Monday, December 19, 2011

Neither black nor white

This post is antedated.

That was quite a mouthful the irrepressible Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago unleashed last week during a confirmation hearing at the Commission on Appointments.

Of course we have come to expect the senator to constantly amaze, dumbfound and even amuse us with her trademark feistiness and distinct eloquence. But last week’s lecture on theology, Manichean philosophy and populist philosophy during the confirmation hearing of Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman was classic.

We are truly going to miss Senator Santiago when she packs up and relocates to the Netherlands in March next year, when she assumes the highly coveted post as one of six judges of the International Criminal Court. Santiago is the first Asian woman from a developing state to get a seat in the ICC. The woman is in a class all her own, and no one has yet come close to duplicating her famous outbursts. We will just have to get used to seeing the dour faces and monotonous drawl of our other senators.

But to go back to her outburst last week, which was covered extensively by media, Senator Santiago put Soliman to task for being a convenor of the Black and White movement, the group that has abrogated for itself the identity as “civil society.” The BWM has on many occasions likewise positioned itself as some kind of the ultimate guardian of morality in this country, often issuing statements that they pass off as the authoritative and only viable position on many contentious issues.

“You know what is good and evil because God says so? Oh, yeah? Did God speak to you, members of the Black and White Movement?” the Senator asked Soliman.

I am very glad the Senator said what I have been saying in this space for many years now: The problem with some people in this country is that they impose their theology on everyone else. Worse, they claim to subscribe to a higher moral order and insist on a black-and-white categorization of issues but sadly, only when the situation suits them or is in their favor.

And this has been my beef with the BWM movement for many years now. They expect everybody to live up to a stringent moral order but they don’t necessarily apply the criteria to themselves. For example, they’ve always made a big deal that many of our leaders have lost any sense of delicadeza. Ironically, many among them have openly jockeyed for political appointments and are in fact using the BWM platform as launching pads for their own political agenda and candidacies. Where’s the morality in that?

Conversely, this, exactly, is what I find disturbing about what is happening in the country today. This administration is hell bent on making the former President accountable for various acts of corruption while in office—bribery, usurpation of authority, abuse of power, etc.,—under the guise of establishing a higher moral order. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have problems with that. We should make our leaders accountable for wrongdoing while in office. But we must make sure that we take the higher moral ground when we do so – not by words and by empty posturing, but in deed and action. This means we must adhere to due process even when no one is looking, even when we can get away with it, and yes, even when we believe in our heart of hearts that the accused do not deserve the fair treatment. Only when we do so can we actually have the moral authority to move forward.

But what is happening is that at the same time that our leaders are lecturing us about morality and good governance, they indulge in exactly the same acts that they claim are immoral. They accused the Supreme Court of having short-circuited the process that led to the issuance of a temporary restraining order in favor of the former President, but did exactly the same thing to ensure that the impeachment of the Chief Justice would sail through Congress swiftly and without hitch. They insist that the former President should be made accountable for abuse of power and authority, shady deals, and other corrupt practices but used exactly the same modus operandi to ensure that lawmakers would sign the impeachment complaint.

“In the BWM, there is no such allowance for the so-called gray areas. You’re either good you’re either bad, you’re either light or you’re either dark. That is my basic concern with this nominee, to look at the world only in shades of dark and light and not make allowances for human failures or for human limitations,” Senator Santiago was quoted in various media reports. “In the first place, who determines what is good, and who determines what is evil? That is the egotistic problem with black and white… who is to decide what is black and white?” the senator asked.

Like the senator, my objection to the hard line posturing of the BWM and by extension, the rest of the people in this country who insist on foisting on the rest of the population their moral scruples, is philosophical. Excuse me, not everything is black and white in this country; there is a context to everything.

Case in point: Just because I advocate due process, respect for laws, and adherence to civility does not make me an apologist of the former President. Oh please, that kind of labeling is just so passé and so tawdry. Just because I am disaffected by the fact that this administration has held hostage progress and economic development at the altar of morality does not mean I am anti-government.

More to the point, just because I agree with Senator Santiago when she castigated Soliman’s affiliation with the BWM, this does not mean I agree with the senator’s filibustering of Soliman’s confirmation as Social Welfare secretary.

I happen to think that Soliman is one of the very few Cabinet secretaries who are actually doing a good job.

I honestly don’t understand why people balk at the huge amount of money that Soliman is entrusted with for the government’s conditional cash transfer program, known as four Ps. Surely everyone knows that we do have millions of people in this country who are living in abject poverty; when you divide the total amount allocated for the conditional cash transfer program by the number of family beneficiaries, the amount is actually not that staggering anymore.

The problem is not that the government is spending billions on poverty alleviation; the question is why only now and why only that amount? We all rile about the high incidence of poverty but we don’t match our rhetoric with political will and purposeful action.

Besides, when we put together all the piecemeal programs politicians supposedly pour into so-called poverty alleviation we’d probably come up with probably more than what Soliman is spending for the four P’s program. How many politicians spend tens of millions every year on substandard school supplies for schoolchildren and for Christmas baskets? The amount is better spent on poverty alleviation program that are better conceptualized and administered in a more organized way such as the four Ps program.

The four Ps program is investment in the future of human capital. It’s necessary and important. It would be sad if the conditional cash transfer program gets stopped just because of Soliman’s political baggage. It’s really shouldn’t be that black and white.

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