The Black Priests

Sta. Ana coordinates for Action for Economic Reforms. This article was published in the Opinion Section, Yellow Pad Column of BusinessWorld, March 31,2008 edition, pages S1/4 – S1/5.

When the Jesuits speak, they command attention. An indication of their influence and reputation is that their elected head is described as the black pope.  We can thus call the soldiers of Ignatius the black priests.

It doesn’t matter that what they utter is unconvincing or even contemptible.  What matters is that they have something different to say.

My Jesuit-educated friends—especially the renegades of Ateneo, the hippies who dropped out and the student activists who were expelled by Father Joe Cruz)—find delight in reading or listening to the Society of Jesus (S.J.) statements.  Actually, the real pleasure is in annotating the Jesuits’ statements.

The Jesuits have a penchant for being clever or disingenuous.  The derisive term “jesuitic” or switik obviously stems from this Jesuit stereotype.  It is amusing to annotate a Jesuit statement in search of the switik part.

On Easter Sunday, the Philippine Province of the Society of Jesus Commission on the Social Apostolate released a document titled “Provincial Guidelines for Communal Discernment and Action to Address the National Crisis.”

In an accompanying letter of endorsement addressed to the Jesuits and their institutions in the Philippines, the Provincial Superior Daniel Patrick Huang, S.J. expressed caution in saying that the “Guidelines are not a ‘statement’ or a ‘manifesto’ or a ‘Province position or stand.’”  Rather, he hopes that the document “will aid communal discernment and action.”

But how can the document not be a statement or a manifesto or a position when it contains not only an analysis of the political crisis and the options to address it, but also “non-negotiable principles” and action points?

Furthermore, Fr. Huang qualifies his endorsement of the Guidelines:

“Although I endorse this document as a very helpful and illuminating guide, no one, of course, is compelled to agree with or adhere to all the points made in the text….Moreover, as I said in a similar letter I wrote three years ago, ‘if some, in conscience, differ with the positions taken here, let that dissent be presented with civility and intelligence, as input for the continuing task of communal discernment towards that which will serve the true good of our country.’”

Fr. Huang is conveying a delicate message. Note that he endorses the document as a guide, not as a definitive statement. We can interpret Fr. Huang’s words in different ways.  If he were a switik, his words could be seen as a cop-out.  But a kinder interpretation is that he does not fully agree with those who wrote the Guidelines, that he finds it wanting, or that he encourages a hundred flowers to bloom.  Incidentally, he was not part of the group that crafted the document, composed mainly of Jesuits, with a third made up of what we can call the Jesuits’ “fair-haired boys.”

Encouraged by Fr. Huang’s receptiveness to dissent, I now attempt to make a civilized and intelligent critique, as it were, of the said Guidelines.  But I leave the more provocative work of making fun of the document to my roguish, naughty friends from the Ateneo of yesteryears.

Despite Fr. Huang’s clarification that it’s not one, the paper written by the S.J.’s Commission on the Social Apostolate is essentially a manifesto.  Other than providing a context to the national crisis and surveying the different responses, it analyzes and criticizes the different options and more importantly, asserts the “non-negotiable principles” and the action points.

What do I like about this manifesto?  I will prefer it anytime to the convoluted, deceptive statements of morally senile cardinals who will do anything to please their queen and patroness; yes, anything including licking the queen’s stilettos (also known as bootlicking).

Further, though not explicit, it rebuffs the Jesuit old guards.  These old guards particularly refer to:  1) Archie Intengan, who supports Gloria M. Arroyo (GMA) and whose claim to fame is his eternal loyalty to the rabidly anti-communist yet Stalinist Norberto Gonzales and 2) Bienvenido Nebres, who in this time of profound crisis, has become politically neutered but who displays lots of passion and energy when the subject turns to the innocuous Gawad Kalinga.

The manifesto is undoubtedly anti-GMA (thus targeting Intengan and many bishops).  It likewise criticizes those who have given up on politics or those who wear horse blinders, strictly narrowing their focus on the delivery of localized services (thus targeting Nebres).

Disengagement from politics “only contributes to the sense of hopelessness and paralysis.”  The manifesto also states that even though the involvement of citizens  “in particular areas of social development and local politics” is commendable, “they will always be constrained by large-scale anomalies and abuse of power on the national political level.”

And what don’t I like about the Guidelines? Sure, the statement is anti-GMA, but its overall stand won’t cause much damage to her.

Like the statement of the bishops, the S.J. Commission manifesto does not promote the sentiments of the majority of Filipinos who, as surveys have shown, want Arroyo to step down. Unlike the moral beacon that is Corazon Aquino, the S.J. Commission does not call for Arroyo’s resignation.

In the section that analyzes the options, the S.J. Commission document states that “those who in conscience have made a decision that the President should not remain in office deserve respect.”  We merely deserve respect; the S.J. Commission doesn’t like the position calling for Arroyo’s resignation.  For in the same breath it states that resignation “ceases to be a real political option if GMA remains resolute that she will not resign voluntarily.”

The S.J. Commission fears people power because it “creates a dynamic where crisis situations continue to be resolved through extra-constitutional means.”  Likewise, it believes that extra-constitutional means may harm democratic institutions in the long term.

The best response to this comes from a professor in a university that is a neighbor of the S.J. headquarters.  Economics professor Raul Fabella (by the way, an ex-seminarian but not of the Jesuit variety) wrote an essay titled “The Constitutional Comfort for Impunity.” Its penultimate statement: “Whether for outright deposal or for defanging, these Filipinos now believe, rather as did the English barons at Runnymede, that only mounting direct action, increasing if it must the risk of extra-constitutional tectonics, is the only language Malacañang now understands and which alone can force it to come clean on truth and justice.” Its conclusion:  “Waiting for the 2010 that will be forthwith stolen is ‘waiting for Godot.’”

We have explained elsewhere that in light of the damage and failure of institutions under GMA, second-best institutions like people power become necessary precisely to rebuild and strengthen Philippine democracy.

Failing to demand GMA’s resignation, the S.J. Commission reduces its call to reforms for implementation by GMA’s administration.  The S.J. Commission wants a credible independent counsel as a way to demand accountability from the high-level officials.  It wants a genuine impeachment process.  Well, if GMA won’t voluntarily resign, why would she dig her own graveyard by creating an independent counsel and allowing herself to be impeached?

If I were GMA, I would even dialogue with the authors of the S.J. Commission Guidelines, string them along, and neutralize them.

Recall the bishops’ demand, influenced by their ideological gurus in Loyola Heights, to have the Executive Order preventing GMA’s Cabinet from meaningfully participating in Senate inquiries lifted.  GMA easily granted that concession.  The bishops got what they wanted.  But Cabinet members will continue to invoke executive privilege, even to cover up a crime.

So it wouldn’t be a surprise if GMA appointed an independent counsel named Merceditas Gutierrez II and allowed impeachment complaints against her filed by the Lozanos and Pulidos.

That the S.J. Commission statement disappoints makes me turn to the stand taken by other Jesuit-related units as guide for discernment and action.  While the S.J. Commission produced a paper of 12 pages that is non-threatening to GMA, the faculty members of the Ateneo de Manila Political Science Department and the students forming the Ateneo Debate Society came out with short statements that explain why GMA must resign.  I can likewise turn to the La Salle brothers who are at the forefront of the movement to energize people power.

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