Fallacy of the lesser evil? My response
This is in response to the letter of Mr. Michael Francis Ean Vega II ("Fallacy of the lesser evil," PDI, 4/8/06). I thank Mr. Vega for widening the contours of the debate beyond the name-calling and class generalizations, and in a civilized way. Although he finds my kind of reasoning lamentable and calls me a pragmatist (*grin*), these descriptions are an improvement over the savage name-calling others have indulged in. I am grateful because I truly think that there is space for courteous exchanges of divergent opinions even in these troubling times and Mr. Vega has just proven that. Perhaps it is time to remind everyone our there that just because we disagree we are not necessarily enemies. Perhaps it is time to bring the discussion to a higher level without losing sight of the fact that we are in this together.
Mr. Vega anchors his reaction to my letter on the premise that there is an evil that needs to be fought and fighting that evil is the moral thing to do. I cannot disagree with him on this assertion, for who in his right mind would argue that evil needs to be fought?
But here is where our perspectives diverge: I refuse to be selective and exclusive on what, and who is evil; or more evil for that matter. Unlike Mr. Vega, I think the evils that plague our nation must not and can not be limited to, and are therefore beyond, GMA et al. I did not raise this specter of who is the greater or lesser of evils in that letter, that letter points out that GMA can not just be the only "issue" here. Thus, I refuse to give in to the temptation to take part in efforts to repeat the same rush to render moral judgment that have only yielded temporary victories in the past but for which we continue to pay for dearly today.
At the root of the issue is the claim that has been repeatedly pointed out to me by well-meaning individuals that by giving GMA "conditioned and temporary" support (because of my avowed adherence to democratic and constitutional processes), I am allowing myself to be used to further perpetuate evil. I find this argument to be a double-edged sword because the reverse happens to be also true: by focusing on the most convenient evil (i.e., GMA), there is also consequent implicit approbation of the other "evils."
This is the problem with situating issues at extreme ends of only one continuum, choosing one option repudiates the other. Thus, I cannot be blind to the fact that in this whole rush to judgment, the perpetrators of past injustices have similarly cloaked themselves with the same armor of righteousness that is being invoked to supposedly cleanse our country of immorality. I refuse to be blind to the fact that in this whole rush to judgment, everything else that shows promise in this country is being held hostage: economic growth, peace and order, etc. By demonizing only one person and making her the central – nay, the only issue - negates recognition and discussion of the other evils. How can this be moral?
Unlike Mr. Vega, I do not necessarily think that our problems as a people is as simple as choosing between just two evils because as I said, I refuse to limit my list of evils to GMA and the other politicians. My list would be much longer and would include hatred, intolerance, duplicity, hypocrisy, poverty, sabotage, apathy, greed, etc. These are far more insidious evils. This is the context in which that open letter was written.
I also get Mr. Vega’s point: wrong is wrong and right is right. But I do not buy the offered solution: to go to the streets as we did in Edsa Dos. Not because I refuse to acknowledge wrongdoing when I see it, but precisely because I do not see how something wrong can be corrected by doing something wrong. I am also deeply concerned about morality issues, but I choose to take the higher moral ground in addressing immorality. How can democracy be salvaged through undemocratic processes? How can immorality be corrected by committing immorality as well? To do so would be to go down to the level of the so-called evils.
I have said this in that letter and in the many rejoinders I have written in my blog and I will say it again here: I also do not like GMA. I do not begrudge people who want her out. Go ahead, I will not stand in your way. But we must as a people learn how to do this right – the legal, the democratic, the proper, the civilized way – so that our children need not be saddled anymore with the weight of having to grapple with the task of undoing the mistakes we have committed in the past and are tempted to commit again today. Kicking corrupt leaders out of power has become easy, but correcting the system has become far more elusive in the long run. This vicious cycle has got to stop.
I agree with Mr. Vega 101%: Filipinos deserve better. But I would like to think that this quest to provide Filipinos something better is not only limited to our choices in who sits in Malacanang, but also in the way we elect and evict him or her. I would like to think that the legacy that we want to leave behind is not just limited to the quality of the people whose portraits line the hallways of power, but also in the strength of our nation’s processes, how we do things. Leaders come and go, but the strength of our systems determines our destiny as a people.
Like Mr. Vega, I agree that vigilance is the only way to go, which is why I wrote that letter and why I continue to keep my voice heard despite the many risks attendant to maintaining an allegedly "immoral" stand. So you see Mr. Vega, my perspective is clearly more than just about whether to keeep Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in power or not. Like you, I want to fight evil. But I choose to fight it differently.