Legacies of shame

By: Jose Ma. Montelibano - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | December 03,2021 - 09:00 AM

I was listening to an interview on cable TV earlier and I heard the resource person being interviewed, known to some media hosts as an expert or, at least, a veteran of political analysis in the country. In her statement, she mentioned that we were “already scraping the bottom” with the current list of presidential candidates.

A sad reality for her, I must presume, if she is a deeply patriotic citizen. Even for me, to a lesser degree, of course, because I am no academic or studied political analyst. I only have more than 50 years of experience from being in the near vicinity of political and social dynamics since I was in high school. I wish I did have a more academic and science-based capacity for political analysis, but it was never my gift.

Still and all, like all Filipinos of voting age, I continue to feel an obligation to be involved in political thinking and action in the choice of officials we elect to office. That being so, with my long years of experience, not only in voting or partisan political work, but as a citizen who has carried in my head and mind dreams, aspirations, and actual visions of a progressively transforming Philippines, I take the May 2022 elections as quite momentous. In fact, at my age, I am lucky to still be able to participate.

From my early environment when Ramon Magsaysay swooped down my home province to personally investigate a brazen murder of a journalist by the name of Moises Padilla, my home environment was buzzing with the news. I did not understand the details of the controversy at that time, but even young boys know when the atmosphere is out of the ordinary. Not long after, a greater buzz dominated the air – the campaign and election of Magsaysay the Guy.

It must have been my proximity to those who were always deeply interested in political developments and even some political events that kept me absorbing the chatter in the air all throughout my boyhood. By high school, I had done some errands for the family, like delivering sample ballots to the more involved on the ground. That is why I carry some sentimental attachment to Chel, a son of the late senator, Pepe Diokno. I never met the man but his surname on the sample ballots was a familiar and an admired one.

College was a blur, academically, that is. And as a probinsyano in Metro Manila and almost totally ignorant of political personalities in the metropolis (before it was such, actually), I was mostly uninvolved except in the election of Ferdinand Marcos and his ensuing political dynamics with Benigno Aquino, Jr. Then, of course, the imposition of martial law was a riveting reality that forced the political to be central, not peripheral, in my understanding.

Many of us who were adults, or in our teens, during martial law and are still alive now must be in the minority of the population – 50 years or older at this time. Also, we did not have one common take of the period when a conjugal dictatorship took over our collective lives. Some were prejudiced, others were benefited. I must venture to say, though, that the vast majority were prejudiced, not just because it was martial law, but also aggravated by the persistent poverty that held them in shackles.

History is history. Not all is black and not all is white, not when we speak of political personalities or different administrations of government. There are always strong and weak points that we can point to regarding our political leaders. But one thing we must always remember. Judgment is first and foremost about the law and those who abide or break it because this applies to all of us. It may be only one crime but that is what we will pay for, that is what our families will have to live with. Because what is good is supposed to be the standard, not the exception.

The whole prison and jail system, whether it is penal or rehabilitative, is a reality of shame to those who break the law. And rightly so. Life must reward the good and condemn the evil. We teach this in our homes to our children, as our parents and ancestors did to their own. From the dawn of reason to futures we yet do not know, this principle of law and order, grounded on good and evil, in pursuit of universal harmony, will persist. Human survival first, and then human aspirations, will demand it.

The shame that will live on beyond the physical lives of guilty parties should they be known for public crimes or wrongdoing is something that their families will bear like a scar on their names. It does not condemn the descendants, but it gives them a particular circumstance that is patently negative. But so are those simply born poor. They, too, bear a heavy circumstance that often lasts a lifetime. But as there are rags-to-riches stories, descendants shamed by an ancestor can always build new and better lives to offset their beginning shame.

This principle of accountability with its rewards and consequences must have been etched deep in the minds and hearts of the framers of our fundamental laws and societal principles. This is our Constitution. While candidates, even up to those running for president, may have very minimal requirements to qualify, there are convictions of legal wrongs that can disqualify them.

But should the guilty find creative ways to evade disqualifying conditions, this is countered by noble standards of official behavior and ethics. Even when voters commit gross errors in electing liars, thieves, or killers, the official code of conduct and ethical standards governing all public officials and employees can pre-terminate their terms, even send them to prison. It will just be a waste of precious time and resources having to terminate office holders when we could have not just elected them in the first place.

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TAGS: 50 years older at that time, political thinking, Ramon Magsaysay, shame

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