The Long View
Individualistic yet part of the whole
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Let me try to stitch together two books and three conversations. Five years separate the publication of “In Search of Heroes,” by the FILIPINO Foundation in Cebu, and “Profiles Encourage,” a joint endeavor of [email protected] and Anvil Publishing. Both books are slim volumes, and chronicle the stories of many people who’ve had a positive impact on their communities, whether in a personal or organizational capacity. The two volumes don’t look for greatness in the grand manner of the past, but instead, look to unheralded people in unnoticed places, doing hitherto unremarked-on things. By such examples is the path to the future supposed to be illuminated.
These books are truly in keeping with the spirit of the times, where moving great numbers of people is not only seen as impossible, but somehow suspect.
A decade ago, when the new Ninoy Aquino statue was about to be inaugurated in Makati (replacing the one now transplanted to Hacienda Luisita), I had a conversation with an industrialist. I made a passing remark that the era of great monuments has passed, and the industrialist seemed rather taken aback. At the time, I’d meant it more as an aesthetic criticism–we simply seem incapable of mustering the genius of, say, a Guillermo Tolentino, and most new monuments are hideous–but I’ve since come to think that indeed, we’re in a kind of waiting period, where the old models of greatness have ceased to have the power to inspire and move people.
Over the past few years, I’ve exasperated friends devoted to Gawad Kalinga because of my misgivings over a movement that seems inclined to studiously ignore the political sphere. At the heart of the movement lies the belief that collaboration with anyone from government is OK, so long as government participation is not central, because the Catholic Church is what should be central. And that furthermore, it is somehow beneficial to concentrate purely within the borders of a small community, while setting aside the question of what happens after the houses are built, and the tiny pocket of change must then come to grips with it having to sink or swim in a vast sea of politics-as-usual: when the volunteers leave, is the community prepared to resist the mayor who will insist on a command vote?
It is reasonable to assume that a family secure, at long last, in its own home, presumably armed with rosaries, could then draw strength from the family being part of the broader community of the faithful. Armed in turn not just with a horror of condoms, but a dedication to applying the principles of faith in political life, believers could then have tremendous political clout. But at a recent discussion, a Pampanga resident pointed out that Gov. Ed Panlilio didn’t get the vote of the very poor he’d devoted years to working with: which suggests that GK communities organized by similarly minded people will produce babies and prayers, but not reform-oriented votes.
Which brings me to another conversation.
A few months ago, during an informal talk held at an ambassador’s home, one Filipino remarked that he was frustrated by the inability of the Catholic hierarchy to speak with an uncompromising voice. I ventured the opinion that perhaps it’s healthy that the Catholic bishops are divided. It’s time, I suggested, for us to develop a more fully secular society, and that includes looking on the bright side of bishops being incapable of deciding great political issues.
I couldn’t help but recall a talk I gave at a meeting of concerned citizens in a parish, where one of them, almost in tears, said, “I wish Cardinal Sin were still alive, then I wouldn’t hesitate to go to the streets–but he’s dead and I don’t trust any of our political leaders.”
And again: the era of not just monuments, but of monumentality, of wanting momentous change, has not only passed but been substituted by an attitude that anything that smacks of it is somehow suspect.
The substitution of “circles of influence” for “belonging to a movement” is actually healthy, I think; but only to the extent that a desire for individual independence isn’t overcome by a parochial obsession with “circles of influence.”
In our political life, it’s the fanatics or the pimps who hold sway, each worshiping at a particular altar, whether of God, or Marx, or the Pork Barrel. Dogma and rituals may differ, but at the heart of each lies the iron discipline that comes from demanding total obedience, which is made possible by ruthless and unyielding leadership–and which guarantees them success. Randy David, during the launch of “Profiles Encourage,” boiled down the task of democracy to a very simple question–determining who is the majority, and who is the minority. The fanatics and pimps may never have really constituted a majority, anywhere, but according to the rules of the political game, not just those with the gold, but also the numbers, make the rules.
For this reason the Iglesia ni Cristo may not really reflect anyone’s opinion but the head of the church, or the NDF anything more than the will of the politburo, or Lakas-CMD anything beyond motivational power of cash-as-swill; but they can deliver, and thus help constitute a majority.
Great leaders at the heart of great movements, inspiring great masses of people to move in a particular direction: does this image move you, or turn you off? There are those who are pining for a return to the era when politics was like a symphony orchestra, blasting dramatic music under baton of a fierce and uncompromising conductor. On the one hand, there are those who’d be happier with a folk festival reality, where a rather disorganized, but enthusiastic and individually gifted group of groups gets together to make music of uneven but impassioned quality. If most of us find ourselves wanting one or the other, for a time, why not ask, why can’t we accomplish both?