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Monday, June 28, 2010

F. Sionil Jose's Gold Standard Of An Article

This piece by F. Sionil Jose puts to shame all the other so-called columnists and opinion-makers with its depth, clarity, and intelligence. To all who write, whether for national dailies, school newspapers, or blogs, his advice, nay his admonition, is particularly compelling: "(a)s the late American critic Lionel Trilling said, those who assume the august mantle of opinion shapers and intellectuals must have “a moral obligation to be intelligent.”" For me, this article represents the gold standard in column writing -

Ethics as politics
HINDSIGHT By F Sionil Jose (The Philippine Star) Updated June 27, 2010 12:00 AM

In April 1942, only four months into the Occupation, the horrors of the Bataan Death March had afflicted national consciousness. The Filipinos who collaborated with them were marked. But on the whole, many survived not just the stigma; they were appreciated, some were regarded as heroes, and many of them prospered.

This is one of those anguished outpourings that I have difficulty letting out because it sounds preachy and who am I but just another common sinner who knows only too well of the hidden minefields in self-righteousness? But it must be stated plain and simple — this abysmal lack of ethics, this blatant absence of judgmental right and wrong in much of our political discourse today and the equally insipid amoral outlook of our so-called intelligentsia. As the late American critic Lionel Trilling said, those who assume the august mantle of opinion shapers and intellectuals must have “a moral obligation to be intelligent.”

I was in Tokyo when I read in that country’s largest newspaper, The Yomiuri, Amando Doronila’s analysis of the Aquino-Marcos “family feud” as the major political contest to watch in the incoming administration of Noynoy Aquino. Doronila’s analysis is so shallow, so inept — it is a shame to read it in a major Japanese paper where it could be easily perceived as, perhaps, the valid interpretation of contemporary Filipino politics. Family feud! As if the most important issues in the country are determined by such a narrow, constricted paradigm, by how families — particularly the well-entrenched oligarchic clans — act or do not act. Doronila mentions both the murder of Ninoy Aquino and the people’s EDSA revolution. Did these evolve simply out of family disputes? What Doronila and so many Filipinos incapable of deeper perception cannot see is that underlying our ancient and pervasive political malaise is the moral weakness of our leaders and, alas, of our own people.

As every anthropologist will attest, even the most so-called primitive societies, in the isolation of their caves and jungles, have taboos, rules that they follow with, perhaps, the very young as exceptions until they get initiated into adulthood. In much of the so-called civilized world, for instance, sexual promiscuity is simply not the norm. But in the Trobriand Islands in the Western Pacific, as I found out when I visited there in the ‘60s, when the Trobrianders reach puberty, sexual promiscuity is the practice and the miracle of it all is that pregnancy is extremely rare. But once the islanders get married, fidelity is held so sacred that the penalty for adultery is death.

Maybe the many centuries of colonial yoke contributed to our moral laxity in the sense that we allowed ourselves to be colonized. We may reason that our plight was inescapable; we were so many disparate tribes at war with one another. Isolated and divided, it was easy for the colonizer to force us into submission and exploitation.

We did eventually rebel — a consequence of our moral and intellectual awakening to which the colonialists themselves had inferentially imparted their ideas on ethics, law and order and the democratic ethos. Not that these were totally absent in the native soil; they strengthened what was latently already there and, at the same time, exposed the casuistry of the colonializers themselves in claiming such virtues when, as exploiters, they negated those very virtues by which they plundered.

Let us go back a bit to our own tortured history, to the aborted revolution of 1896. That revolution failed not because of the arrival of the Americans with their superior arms, or due to the impasse that resulted in the Pack of Biak-na-Bato in December 14, 1897. The momentum, the moving spirit of that revolution had flagged, the revolution was emasculated when the rebels accepted the money the Spaniards offered them; the leaders went into exile in Hong Kong with that largesse and were, shortly after, convinced to return to the Philippines, weakened further by American duplicity.

We can see from such historic developments why the revolution did not triumph; it was not so much a lack of intelligence in the leadership that was exploited by the Spaniards or the Americans — it was the paucity of that ethic that is the backbone of a nation, the moral strength of the leaders, disunited and self-seeking. The heirs of Rizal, Bonifacio, Gregorio del Pilar and Mabini saw it was better for them to collaborate with the Americans than to fight them.

So it came to pass that, for so many of us, collaboration with the colonialists — foreign as well as domestic — became politically palatable and acceptable.

When the Japanese came in 1941, collaboration with them would not have been so universally stigmatized had they treated Filipinos kindly. But by April 1942, only four months into the Occupation, the horrors of the Bataan Death March had already afflicted the national consciousness. The Filipinos who collaborated with them were marked. Some were assassinated by the guerrillas. But on the whole, many survived not just the stigma; they were appreciated, some were regarded as heroes, and many of them prospered.

The election of Jose P. Laurel, the puppet president of the Japanese, to the Senate and of other collaborators and the amnesty granted them by President Quirino shortly after the country gained independence from the United States in 1946 resolved politically the collaboration issue.

As a moral problem, however, it rankles the Filipino mind to this very day. Collaboration gnaws at the very heart of a nation; it is the ultimate treason because it seeks justification not so much in its defense of survival, but because it is committed in the name of that nation itself. This is what I meant when I said that the past weighs heavily on all of us for we have not banished the contradictions in our history, contradictions that have obstructed our unity and our striving for justice and freedom.

The victory of the Marcoses in the last election perhaps glosses over for them the horrible injustices that the Marcos dictatorship inflicted on our people. But as a moral issue, it negates the very validation they seek. The crimes of that dictatorship cannot be washed away by votes. A million mea culpas will not exonerate Imelda who was a partner in that dictatorship. But she, with the help of her children, can regain some credibility and, hopefully, even forgiveness from those who suffered under Marcos, by returning the people’s money that they hid abroad, and as elected officials, by performing their mandate honestly and well.

Whether it is religion, Confucianism, Hinduism or whatever, it is the ethical faith of a people that enables them to establish and maintain equally formidable justice systems and inculcate in their people through their institutions and culture the guilt, shame, or whatever core sanctions against crime and anarchy. It must always be remembered that punishment and its pain and stigma inhibit criminality and promote social harmony.

It is these values deeply embedded in officials and anointed power holders that force them to resign or even commit suicide if they are exposed. Japan is not Christian the way we profess we are but its justice system works efficiently. South Korea in the recent past packed off to prison two of its former presidents. When Richard Nixon resigned the US presidency after having been found to have wiretapped the opposition in the Watergate Hotel — that resignation affirmed the moral majesty of the American political system. Contrast this with an Erap, found guilty of plunder by our courts, who is immediately pardoned by a self-seeking and morally hobbled president.

Long, long ago, before the advent of Christ, the ancient Greeks formulated the ideals that would become the basis of politics and government. The philosopher Socrates prescribed the stringent rule that men must be both virtuous and excellent.

We have many excellent Filipinos, some in Congress, in the Judiciary and most of all, in the Executive. As is often our bane if not our curse, the forging of a nation is easily within our skills but we lack the will, the determination. What we often do not recognize is this will, this determination, is connected to the greatest determinant in human endeavor — morality, ethics, or whatever inchoate and ethereal spirit that revs our puny selves to fulfill the truest essence of our own humanity.

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