The Long View: Moral intensification

The Long View
Moral intensification

By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 05:13:00 05/18/2009

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.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

55 thoughts on “The Long View: Moral intensification

  1. Manolo, thank you for this. Speaking as a Filipino atheist who finds virtue in both halves of that self-description, I worry that the establishment seems to equate Catholic religiosity with good citizenship and vice-versa.

  2. Maybe we ought to reach for the gun when we hear the word “moral”, at least coming from people like Puno and other leaders. Puno it seems is playing coy and may just enter the political ring when enough people has convinced him or his ‘granchild’. There are definitely powerful people behind him who are so wrong as to think that a “moral figurehead” like Puno, much like a Cory Aquino redux would lead us to political paradise. Wow, mali ulit!

    So that’s how it goes, when corruption reaches to high heavens, aba, kumatok sa pinto ng langit at baka andun ang solusyon sa mga suliranin natin. Actually our elite don’t believe this — but they seem to shrink from liberating the masses from this mentality, as if to say “We think this way and you think that way” — but we’ll arrive at one destination. Great strategy it seems and look where we are.

  3. If this “moral” reformation, etc. becomes the “in” thing for our future leaders and the result is a more transparent, responsible, and productive government and “Philippines” as a whole then who are we to say no to this? If there has to be a move in one direction – it should be on towards the side of “good” right? Personally, I believe its better to have some sort of guidance be it spiritual or moral compared to unbridled liberalism. At some point in our lives we have to stand for something, or abide by some code or rule that may result to the greater good though not necessarily make everybody happy. Some lines must be drawn, some lines must not be crossed…at least, to differentiate us from animals or maybe avoid fire and brimstone being rained upon us for being so liberal to the point of decadence…but thats a big “IF” there…then again come election day, we all need to make our choices, whatever the Filipino people decide, I will respect it even if if runs counter to my personal choices…

  4. mlq3,
    I think you’ve read my mind with this. I particularly am struck with the “True Decalogue.” So its possible to have a framework that does not necessarily lead to a modern day “inquisition” scenario (for lack of a better option). I will copy this and bring it up in all opportunities I have to talk about local politics, this is very interesting indeed yet so simple…

  5. Thanks for the link Manolo. The True Decalogue by Mabini ought to be required reading for our elementary and highschool kids, apart from Noli and Fili (or maybe they already are in Sibika?). It may bounced off at first as the young are easily bored with indoctrinating stuff — but indoctrination works and connects with allied sentiments during the second act of one’s education.

    The Decalogue is spiritual, but not “religious” and does not name ascribe its concepts or principles to any organized religion. It is also clearly republican and nationalistic in character.

    LOL, I wonder if the likes of Benigno have read this in their youth. I don’t recall having read it myself in my younger years.

  6. There was one party that was quite interesting before “Ang Kapatiran” they stood for a lot of things I believed we lacked so much in our current leadership but when I visited their website I was totally turned off by all this off the charts religious (mostly Catholic) stand and statements. I’m born catholic but reading all this hard core church stuff scares me sleepless – I keep having these “inquisition” nightmares. When these overly religious people get somuch power over us they I might get arrested and tortured for suspicion of “infidelity” (of course my wife will welcome this) just by having drinks in Pegasus.

  7. “When these overly religious people get somuch power over us they I might get arrested and tortured for suspicion of “infidelity” (of course my wife will welcome this) just by having drinks in Pegasus.”

    Not to worry, ramrod. By then Pegasus will be the first to go before you got there, heheh.

  8. I think that the Chief Justice was merely mouthing a personal opinion. Everybody has an opinion, he’s entitled to one.

    In saying that religious leaders can act as “moral forces” in “redirecting the destiny” of the country, Justice Puno was speaking from a very weak and shaky platform. It will not hold since the lessons of history, the history of the Inquisition, will water down Puno’s idea even before he can climb his pulpit to propagate it. One only has to shout “Inquisiton” and the people will totally reject the idea.

    In any case, if the Chief Justice can implements measures in the judiciary itself and show us positive tangible results congruent to his advocacy then that will bolster somewhat his credibility.

  9. The concept of secularism flowered during the Age of the Enlightenment, which flourished most during the 18th century. It bore fruit to the French Revolution, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, the American declaration of independence, the U.S. Bill of Rights.

    The Enlightenment has to be taken in the context of its departure from the Middle Ages, where theocracy, religious persecution, censorship of ideas, oligarchy, aristocracy and the divine right of kings prevailed.

    Instead, the Enlightenment advocated democracy and the laws of men, liberty, moral and civil rights and promoted the concept of reason.

    The concept of reason accepts the belief in a God who has a plan for the universe but He does not intervene with the functioning of the natural world and in the affairs of human beings, and allows the universe to run according to the laws of nature. We can only know God by reason and by observance of nature. Not by revelation (the Bible, the Koran, the Torah and other religious interpretations done by human beings who are ascribed as “inspired by God”). And not by supernatural events (prophecies and miracles).

    This emphasis on reason, rather than blind faith or superstition, also gave birth to the Age of Reason, which blossomed in the 17th centrury.

    The Enlightenment and the Age of Reason clearly influenced our Founding Fathers, just as it clearly influenced the Founding Fathers of the French Revolution and the American Revolution. Mabini’s “True Decalogue” clearly was influenced by ideas from the Enlightenment.

    I am one of those who are apprehensive about how the world seems at times to be returning into medieval times. Religious fundamentalism, superstition, intolerance, fanaticism – they are clearly making headway all over the world nowadays.

    One of my principal criticisms of EDSA I was the overt, even showy religiosity it took on. It minimized our victory as a people and, instead, made it a supernatural event.

    I am not deeply familiar with Chief Justice Puno’s thinking. Only that he occasionally makes sound-bytes that I usually agree with. He sounds like a very upright and moral person. I believe he is well-intentioned, although I don’t know how deeply involved he is with religion and about seeking the Presidency via “a coalition of Catholic bishops, the Iglesia Ni Cristo and Evangelical Christians”. I only hope he is more a person of reason than a person of blind faith.

    Although, as it is, I’m not even sure if most of the Filipino nation listens to what he says. I occasionally do, but only because I read about him in the newspapers. For all I know, more people may be more interested to listen to what Manny Pacquiao has to say, than what the good Chief Justice says.

  10. Where did this come from may I ask?

    “Consider the dilemma of the Jesuits whose past election of Romeo Intengan as their leader has enabled him to use the residual prestige of his having been a past Jesuit Provincial to provide the moral and political underpinnings for the liquidation of the Legal Left. That prestige has accorded him a prominence he has deftly used, politically, and conferred impunity because he is immune from scrutiny.”

    No one is immune from scrutiny once he or she enters politics. But it is up to the public and the Kommentariat to hold them accountable to prevent them from getting away with shenanigans.

    And that’s the other thing about politics. Why treat the “Legal Left” with kid gloves when every other politician is fair game for every tabloid or blogger in this nation? They are as hypocritical as the rest, and no amount of posturing about causes will change that. Maybe they need an Integan to get their comeuppance?

    No Sacred Cows, eh?

  11. It’s disconcerting to imagine how can a man of a mind like Puno’s become a supreme court chief justice.

  12. I believe in the separation of the Church and the State but you cannot separate a secular man from his spirituality. Maybe the Chief Justice wants these “religious leaders” to help mold these “leaders” but not to intervene in the affairs of governance.

  13. Maybe the Chief Justice wants these “religious leaders” to help mold these “leaders” but not to intervene in the affairs of governance.

    Of course, there’s always a need for structure, even in belief systems. I don’t fault Puno for his faith, I also have mine…its the extreme (extremists) I worry about.

  14. The chief justice is just exasperated with the amount estapadors, manggaganchos, shabu addicts, magnanakaws, rapists, corrupt local officials and murderers clogging his dockets. He must have like 5 years backlog on cases. I’m not the most religious person in the world, fact is I’m an atheist. But I do agree that these idiots that stand on trial before him could use a dose of religion to ween them away from the immoral existence they live.

  15. There are lots of anecdotal evidence of shabu addicts turning to Jesus in rehab, of bilibid inmates converting to Islam. We all know that religion is a kind of replacement drug for these people.

    Better that they be addicted to the Lord or Allah than be addicted to shabu, money, power, GRO’s, gambling, etc. Sure these fanatical religious types are irritating as hell, especially when they try to make “intelligent conversation” with me regarding their new found fondness for the Lord or Allah and try to deconvert me from atheism. But I’m more than willing to tolerate their obviously flawed and blind system of beliefs than for them to waste away their life on other bisyos you know what I’m saying? So yeah I support the Chief Justice on this.

  16. And I disagree with you Manolo for using the Jesuit leftist liquidator as an example. That’s the exception, not the rule. For the most part, priests are good people who still exert good moral influence on the masses.

    Bert, the inquisition was like more than 300 years ago. The different flavors of Christianity have moderated since then, so I wouldn’t use that example.

    I agree with Ramrod. We secular atheists are the minority and Catholic morality is pervasive in our country. So why should we, rational and correct we might be, impose secular morality on the majority of Catholic Filipinos?

    I think it’s asking for too much too, Mickeymotoc, to expect poor Filipinos to suddenly gain and accept or convert to secular morality. Life is hard enough as it is trying not to go hungry in this country. It’s too much to ask our countrymen to know the difference between teleological and deontological reasoning when the simple 10 commandments from the old testament and “do unto others as you would do unto yourself” from the new testament would do them fine.

  17. SoP the question isn’t if the majority of the clergy exert a wholesome moral influence on the public, which they probably do. the question is whether they or other religious leaders ought to exert political influence because of their being moral teachers, whether in the case of prelates or individual priests like the liquidator.

  18. That’s not what Chief Justice was inferring when he called upon the clergy to exert moral influence. As you may know he also called upon doctors to raise the standards of morality in the medical profession. But it doesn’t mean that he thinks doctors should become politicized, just as he doesn’t he think the priest should become political too.

    He probably just name dropped priests and doctors because they’re respectable people.

  19. I like what the Chief Justice is doing. His call has touched a chord within me and to many a Filipinos and I’ll explain to you why.

    It is deeply ingrained in our culture to respect elders, a throw back from the days when our Austronesian forbears deferred to the council of elders matters of morality for the people of a barangay. Well what could be the highest council of elders in our this little barangay called the Philippines if not for the Supreme Court?

  20. in that sense, that’s very interesting, SoP, so he is actually striking a chord with a precolonial kind of approach to law as customs.

  21. Hey Manolo, how are you? I am an avid reader. I am in a pharmaceutical industry and we are selecting people who would enter to our trial program. Apparently, we have considered to invite you primarily…

    Our new drug seems to deliver physical and character development. Through our 7 months study, our volunteers seems to have a change in character. It’s actually a male enhancement drug, in which our local sources pointed towards you. We would be pleased for response.

    Would you like to increase your authority? We may send you samples, free for 30 days. This will keep your blogging passion upright and physical results are self-explanatory.

    Appreciate your response.

  22. But wait… there’s more!

    If you decided to get out 30 days trial pack, we’ll double your supply…

    Plus… A glow in the dark Tom Thumb keychain.

    Thank you…

  23. You worry about a theocratic state? Bullshit. It’s totally against Vatican policy and international law makes direct Vatican influence in our free independent state impossible, for surely a man of the cloth will want to obey the Vatican if he is able. And you of all people, Manolo, should know that we are a constitutional democracy. They have to change the constitution first to make us a theocracy. Putting a churchman on the presidency is the fastest way of putting morality and ethics in the forefront of national, local and family life. Our laws will not suddenly become theocratic because a man of the cloth will be voted to Malacanang. Your only worry should be in population control and that damned gay marriage straight out of Hollywood and Oprah.

  24. We want to put a religious man in the highest place because we now know we do not have the balls to punish a president who is not morally self-driven.

  25. And fuck it, if ever this will come true, he will be a president that members of ABCDE classes could all vote for. That in itself means the world in this point in time for our country. Please get off your fucking high horse and smell the pokpok pussies. We need to understand that whatever idealism or ideal person we have in our minds, he will not appear by 2010. He’s probably dead now anyway trying to protect the api. Whoever runs 2010 will not win out of principle but out of the sheer lack of choices. Given the circumstances, I’d go with Bishop Lagdameo for president.

  26. “The Catholic Church isn’t the only religion politically-influential and organized, Brian.”

    Is an Iglesia running? Who else can win? All I’m saying is that by 2010, every other candidate but a priestly one is a waste of time. At any rate, once you field a popular bishop on the elections, the level of conversation an debate immediately improves.

  27. “Bert, the inquisition was like more than 300 years ago. The different flavors of Christianity have moderated since then, so I wouldn’t use that example.”-SoP

    Ok, SoP. But how about the Muslim Taliban? They are like present to me, and pretty high on moral and religion too. Like Manolo said the Catholic Church is not the only religion politically-influential and organized.

    And, do you think a Christian Taliban not possible? I think it’s very possible if we will let them.

  28. “Bert on Tue, 19th May 2009 12:27 pm

    Ok, SoP. But how about the Muslim Taliban?”

    That’s just absurd. You can’t compare Islamic extremist governments with Christian societies.

    I don’t know of any country in the world which has a “Christian Taliban” majority harassing the non-Christian minorities in a way that the Taliban do the non-Muslims in Afghanistan.

    And it’s never gonna happen in ‘Pinas too. We’re traditionally a multicultural, tolerant society. No leader, no matter how persuasive and charismatic, can influence or bully the Christian Filipinos to harass the atheists, lumads, Muslims, and other non-Christians to convert to Christianity. Because we’re inherently tolerant.

  29. And I think BrianB is spot on. It looks like some people here are reading too much of Noli and El Fili and thinking the RC is still that strong.

    BrianB is right when he said the only political influence that the RC has are on the issues of contraceptives and gay marriage. Even then, their views are still pretty much right of center.

    When the RC starts calling for banning of over the counter pills and contraceptives and for the stoning of gays then wake me up. But for now, I’ll sleep easy.

  30. Maybe it’s because of the fact that Manolo is gay that he has too much to fear from the RCs political influence? Rest easy, my friend. It’s in our culture to tolerate “binabaes”. Culture trumps politics everytime.

  31. Oh, now I understand why Manolo ignored my male enhancement proposal…

    I did not know you’re gay? It’s okay, there’s no problem in revealing your sexuality. Nothing really wrong about it… Non-admission is another thing.

  32. “#mlq3 on Tue, 19th May 2009 12:27 am

    in that sense, that’s very interesting, SoP, so he is actually striking a chord with a precolonial kind of approach to law as customs.”

    If you call basic respect for the law as a precolonial kind of approach then yeah he is indeed striking a chord with me. Look, all the Chief Justice is calling for is for the oligarchs to respect the law and stop treating it as a hurdle or instrument that can be used by them to attain more riches and power.

    Our country has lost a basic precept that modern democracies and even our precolonial ancestors have practiced and understood, and that is that people in power should use their position to serve the people, and not themselves. It is very basic and accepted in other societies, yet ignored and even sometimes laughed at in our country.

    All the Chief Justice is advocating, in his authority as an “elder” and a final arbiter, is to remember this basic precept. He is asking for other people in authority like priests and doctors to remind people that they are the masters, not the servant, of the people in power.

  33. “#Tamoulz on Tue, 19th May 2009 1:00 pm

    I did not know you’re gay? It’s okay, there’s no problem in revealing your sexuality. Nothing really wrong about it… Non-admission is another thing.”

    I don’t know how long you’ve been reading this blog, but Manolo has in the past been upfront about his sexuality and his former addiction to shabu.

    And I do think there’s nothing wrong with non-admission of sexuality.

  34. I am proud of Manolo then!

    I never said non-admission is wrong, but more closely meant that it’s agonizing… hahaha.

  35. “#Tamoulz on Tue, 19th May 2009 1:11 pm

    I am proud of Manolo then!

    I never said non-admission is wrong, but more closely meant that it’s agonizing… hahaha.”

    Why the fuck would it be agonizing? I’m heterosexual, but I don’t go around telling people I like pussy. And I don’t get agonized when I don’t tell people about my heterosexualness.

    Why would it be any different for gays?

  36. “They have to change the constitution first to make us a theocracy. Putting a churchman on the presidency is the fastest way of putting morality and ethics in the forefront of national, local and family life.”

    Naku po. Unbelibabol bembol. You don’t have to change the Constitution — there is still a de-facto theocracy in Philippine cultural life that extends to the political system! So, given this, please ask, why have the character and deeds of our politicians have been the same and unchanged — rotten, self-seeking and utterly corrupt. Exhibit A (a prevalent species of politicians in Pinas): Caluaun Mayor Antonio Sanchez, the one with the adorable haircut, holding and showing off his myriad collection of Santo Ninos while still professing innocence for his crime? Or why the Filipino masses, probably the most pious, most religious in the world are still cannon fodder for crooks like Antonio Sanchez and Gloria Arroyo?

    Churchman? O cge, take your pick, Panlilio, Mike Velarde, Erano Manalo, Brother Eddie V. O sino pa — cge Puno. Or maybe even economist Bernie Villegas of the Opus Die. Good luck. As if their groups are not themselves political groups, with their own freaking vested interests.

    And oh, the one talking is neither an atheist nor an agnostic. I am a believer, and a Catholic at that.

  37. We already have a very religious leader at the helm – PGMA. A prominent religious leader Quiboloy even pronounced she was ordained by God himself. We may not believe it, but in GMA’s eyes, in most senators, congressmen, governors, mayors, barangay tanods’ eyes – they are genuinely sent by God, their victory at the polls was God’s will and grace hence the numerous thanksgiving masses. Not one of our current leaders are agnostics or atheists, they are devout cathiolics and christians when with their respective constituents.
    Its easy to get carried away with all these “Moral Force” movements because of our desperate situation…then again only the unemployed/underemployed/living in the streets, etc are desperate enough to cling to promises from heaven.
    Then again, we must look and listen carefully to these “Moral Forces” with discerning ears and eyes lest we be taken for a ride…again…
    We cannot substitute specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound goals and platforms with “Moral Force” – how can we measure that? how do we monitor progress? And who’s to say one is more “morally upright” than the other? Who can be the judge of all this? We come up with a “morality” court? or high priest or priestesses?
    Something stinks when you use FORCE in anything. I don’t know about you guys, but I for one do not want to be MORALLY FORCED to be a good christian by people who say they are “holier than everybody else” – thats why I don’t live with my mother-in-law!

  38. A couple of choice quotations from that fellow who said that religion was the opiate of the masses:

    “Religion is the impotence of the human mind to deal with occurrences it cannot understand”

    “Philosophy is to the real world as masturbation is to sex”

  39. “de-facto theocracy in Philippine cultural life that extends to the political system! ”

    So BS, eh ba’t andaming adulterer sa mga politicians?

  40. Madonna. You’re making a false argument identifying hypocrisy with church policy. The church does not judge hypocrites (the prayerful corrupt) or the merely superstitious (criminal with Santos) as much or as well as it judges immorality on principle (condom). That’s why you don’t hear priests preaching against the former.

  41. It is not moral intensity or lack of it that does us in. It is the system that keeps us helpless against executive and legislative abuses. If they can do it, they would. Whosoever they may be! We need a level playing field. We need a government structure where we can share what we have, and curb our excesses.

  42. I think you have misread CJ Puno, if not making too much with what he said about a “moral force” that should lead the country. While he recognizes the influence of religion among men, CJ Puno is also fully aware of the separation between Church and State. In fact, even Justice Laurel, whom you have cited, recognizes the role religion plays even in the framing of our constitution. This consideration, however, does not necessarily mean that these jurists, Puno in particular, lean toward a theocratic rule.

    In Estrada v. Escritor – a case with a long-winded exposition on religious freedom and separation between church and state written by Justice Puno, which involves an administrative case against a government employee who was charged with immorality against which he sought a defense under religious freedom – Justice Puno stated as follows:

    “The distinction between public and secular morality as expressed – albeit not exclusively – in the law, on the one hand, and religious morality, on the other, is important because the jurisdiction of the Court extends only to public and secular morality. Whatever pronouncement the Court makes in the case at bar should be understood only in this realm where it has authority . . .”

    Finally, as regards the comment why Justice Puno became the CJ or a justice, it is sufficient that one would look at his record. The man is a brilliant jurist and respected among his peers not only here, but also abroad. To judge his qualifications by his pronouncement of a “moral force” is simply naive, if not ridiculous.

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