has yet to receive. Even acts of piety has assumed some form of a trade, a kind of exchange deal: I’ll give you a prayer, give me my raise. It is the same with the examples cited above: the preacher gives a talk because he can sell his book; the priest heals the sick but only after the baskets are filled with love offerings.

Religion is a huge magnet for money and the people behind religious organizations registered at the Securities and Exchange Commission know this.  They won’t say it is not trading God for money. Another fellow ages ago argued the same way.  Apparently, he only realized the bad deed he made when the subject of the deal hung lifeless on the cross.

On Filipino Philosophy and Gilles Deleuze

(The following is an excerpt of a longer article entitled “Re-reading Filipino Philosophy with Gilles Deleuze.”)

If Filipino philosophy means articulation of native thought, doubtless we say that Filipino philosophy has existed long ago. What renders this proposition problematic however is the inherent ambivalence in the notion of the “native” itself.  At the turn of the 19th century, as the world was undergoing massive geopolitical shift and the Philippines’ was embroiled in its own struggle for sovereignty, one person attempted to define his own concept of the native. He was Jose Rizal.  In order to undertake his project of recuperating the meaning of the native,  Rizal turned to the Antonio de Morga’s Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas.  de Morga was a Spanish lawyer and was the lieutenat governor in the Philippines from 1595-1603. What he had to say, Rizal thought,  deserved his readers’ serious attention since he “governed the destinies of the Philippines in the beginning of her new era and witnessed the last moments of our ancient nationality. In his introduction to the book, Rizal appealed to his fellow Filipinos’ “consciousness of the past, already effaced from your memory.” The past Rizal was alluding to was the Philippines’ prehistory which he reconstructed from the reportage of de Morga. In Rizal’s fictive and romantic history, the Philippines had an authentic Malayan and Asian past, an established culture and a precolonial nationality.  All these however floundered with the coming of European modernity. Rizal’s de Morga annotation was desribed by the Philippine culture scholar Resil Mojares as a “nationalist counternarrative.”  As he explained: “Rizal’s decision to annotate Morga was not merely dictated by expedience but the discursive formation in which the nationalists operated.  They had to speak to, through, and against the European texts that had – by now they represented the past, present, and future of the country – ‘produced a Philippines that the Filipino nationalists now desired to fashion as their own.” While Rizal’s work was read more as a fictive rather than a historical narrative even during his time, it did however succeed in convincing his contemporaries as well as the reader of the succeeding generations that such pristine, native Filipino culture was possible.  Rizal’s legacy of nationalism would prove to be dominantly influential among scholars across different historical periods and and across a varierty of disciplines.  With the resurgence of nationalism prior to and during the heyday of Martial Law, philosophy too would lean towards the nationalist discourse.  It is within this context that one may read exponents of Filipino philosophy like Emerita Quito, Claro Ceniza, Leonardo Mercado and Florentino Timbreza.  The works they did were an attempt to bring Filipino philosophy closer to the philosophy we knew from the West and the same time highlight what is a typically Filipino native thought.  As noted by Mercado in his apologia: “All movements are based on a philosophy which bullets cannot destroy.  In the growing clamor for Filipino self-identity is implied the need for clarifying what Filipino thought is.  Colonial powers have ruled the Filipinos for the past centuries and in doing so imposed their own ideologies on the people. Intellectual colonialism is like a process of condiitioning; it induces a person to forget his own culture and eventually makes him ape a superior model…In short, the Filipino needs a philosophy to explain and support his identity.”

While laudable in their own rights and for what they intended to achieve, it is difficult to see how Filipino philosophy as conceived by the above-mentioned thinkers would advance given its entanglement with the problematic of identity which as pointed out above was something which Rizal in his annotation of Morga merely posited but left unchallenged.  Rizal thought of identity in metaphysical, essentialist terms.  Identity to him was something pre-given and something which can be lost and regained through a narrative return.  The campaign for Filipino philosophy is an extension of such project. Our local gurus could not be blamed after all for their short sight for the problem was not their handiwork but was merely handed down by a tradition of nationalist narrative steeped in fictive history and romanticism. Rizal himself, for all his genius, would not have subjected what he was writing to a self-critique aware as he was that what he was writing was not a philosophical piece but a work of propaganda meant as a counterpoint to the caricaturist perception of Spain about the Philippines. He would not have been aware that both identity and alterity are products of  hegemony of European modernity. In the words of Hardt and Negri: “Colonialism and racial subordination function as a temporary solution to the crisis of European modernity, not only in economic and political terms, but also in terms of identity and culture. Colonialism constructs figures of alterity and manages their flows in what unfolds as a complex dialectical structure. The negative construction of non-European others is finally what founds and sustains European identity itself.” This is a classic case of eternal return where one sees the predominance of reactive forces over the active forces and the perpetuation of the hegemony of the Same. The more Filipino philosophy persists in its recovery of a lost identity, the deeper it gets stuck in such quandary. In order to find its voice, Filipino philosophy must strive to assert its will to power. This happens when the negation brought about by the initial triumph of the reactives forces is itself negated (the negation of the negation) and the reactive forces themselves are dissipated in the process Nietzsche called “active destruction” – the event when negation is transmuted to affirmation.  It is through this that eternal return can lead the becoming of the active forces which Nietzsche and Deleuze described as the “eternal joy of becoming.” As a first step towards this goal, Filipino philosophy, instead of harping on a lost paradise, should instead harness its own intensity to critique, not retrieve, identity.  This is the same strategy Deleuze himself learned from David Hume. Philosophy for both Hume and Deleuze does not begin from any notion of identity since identity is yet to be constituted.  Here lies the radicalism of the empiricism of Hume. It is an empiricism that speaks of a world that is constantly slipping away from the grasp of the subject who pretends to know itself as well as the given.  Hume’s empiricism overturns this belief since the given is in constant flux; the given is a mere succession of events, of a movement that never follows a single trajectory. The best that the subject can do is to believe and to invent, that is, to engage the unknown. The singular feat of Hume according to Deleuze is precisely in spelling out this problem: the problem of the subject constituting itself in the given when the given itself is not given to subject.  It is in this sense that Hume becomes one of the primary sources of Deleuzean philosophy of difference. In this position, Hume himself is turning the triumvirate of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle upside down and is likewise radicalizing everything the likes of Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche and Marx have to say after him.  In Hume, Deleuze finds an exclamation point for his philosophy of difference and Filipino philosophy itself can find in it a veritable starting point.  Filipino philosophy can turn to but cannot afford to dwell on history if it wishes to affirm itself.  The challenge is to find an expression of newness, an exploration of becoming.  In the words of Deleuze:  “History today still designates only the set of conditions, however recent they may be, from which one turns away in order to become, that is to say, to create something new.”

Rizal originally thought of Filipino identity as a molar reality, as something that defined who we were and whose reclamation is indispensable in establishing a national community. Succeeding scholars pursued the same line of inspiration and as shown in the paper, early exponents of Filipino philosophy infused their workds with the same mindset.  It was a philosophy anchored on nationalism which itself is fed by a memory of an identity, whole and intact, before it was deterritorialized by our European colonizers. As I argued in the paper, there is a need to re-visit Filipino philosophy since the very foundation from which it seeks legitimation is itself under question. Identity, says the Deleuze, is the very reason for the floundering of Western culture, the same damaged culture that we inherited from Europe with its alleged discovery of the Philippines.  To be truly liberating, philosophy, Filipino or otherwise, must extricate itself from the domain of the Same, that is, from the realm of identity.  The real matter for philosophy, in fact, the only matter, is the creation of concepts and according to Deleuze, concepts are created not by the sustaining what is but by provoking what can become.  This is how Filipino philosophy can evoke difference.

Filipino scholars of philosophy can no longer hope to reclaim what has long been deterritorialized.  This is not to say that native speculation has reached a dead end.  The value of the philosophy of difference of Gilles Deleuze as an alternative language for Filipino philosophy lies precisely in its ability to indicate new directions and to inaugurate virgin passage ways that can help Filipino speculation more than just a regional philosophy but a genuine field of immanence where both Filipino and philosophy can become.  To help us accomplish this goal, we are here proposing some Deleuzean concepts and how they may be applied in our pursuit of pushing the boundaries of Filipino philosohy ever wider.

First, identity is a molecular, not a molar, reality.  Following Hume’s insight, Deleuze tells us that subjectivity is not something pregiven; it is in constant flux, an assemblage that is constantly constituted.  From this perspective, we can read Rizal’s much mourned lost Filipino “identity” as a mere moment in a long episode of identity creation which continues until today.  The Filipino is not a figure that once was and would have been forever until deterritorialized.  The Filipino is a bundle of tales, a fusion of forces.  There is no reason to exorcise ourselves of our colonial past in the hope of finding a nationality that is pure and untouched for the Filipino is a field of constant deterrritorializing and reterritorializing influences. To think that we can be Filipinos without the any colonial intervention is to betray the very history of the word “Filipino” itself.  A Filipino speculation on philosophy can qualify as philosophy according to its capacity to create concepts that can elevate our understanding not just our ethnicity but moreso, the possibilities of our relational nature as human subjects. This notion acquires particular urgency especially in this age of massive Filipino diaspora and the postmodern blurring of the traditioal ethnic and cultural boundaries.

Second, Filipino philosophy should direct itself to becoming a minority.  In the past, our native thinkers considered it Filipino when speculation is done in contrast to the Western systems of thought or when the vernacular is used as opposed to the colonial language. Deleuze would hesitate to call this mode of philosophizing different because, as it is, it remains stuck in the negative. Difference, as Deleuze would have it, is not celebration of negation but a festive announcement of affirmation.  Filipino philosophy as a minority philosophy must not step back from a majority language or from a majority system of thought.  What it should do instead is insert itself within them and from inside, discover new way of saying, new mode of thinking well beyond or even against the majority’s very own.  Filipino philosophy can do this not only within philosophy itself but within other disciplines the way Deleuze interpreted the novels of Kafka, the paintings of Francis Bacon or French cinema.

Rizal’s hope was an experience of genuine becoming for every Filipino.  An alternative Filipino philosophy using Deleuze is a corrective to the belief that such hope is lost and such hope is past.  We are a people composed of singularities who continue to create and recreate ourselves from various social, cultural and historical intensities. As a philosophy of difference, Filipino philosophy is a narrative of our constant becoming. The principal task of Filipino philosophy is to resist not only the tendency to define itself according to the framework of ethnicity; it should in fact defy the very tendency towards definition.  The task of philosophy, if we follow Deleuze, is to push the boundaries ever wider, to create spaces that will make possible the creation of new concepts.  To use ethnicity to designate how we think and what we are thinking as Filipinos is to denigrate both philosophy and the Filipino by reducing them into metaphysical categories. It does not mean of course that the question as to what makes Filipinos Filipino should be set aside.  On the contrary, the only way to give justice to this problem is to keep it open.  Filipino philosophy, to become philosophical, must restrain itself from making conceptual prescriptions on questions that border on either philosophy and Filipino. Philosophy and Filipino – they are both singularities; they exceed identity. They can only become.  Read through Deleuze, Filipino philosophy means philosophy becoming Filipino and Filipino becoming philosophy.  What needs articulation is not identity but the creative process of engagement with a variety of forces which affect the singularities they both continuously become.

Ang Hanap-buhay ng Pinoy at si Martin Heidegger

Umaabot na sa halos sampung milyon ang bilang ng mga Filipino na nagtratrabaho o naninirahan sa iba’t ibang bahagi ng mundo.  Ang bilang na ito ay patuloy pa na nadadagdagan sa bawat libong umaalis ng bansa araw-araw.  Mula pa noong dekada sitenta, nang isa-polisiya ng administrasyon ng dating pangulong Marcos ang paggawa bilang kalakal, naging mas madami at mas mabilis ang paglikas ng mga Filipino.  Lalo itong umigting sa saglit na paglago ng pandaigdigang ekonomiya pagdating ng dekada nobenta. Maliban sa Amerika, paboritong hantungan ng karamihan sa atin ang Australia, Canada, New Zealand at Singapore. Ang mga estudyanteng pumapasok sa kolehiyo ngayon ay sa ibang bansa na nakapako ang mata hindi pa man nakakatapos. Kahit ang mga may trabaho na ay nagsisipagbitiw sa kani-kanilang opisina, eskwelahan, negosyo o pabrika para makipagsapalaran sa buhay sa ibang bansa. At kahit sino sa kanila ang tanungin kung ano ang nagudyok sa kanila upang mangapit-bansa, iisa ang sagot na maririnig sa kanila: hanap-buhay.

Pilipinas ang mundo ng mga Filipino o ang Da na tinatawag ni Heidegger. Dito nararanasan ng Filipino ang pagkakatapon sa kanya.  Dito nagaganap ang kanyang pakikisangkot sa Meron. Subalit, batay sa nabanggit na, tila may kabalintunaan ang nangyayaring pakikisangkot ng marami.  Pakikisangkot ito na nilalarawan ng pagtakas, ng paglikas.  Pakikisangkot ng pagtanggi na ariin ang sariling pagkakatapon.  Masisisi ba naman natin sila?  Katwiran ng isang kaibigang umalis kamakailan lamang papuntang Vancouver, masyado na raw mahirap ang buhay sa Pilipinas. Pakaunti na raw nang pakaunti ang oportunidad para sa progreso at ito’y lalo pang nababawasan dahil sa katiwalian sa gobyerno.  Malabis na rin daw ang paglaganap ng polusyon na tumalab na hindi lamang sa hangin kundi pati na rin sa tubig at sa lupa.  Hindi na raw ligtas para sa mga anak niya ang manatili sa isang lugar na maaaring magdulot pa sa kanila ng malubhang karamdaman balang araw. Nakakabagabag na rin daw ang dalas at dami ng insidente ng krimen na dati’y sa mga panulukang madidilim lamang nangyayari;  ngayon, tila nagiging karaniwang kaganapan na ito kahit sa loob ng mga tahanan at ang kriminal ay hindi na mga estranghero mula kung saan kung hindi mga taong kabilang sa pamilya.

Kaya nga para sa kanilang nakaalis na, ang kanilang pag-alis ay hindi pagtakas; hindi ito pagpiglas sa kanilang pagkakatapon.  Udyok daw ito ng kanilang pagmemeron bilang mga Filipino.  Tugon nila ito bilang Da-sein sa paanyaya ng sisilip-kukubling Meron.  Bilang Da-sein, pananagutan nila sa kanilang sarili, sa sariling kanilang-kanila lamang, ang maghanap ng isang makakatotohanang pag-iral, ng isang buhay na marapat sa kanilang pagsisikap at mga inaasam. Kung ang Da-sein ay kinakatha ng kanyang sariling posibilidad, hindi niya maaaring talikuran ang tawag nito.  Ang tanong na hinaharap ng isang Filipinong nagmemeron ay kung paano tutupadin ang mga posibilidad na ito sa harap ng maraming balakid na nakaharang sa kanya. Nais niyang umunlad; nais niyang matupad ang mga pangarap; nais niya ng mas matatag na kinabukasan ngunit matay man niyang isipin, mahirap maganap ang lahat ng ito habang siya ay nasa Pilipinas. Kung sinabi ni Heidegger na ang Da-sein ay naglalakbay patungo sa posibilidad, ayon sa kaibigan ko, mas ramdam niya na ang buhay niya dito sa Pilipinas ay patungo sa wala.  Parang ganito rin ang binanggit ni Heidegger nang ipinanukala niya na ang buhay ng tao ay sadyang papunta sa wala, ibig sabihin, lahat tayo, lahat ng sa atin ay lilipas din. Gayunman, hindi ibig sabihin nito na ang ating pagsisikap maging ganap, maging totoo ay  maaari nating ipagwalang bahala. Sa katunayan, dahil nga lahat ay lilipas din, mas mahigpit ang ating pangangailangan ng makapag-iwan ng lagda ng ating pagiral. Sa ganito naiiba ang pag-iral ng Da-sein; sa ganito rin siya mas nagiging ganap at totoo. Nakikisangkot ang Da-sein sa panahon at tinutugis ang kanyang posibilidad dahil nga batid niya na bukas makalawa ay wala na siya. Ang pagiging pansamantala mismo ng panahon ang naguudyok sa Da-sein na makilahok, na yakapin ang bawat sandali, na salubungin sa halip na hintayin lamang ang posibilidad na nabibilang sa kanya.  Dahil dito, masasabi natin na sadyang may malapit na kaugnayan ang kalinga at bagabag. Ang kalinga ay tugon sa udyok ng posibilidad. Ito ay isang malikhaing pagtupad sa ating pagiging itinapon. Ang pagkalinga ay pagtalima ng Da-sein sa posibleng mangyari sa kanya.  Nagpapamalas siya ng kalinga sapagkat naniniwala siya na mayroong mangyayari. Ang kalinga samakatwid ay nakatuon sa posibilidad at hindi sa isang teritoryong geograpikal. Kaya nga kung kinakailangang lisanin ng isang Filipino ang sariling bansa, ginagawa niya ito dahil itinapon ang Da-sein upang kalingain ang sariling posibilidad.  Ang pagkatapon samakatwid sa Da-sein ay hindi nangangahulugan ng pagkakapinid sa bakuran ng isang bansa. Ang pagkatapon ng Da-sein ay pagiging laan sa iba’t ibang posibleng mangyari na tanging Da-sein lamang ang makakabatid sa paraang siya lamang ang makakahanap.  Kung walang nangyayari at kung walang nakikita sa kanyang buhay, dito makakaramdam ng bagabag ang Da-sein. Nababagabag siya sapagkat nababanaag niya ang wala: walang pag-asa, walang pagkakataon, walang kinabukasan, walang pagbabago.  Ang lahat ng ito ay pahiwatig ng wala.  Ayon kay Heidegger, hindi natin nakikita ang wala mismo.  Nababanaag lamang natin ito sa mga bagay-bagay na tila ba unti-unting humuhulagpos sa ating mga kamay o sa paligid na waring naglalaho sa ating paningin: sweldong ayaw tumaas, presyong ayaw bumaba, trapik na hindi malutas, kontratang hindi maisara. Sa ganito nagpapamalas ang wala.  Sa harap nito, nababagabag ang Da-sein na baka walang mangyari.  Dalawa ang kanyang posibleng maging tugon: pag-ibayuhin ang kalinga o kaya tuluyang masadlak sa buhay na karaniwan.  Tinuturing ni Heidegger na karaniwan ang buhay na paulit-ulit; isang buhay na nakakulong sa sirkulo ng nakagawian na: natutulog, bumabangon, pumapasok, umuuwi, napapagod pagkatapos ay matutulog ulit, babangon ulit, papasok ulit, uuwi ulit, makakaramdam ulit ng pagod hanggang sa makatulog ulit at magpatuloy ang buhay na nakasanayan. Hindi ganito ang buhay ng Da-sein.  Kung tutuusin, positibo pa ngang maituturing ang pagpaparamdam ng wala.  Dahil dito, nauudyukan ang Da-sein na tumalima upang magpamalas ng kalinga. Silang nakaramdam ng udyok na ito, sila ang naglakas-loob na mangibang bayan upang hanapin ang buhay na mas totoo para sa kanila.

Ang hanap-buhay ng Pinoy samakatwid ay maaaring tingnan sa dalawang lebel.  Una, sa lebel na ontik, ibig sabihin, sa lebel ng karaniwan nating pagkaunawa kung ano ang hanap-buhay – walang iba kundi ang paghahanap ng ikabubuhay.  Sa ordinaryong karanasan, ang paghahanap ng ikabubuhay ay bahagi ng ating pagtanggap sa mundo bilang mundo at sa ating tadhana bilang itinapon.  Nagugutom tayo kaya kailangang kumain; nabibilad sa araw kaya kailangan ng silungan; nangangarap kaya kailangang mag-aral.  Lahat ng ito ay kailangang tustusan ng salapi kaya malaking bagay sa kahit sino man na magkaroon ng permanente at maayos na hanap-buhay.  Ang hanap-buhay sa ontik na pagkaunawa ang nagbibigay ng materyal na katiyakan sa pagmemeron ng tao.

Maliban dito, may isa pang kahulugan ang hanapbuhay; ang hanap-buhay sa ontolohikal na kahulugan.  Ibig sabihin nito, ang paghahanap ng buhay na makabuluhan at may pinaglalaanan.  Ang ontolohikal na hanap-buhay ay higit pa sa trabaho.  May mga taong kumikita ng malaking salapi subalit nananatiling salat sa loob dahil hindi pa nila nasusumpungan ang buhay na totoo para sa kanila. Marami sa ating mga kababayan na nakaalis na at matagal nang naninirahan sa ibang bansa ngunit hanggang ngayo’y waring dayuhan pa rin sa kanilang sarili sapagkat bagamat nakatuntong na sila sa lugar na kanilang gustong puntahan, ramdam nila na mayroon silang hindi pa nararating. Sa gitna ng akala nilang katuparan ng kanilang pangarap, naroon pa rin ang pakiramdam na hanggang ngayon tila ba sila’y namamamahay pa rin.

Sa isang banda, tila mas mahirap pa ang kanilang kalagayan kaysa sa mga taong naiwan dito sa Pilipinas.  Oo nga’t mahirap ang buhay dito; oo nga’t salat sa maraming bagay subalit parang mas malalim ang hiwa sa loob nilang nandayuhan sa ibang bansa. Bagamat walang bansa ang Meron at ang pagkatapon sa atin ay walang pinipiling rehiyon, hindi rin naman maikakaila ang malaking kaugnayan ng mundong pumapaligid sa atin at sa ating totoong pag-iral. Ito ang dahilan kung bakit para kay Heidegger, walang anomang lugar na maglalapit sa kanya sa Meron kundi ang Alemanya sampu ng kanyang tula, ng kanyang kasaysayan, ng kanyang mga awitin, maging ng kanyang mga kagubatan at kapatagan.  Gayunman, hindi nangangahulugan na mas malapit sa Meron silang hindi nangibang bayan at nagpaiwan dito sa Pilipinas.  May kani-kanyang lakbay ang bawat isa at sa kanila, iba-iba rin ang pagdanas ng Meron.  Ang tanging pagkakatulad ng Pinoy sa isa’t isa, mangibang bayan man o dito manirahan, ay ang bagay na lahat sila ay naghahanap-buhay: nagnanais kumita at naghahangad makakita. May malaking pagkakaiba ang malaking sweldo sa ibang bansa at ang pagtitiis sa kakaunti dito sa Pilipinas subalit alin man sa kanila’y maaaring maging daan papalapit o papalayo sa Meron. Kung tunay na mayroong pilosopiyang Filipino, dito dapat magsimula ang kanyang salaysay – sa penomenolohiya ng hanap-buhay ng Pinoy.

Accounts and Accountability

After successfully pinning down the discrepancies in Renato Corona’s SALN (statement of assets, liabilities and net worth), the House prosecution panel quickly switched to a higher gear and aimed its sight at its next target: Corona’s dollar accounts.  The move was deflected however by Pascual Garcia, president of the Philippine Savings Bank, who testified that the said accounts were untouchable by virtue of the bank secrecy law. His position sat well with the defense but constrained the prosecution. To buttress its position, PS Bank went to the Supreme Court and prayed for a TRO. The Supreme Court acceded to its plea, effectively curbing albeit momentarily any attempt to make Corona account for his dollar accounts. The Senate found itself in a bind when it confronted the question whether or not it should abide by the Supreme Court’s order. On one hand, it is acknowledged that the Supreme Court is the final authority on questions of law; on the other hand, the Senate is assured by the Constitution paramount and sole power as impeachment court. Overnight, the Senate which handles the impeachment trial suddenly becomes the subject on trial, that is, on trial before the public eye.  Viewers of the impeachment hang on for the Senate’s decision. In the end, with a vote of 13 against 10, the Senate deferred to the Supreme Court in a gesture perceived by some as a calibrated response to avert a possible constitutional crisis and at the same time, to preserve the Senate’s image as custodian of the rule of the law.  The majority chose to sustain “absolute confidentiality” of Corona’s dollar accounts over the matter of absolute accountability for which he is being tried.

The stance of the majority jibes with that of the defense and is patent among lawyers.  Most lawyers share the same tendency to reduce a question of justice to a question of law and a question of law to a question of the text of the law. In a recent column, Professor Randy David (Philippine Daily Inquirer, February 18, 2012) referred to this as the lawyers’ Umwelt, the ability to read the world, for better or for worse, as their vistas dictate. Oftentimes however, such vista is conditioned by a dogged idolatry of the text even if it stands against public reason. They adhere to the facticity of law blindly and conceal the infirmities of their arguments by spewing Latin phrases, conjunctions, adverbs and legal citations meant not to uncover the truth but to throw their hearers off balance. Sometimes, we become unwitting victims of this verbal exhibitionism when we assent to a point they make however far it is from common sense.  In a memorable scene towards the end of the movie “Devil’s Advocate”, Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves) confronted John Milton (Al Pacino), the devil incarnate, and asked him why he chose lawyers to be his surrogates. Milton explained: “Law is the ultimate backstage pass. There are now more students in law schools than lawyers walking the streets.”  The movie of course is fictive but it does tell us how law and lawyers may be drawn into the dark side.

Given the situation, the people remain vigilant and critical.  Optimism is strong for the senator-judges to be discerning enough to see through the fortifications of technicalities the defense lawyers have erected in order to blur perception of Corona’s guilt.  We can’t blame them though; they were recruited and paid to do that dirty job and by the looks of it, Renato Corona is getting every ounce of his penny’s worth.  His lawyers’ gift of judicial gab never fails to wow the impeachment audience.  Added to this, he has likewise firewalled himself through a memorandum enforcing confidentiality of records of Supreme Court justices and another instruction barring any Supreme Court personnel from testifying at the impeachment trial. He has also filed a motion asking the Supreme Court to stop the ongoing impeachment. And now this, a help from thirteen senators – the sheer number of them leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

It was a fortress Corona built for his defense; law after all is his turf.  Had he shown the same readiness for defense as a graduate student, he would have legitimized his doctoral degree with a dissertation.  Had he chosen to be just rather than a justice, he would have been truly honorable.  Had he known ethics better than law, he would have not cowered behind judicial cloak.  Had he upheld accountability rather than his accounts, he would have restored respect for public office.

He has not done, has never been any of those.  Corona sucks up to a faded Glory whose legacy now weighs him down like a monstrous crown of ignominy.