Caricaturing the Assumptionista

Sta. Ana coordinates for Action for Economic Reforms. This article was published in the Opinion Section, Yellow Pad Column of BusinessWorld, March 24,2008 edition, pages S1/4 – S1/5.

Many found the Lenten message of the bishops of the Ecclesiastical Province of Manila incomprehensible.  My sister attended a Mass; as the homily was about to begin, the officiating priest forewarned her and the congregation that the pastoral letter that he would read, in place of the usual sermon, could induce the listeners to sleep.  Indeed, my sister fell asleep.

Said the pastoral letter: “The Seventh Commandment covers not only the present corruption deals that have been recently exposed, but also all deals, at all levels of government service, of all administrations and governance, no matter what came out of the past or will come out of the present or future inquiries. ‘Thou shalt not steal’ covers also all trading of even ordinary citizens.”  Hence: “True liberation will mean that we enter our desert of repentance and conversion. Change lies only at the heart of every person. Let us begin there.”

The pastoral letter’s intended message was plain and simple—don’t condemn Gloria Arroyo.  Not only Gloria but you and I, Jun Lozada, the nuns, the senators, the journalists, and everyone else are all sinners. But because the bishops obfuscate, their plain message became convoluted.

While the bishops’ virus-infected message lulled some mass goers to sleep, it contaminated the way others wrote.  For instance, the Philippine Daily Inquirer editorial (20 March 2008) had a complex, if not vague, comment on the bishops’ statement:  “It takes a theological tin ear or deliberate ignorance of the Catholic Church’s social doctrine to mistake the statement as an unqualified endorsement of the Arroyo administration—but the latest letter may have only succeeded in adding to the laity’s growing confusion.”

Anyway, the lesson here is that sometimes, serious and substantive matters for religious occasions should be written in a straightforward way.  Or even in a funny way.  At least, a funny message can attract attention.

And so for an Easter message, I deviate from the heavy stuff and attempt to do a caricature.  Actually, this message is perhaps better suited for the Feast of the Assumption; it’s especially dedicated to the alumnae of the Assumption College, especially to those who are pro-Gloria.  But I can’t wait till the Assumption’s feast in August to write this because what I wish to say now would become stale soon.

Being an alumna of Assumption was not a distinctive mark of Gloria’s public life. (How could it be when her stature does not look Assumptionista at all?) But in times of trouble, she would use the cachet of Assumption to deodorize herself.  Gloria would parade her dowdy classmates and some Assumption nuns to show the support she gets from society’s upper crust and the religious.

But those Assumption alumnae with fiber and integrity—and they are aplenty—have had enough of Gloria’s pretense of being imbued with Assumption’s core values and character formation.  Thus several hundreds of these decent, brave, and intelligent women signed a manifesto that demanded Gloria to account for many offenses perpetrated by her administration.

Gloria and her Assumption allies fought back, using the same tactics Gloria used in her other battles.  They came out with full-page ads in newspapers, containing hundreds of signatories, asserting that Gloria’s “fidelity to duty” is to remain “at the helm of government until she finishes her term in 2010.”

But something went wrong with their message.  It turned out that some of those who supposedly signed the pro-Gloria statement were deceased, some were counted twice, others were not consulted or erroneously included, and others simply didn’t know what they were signing.

In other words, the manner of collecting the signatures of the pro-Gloria Assumption women was no different from the cheating in the elections (flying voters and dead voters) or the gathering of fake signatures for Gloria’s referendum on Charter change.

A young smart alumna—who is in her early thirties and whose mom, grandmother, aunts, and cousins are likewise Assumption alumnae—describes the rabidly pro-Gloria Assumptionistas as “airheads.”

The “airhead” is actually the caricature of the Assumptionista.  But as in any other caricature or stereotype, the trait being caricatured has an element of truth.

There might even be an explanation in economics to this caricature.  Let me hazard a guess.

To be sure, the average woman from Assumption is as intelligent as the woman from St. Theresa’s College, Maryknoll (now Miriam), or Institucion Teresiana (now Poveda).  Yet, why do the Assumptionistas bear the brunt of dumb jokes?

The economic concepts of path dependence and specialization may offer a tentative answer.

Path dependence involves a process in which the starting point and later developments lead to an outcome—a legacy if you will—that is locked in or difficult to reverse.  In the case of Assumption, notwithstanding its commitment to academic excellence, it became the training and recruiting ground for the future wives of the Philippine macho elite.

The Filipino male elite preferred a subordinate, non-critical but beautiful and loving wife who could take care of hearth and home.  Hence there was no need for the Assumptionista to specialize or excel in academic studies.  She just had to be paired with a rich Filipino to assure her income.  But to get the nod of the macho rich, she had to specialize in home affairs and in making herself attractive.

And that’s where Gloria strayed.  As the stereotypical Assumptionista, her comparative advantage was to be a good wife to Mike and be a good mom to Mikey, Datu and Luli.  Good governance was not her strong suit.  She could only govern through other means.

Unlike Gloria, the Assumption alumna, the Manila bishops seem to know their specialization from history.  Since Spanish times, the role of the clergy is to obfuscate.  The bishops apparently are good in specializing in the type of religion that Karl Marx called “the opium of the people.”

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