Saturday, November 24, 2012


An Endless Search for Peace
Pius XI was Pope from 1922.  He had inherited the vestiges of the problems that had led to World War I and he could already see new problems that would eventually plunge the world into World War II.  Against the background of this looming tragedy, he wrote his 1925 encyclical Quas Primas setting up the feast of Christ the King which we celebrated yesterday.  
His ambitious goal was for the world to find lasting peace.  He opened his encyclical by saying “that these manifold evils in the world were due to the fact that the majority of men had thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives; that these had no place either in private affairs or in politics: and that, as long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations.”
Further he said: “Men must look for the peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ; and We promised to do that as far as lay in Our power. In the Kingdom of Christ, that is, it seemed to Us that peace could not be more effectually restored nor fixed upon a firmer basis than through the restoration of the Empire of Our Lord.” 
Thus it was that Pius XI instituted the feast of Christ the King.
Those of you who attended yesterday’s Sunday Mass  must have noticed the contrasting images of Christ the King found in the readings. In the first reading, taken from the book of Daniel, Christ is presented as triumphant.  Daniel envisions Christ as the “son of man coming on the clouds of heaven, receiving everlasting dominion, glory and kingship.” This is the kind of king envisioned by men, glorious ad majestic like Queen Elizabeth of England, the best specimen of royalty today.
But in our Gospel reading we see a vastly different king.  Jesus is on trial before Pilate.  His hands are tied, he has a crown of thrones, and he is bloodied all over. Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He responds, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.”
The answer of Jesus suggests a sharp division between two kingdoms: the kingdom of darkness, where the ruler is Satan, and the kingdom of Jesus.  Immediately therefore we are confronted with a challenge:  Where do you want to belong?  Where do you stand? With the flesh or the spirit? With darkness or light? With the ruler of this world or with the king of God’s world?
This is the way the gospel of John presents the paradox.  But we have to understand the language of John correctly.  It does not mean that by aligning yourself in the kingdom of Jesus you will have nothing to do with the kingdom of Satan.  It does not mean that Jesus has surrendered a kingdom to Satan and he will have nothing to do with it.
Here we see why Pope Pius XI instituted the feast of Christ the King.  When Pius XI instituted the feast of Christ the King through his encyclical Quas Primas he wanted to emphasize that God is the King of all.  As Psalm 24 says, “The earth is the Lord’s and all it holds, and as the Evangelist John says “God so loved the word that he gave his only Son,” (Jn 3.16).  Thus through the institution of the feast of Christ the King Pius XI historically wanted to address a world suffering under such false values as consumerism, free market exploitation, secularism, nationalism, despotism and mass injustice.
World leaders today are still desperately looking for ways of establishing peace, justice and prosperity.  They craft agreements, protocols and treaties.  Our own government is desperately trying to put an end to conflict and division in Mindanao and with remaining Communist forces.
Learn a lesson from Quas Primas: “When once men recognize, both in private and in public life, that Christ is King, society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace and harmony. Our Lord's regal office invests the human authority of princes and rulers with a religious significance; it ennobles the citizen's duty of obedience. . . . . If princes and magistrates duly elected are filled with the persuasion that they rule, not by their own right, but by the mandate and in the place of the Divine King, they will exercise their authority piously and wisely, and they will make laws and administer them, having in view the common good and also the human dignity of their subjects. The result will be a stable peace and tranquility, for there will be no longer any cause of discontent. Men will see in their king or in their rulers men like themselves, perhaps unworthy or open to criticism, but they will not on that account refuse obedience if they see reflected in them the authority of Christ God and Man. Peace and harmony, too, will result; for with the spread and the universal extent of the kingdom of Christ men will become more and more conscious of the link that binds them together, and thus many conflicts will be either prevented entirely or at least their bitterness will be diminished.”
Would that these ideals will have a place in the platform of parties and candidates in coming elections!
26 November 2012

Saturday, November 17, 2012


Had not the debate on the Freedom of Information Bill been aborted last Tuesday, it might have taken up the issue of “right of apply.”  Actually, this is not the first time that the right of reply has reached Congress.  In 2009 a bill on the subject sought preferential treatment.  Essentially the bill said that “all persons who are accused directly or indirectly of any crime or offense or are criticized by innuendo, suggestion or rumor for any lapse in behavior in public or private life shall have the right to reply to the charges published in newspapers and other publications or to criticisms aired over radio, television, website or through any electrical device.” It did not become law and no case went to court.
Something analogous, however, did reach the Philippine Court. Pursuant to its constitutional power to regulate media during election periods, the Comelec passed a resolution regarding free time or space in media for candidates.  The resolution was not a masterpiece of clarity so that it was not clear whether it was meant to compel media to make time or space available or  whether the Comelec was merely making a recommendation to media.  At any rate, when the Supreme Court took it up in 1995, it said that, if understood as mandatory, it would amount to taking of private property without just compensation. 
The Court could also have taken it up as a speech issue because freedom speech means both the right to speak and not to speak. Political ads, after all, are speech.  But the Court chose to approach it as an illicit act of property high jacking.
Should the right of reply become part of the Freedom of Information Bill or of the Cybercrime Law, it will be a good issue to take up as speech and not just as illicit taking of property.  And since we follow the American tradition on speech jurisprudence, we will be looking for American cases on the subject.  Fortunately there is one that is ready at hand that takes up both sides of the debate.
Miami Herald v Tornillo (1974) involved a Florida law on the right of reply.  Candidate Tornillo, relying on the Florida law, demanded that the Miami Herald print his reply to the editorial comments of the Herald.  But the Florida law was declared unconstitutional.
It is interesting that the Supreme Court took pains to summarize the arguments brought up in favor of a right of reply.  They are worth recalling if only to see if they find resonance in our condition.
Essentially the argument in favor of a right of reply rested on the historical premise that "at the time the First Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1791 as part of our Bill of Rights the press was broadly representative of the people it was serving and collectively presented a broad range of opinions to readers. Entry into publishing was inexpensive . . . A true marketplace of ideas existed in which there was relatively easy access to the channels of communication." 
However, the argument ran, because of changed circumstances newspapers had ceased to be "a true marketplace of ideas."  "The result of these vast changes has been to place in a few hands the power to inform the American people and shape public opinion." 
Proponents also sought support from certain dicta of the Supreme Court suggesting that the guarantee of a free press also imposed obligations on owners of newspapers.  The First Amendment, they quoted, "rests on the assumption that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public."  Cited also was the dictum that spoke of "a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open."
In the end, however, the Court was deterred by problems of implementation. "However much validity may be found in these arguments, at each point the implementation of a remedy such as an enforceable right of access necessarily calls for some mechanism, either governmental or consensual.  If it is governmental coercion, this at once brings about a confrontation with the express provisions of the First Amendment and the judicial gloss on that Amendment developed over the years."
The Court also said: "The power of a privately owned newspaper to advance its own political, social, and economic views is bounded by only two factors: first, the acceptance of a sufficient number of readers - and hence advertisers - to assure financial success; and, second, the journalistic integrity of its editors and publishers. . . . The clear implication has been that any such a compulsion to publish that which ‘reason’ tells them should not be published is unconstitutional. A responsible press is an undoubtedly desirable goal, but press responsibility is not mandated by the Constitution and like many other virtues it cannot be legislated."
I might also add that a right of reply in the context of current Philippine society today will not really add anything  to what people who pay attention to media already know.  Newspaper readers, radio listeners and television viewers already are bombarded with biased reporting, some straight and others biased, and opposing opinions of columnists.  The strong temptation in fact is to ignore them or sometimes to go over media, just for fun, as a vacuum cleaner would -- only to look for dirt. 
19 September 2012

Saturday, November 10, 2012


In an earlier column I wrote  that I would not be unhappy if the party-list system were to be abolished.  But to achieve abolition, a constitutional amendment is needed.  Considering, however, that we have a President who is averse to constitutional amendments and who controls the Congress which alone can set amendment in motion, we must live with the party-list system warts and all.  Let me therefore just say something about matters that are being currently debated and which are giving the Comelec sleepless nights.
To understand the debate about the party-list organizations themselves and the qualification of their representatives, we should go back to the text of the Constitution. It says “The party-list representatives shall constitute twenty per centum of the total membership of the House of Representatives including those under the party list. For three consecutive terms after the ratification of this Constitution, one-half of the seats allocated to party-list representatives shall be filled, as provided by law, by selection or election from the labor, peasant, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, women, youth, and such other sectors as may be provided by law, except the religious sector.”
There are two main questions arising from this text.  The first question is whether the membership of the organization must always consist of underprivileged “labor, peasant, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, women, youth, and such other sectors as may be provided by law, except the religious sector” or is the  required underprivileged membership only for the first three consecutive terms after the ratification of the Constitution?
Since the start of the implementation of the system the understanding has always been that the classes enumerated under the Constitution are the examples of the classes which may initiate a party party-list organization. They are what are usually referred to as underprivileged or underrepresented. The constitutional enumeration is not exclusive.  It can include other sectors “as may be provided by law” but, of course, under the principle of euisdem generis.  Thus R.A. 7941 has expanded the list  to include “fisherfolk, elderly, handicapped, veterans, overseas workers, and professionals” to make a total of twelve sectors.
But was it the intention of the Constitutional Commission that, for these sectors to continue as party list organizations, the members must remain “underprivileged and underrepresented?”  I do not see it that way.  The reason that these underprivileged sectors were given three consecutive terms without competition was to help them build up their strength.  And strength can come from the improvement of the lot of the members.  This, after all, was the social justice aim of the party list system – to uplift the life of the masses.
The law, however, does not say what is to be done with the party list organizations that have gained the strength of regular political parties and have grown capable of participating in the rough and tumble of regular party politics. Can the Comelec disqualify them now?  It seems to me that legislation is needed to answer this question.
The next important question is whether those who are to represent the party-list organization must belong to one or other of the classes of underprivileged citizens, that is, labor, peasant, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, women, youth, fisherfolk, elderly, handicapped, veterans, overseas workers, and professionals. 
The Constitution does not prescribe a social class requirement for the party list representative. For its part R.A. 7941 simply says that the party-list representative must be  “a bona fide member of the party he seeks to represent for at least ninety (90) days preceding election day.”
The distinction that must be made is between belonging to a class and belonging to an organization.  A party list representative does not have to belong to one of the twelve underprivileged classes.  But he must be a bona fide member of an organization championing the cause of the underprivileged.  In other words, although he socially might not be one of them, his heart should belong to them.  That, for instance, is what Mickey Arroyo claimed where his heart rested.
Take another case, the Ako Bikol.  The representatives of Ako Bicol  do not belong to any one of the underprivileged classes.  Although they are professionals, the professionals referred to by law are health workers, artists, cultural workers and the like but not high priced medical or legal practitioners.  From what I have seen in the papers, the representatives of Ako Bicol are not any of these!  But they seem to be bona fide members of the organization they represent.  The Comelec did not question their bona fide membership; but the Comelec questioned the legitimacy Ako Bicol itself.
Ako Bicol was considered qualified three years ago.  Was Ako Bicol disqualified now because the status of its members had improved or because the Comelec erred three years ago?  If it was error three years ago, does the disqualification retroact to three years ago?  If it does, what would be the status of the current representatives?
Jurisprudence places the task of determining the qualification of party list organization in the hands of the independent Comelec.  Did the Comelec commit a grave abuse of discretion by disqualifying Ako Bicol
10 September 2012
P.S.  The best explanation of UNDAS I got was as acronym for “Unos dias de los santos y de las almas.”

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Long Weekend

One of the distractions I had during the long weekend was trying to find out the etymology of the word “undas.”  I thought it might be an old Tagalog word, but my Tagalog colleagues could not tell me its origin.  Neither could the ones steeped in Spanish.  The dictionaries themselves simply say “All Saints Day” or “Todos los Santos.”  I guess I will have to wait until someone gives me the definitive answer before next “undas.”
Another fascinating question during this time of the year is about the origin of Halloween.  I guess the explanation given by one Jesuit writer might be as good as any. He says:  “The real tradition of All Hallows’ Eve is that before the day of holiness, there is a crack in the fabric of the cosmos which allows evil spirits from the underworld to assault us: at that point in time, we are vulnerable, as traditionally we are vulnerable at the moment of death and need the name of Jesus to be spoken to us loudly because hearing is the last faculty to go and the devil needs to be outshouted in the name and power of Jesus. And so, on All Hallows’ Eve, people are meant to go out into the streets in scary costumes and make loud noises to frighten the devils away and to enact annually the victory of holiness over evil. It is a mythological extension of the themes of the Easter vigil, but who tells you that now? No one. We are to outshout the devils and cast them back down to their captivity in hell, and that’s what All Hallows eve is about. It is both Christian and mythological, and I want you at this point to see that there is such a thing as Christian mythological thinking which is significant and truth-bearing.”
The mythological thinking has its underpinning from the Council of Trent that “here is a purgatory, and that the souls therein are helped by the suffrages of the faithful, but principally by the acceptable Sacrifice of the Altar.”
“But the underpinning of this religious vision has gone now: how Halloween is now celebrated comes from how Hollywood imagines the forces of evil, and the young people on the streets and in the clubs imitate the images from horror films they have seen. They evoke demonic presences that no one takes seriously in any ontological sense, but have an imaginative power that derives from the world of digital reality, and in popular imagination death-dealing demons, robotic killing-machines and seductive vampires have taken the place of metaphysical evil. In the Christian vision metaphysical evil is only what comes from the twisting of human and angelic freedoms. Creatures go wrong through the exercise of their freedom; evil is a twisting of the will, a by-product of freedom, not a feature within the natural order. This is why one can say in all seriousness that death is not evil because it is a feature of the world’s order that expresses the divine nature.”
From my window in the Jesuit Residence at the Ateneo, I have a panoramic view of Loyola Memorial Park. On All Saints eve it is all lit up and one can see cars and people moving around.  I don’t believe that the preoccupation of the hundreds who stay overnight there are the mythological images Halloween.  They are there to pay tribute to their loved ones and to pray for them to be hastened to their final destination because they believe in what the Council of Trent teaches about Purgatory.
What can be said of Purgatory.  If I may again quote a Jesuit, “The first thing that this name may evoke in us is the troubling image of a ‘god’ who makes us pay right down to the last penny, or at best the image makes us think of a ‘waiting room’ through which most mortals will have to pass in order to be able to reach celestial beatitude.  If we add to those images certain liturgical practices of dubious quality, we have more than enough reasons to ignore the topic.
“Nevertheless, we cannot deny a certain plausibility to purgatory, first because our access to celestial beatitude will always be a creaturely access.  Heaven does not mean that we fuse into God and disappear into him, but rather that we become united with him while preserving our own identity, an identity which, in its likeness to God’s, becomes supremely relational.
“We know, of course, from experience that making our very own the love God gives us inevitably presupposes a process, or better: a way.  Every forward movement on the way is a source of joy, but progress on the journey can also be very painful at times.  John of the Cross points out quite correctly that the real misery of the human condition consists in this: what is most helpful and beneficial for us becomes harsh and difficult to absorb.
“We are blinded by the excess of light.  Possibly this is what purgatory is all about: knowing that we are utterly saved and nevertheless still on the way to taking full possession of that salvation.  In other words: purgatory is heaven, but seen ‘from this upward slope’.”
Do I really understand all that?  I am not sure I do.  But I know and believe that our God is a God of love.  And that is the reason why millions of people flock every year to memorial parks and churches to pray for their departed loved ones, even if they do knot know exactly how their prayers can hasten their loved ones up the upward slope.
5 November 2012