The Long View
That was a term coined by the present Chief Justice, arising from his belief that the legal system is powerless to address the country’s problems, but that change can be achieved by reversing what he sees as the longstanding moral decay of the country. Religious leaders, according to him, can act as “moral forces” in “redirecting the destiny” of the country.
There is much that is admirable about our present Chief Justice, but I am troubled by a suspicion that at the heart of his public acts is a belief in the benefits of a theocratic state. To me, this is a point of view that is dangerous, because it is fundamentally incompatible with his being a jurist who is tasked with the application of secular law. Fr. Robert Reyes once quoted the Chief Justice as having told him that the “justice system is based on our morality which is based on our spirituality.” This would have shocked many, if not all, of his illustrious predecessors. Hadn’t Chief Justice Jose P. Laurel referred to “justice in its rational and objectively secular conception” in his justly famous definition of social justice?
The core values of our state, degenerate and dysfunctional as it may be, at present, are enshrined in three words from Laurel’s description above: that human progress is served by institutions that are Rational, Objective and Secular.
These core values are quite compatible with religious feeling, and in and of themselves not opposed to sectarian doctrines. It is like the late scientist Stephen Jay Gould’s description of faith and science being subject to non-overlapping magisteria, or authority. As he put it in his famous essay, “The net of science covers the empirical universe: what is it made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory). The net of religion extends over questions of moral meaning and value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for starters, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty). To cite the arch cliches, we get the age of rocks, and religion retains the rock of ages; we study how the heavens go, and they determine how to go to heaven.”
Does the Chief Justice propose reconciling law and faith, or is he expressing a desire to subordinate human institutions to the dogmas of specific faiths? The Philippines is not alone in having societies in which Mysticism, Sectoral Partisanship and Theocracy are increasingly viewed as the antidotes to corruption, injustice and misery. Should this tendency be embraced? This seems, to me, the dangerous path on which the Chief Justice has embarked.
At the heart of the approach to law and government among people like Laurel, whose thinking and training were informed by the Enlightenment thinking of people like Rizal and Mabini, the conduct of human affairs was more properly approached in a manner that best approximated scientific inquiry and problem-solving, if it was to avoid the risks – of fanaticism, intolerance, inquisition and persecution – that Godliness inflicted on human society in ages past.
Recall that a lesser judge was expelled from the judiciary for believing in magical dwarves: is there any difference in a chief magistrate who preaches as from a pulpit, confusing the robes of office with the robes of priestly, even prophetic, ministry? For the great crime for which the duwende-loving judge was dismissed, was to throw the judiciary in disrepute for the eccentricity of his views, which put in doubt his capacity to render impartial justice. But if these were grounds, there must surely be those of the opinion that a Chief Justice who essentially throws in the towel, declaring the salvation of the nation lies in God and not in Law, has no business being in the courts one moment longer and should, instead, either found a church or become a partisan politician?
A couple of years ago, during a forum held by a foreign chamber of commerce, one Filipino in the audience expressed frustration over the timidity of the hierarchy. I responded by saying that perhaps this was a good thing, as reducing the political influence of the Catholic Church was better for the country in the long run.
On one hand you have the Catholic Church effectively mobilizing to block the Reproductive Health bill, and on the other, mobilizing to keep Land Reform legislation alive. Tolerating the former because of the need for a force capable of mobilizing to promote the latter is a Faustian bargain we shouldn’t even have to consider. It only serves to underline the inherent contradictions when the element of sectarian morality muscles into the political sphere.
And this applies to all churches. At the very least, marshaling religion for one side only permits marshaling religion for the other; it does not introduce anything new nor does it offer any real opportunity to break the impasse the country’s been in, politically, since 2005. There is no difference between a politician bragging of Lakas and Kampi’s machinery and those who proclaim the presidency can be obtained by a coalition of Catholic bishops, the Iglesia Ni Cristo and Evangelical Christians.