Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Right versus Wrong (FilAm Star, March 2, 2012)

I’ve spent hours upon hours upon hours thinking about the ever-present conflict pitting right against wrong that has tormented my awareness of the human condition. That subjective conflict has become more and more understated as much of the rest of the world feels obliged to sell itself for a few dollars more whenever and wherever it can. I’m not trying to sound like a spiritual purist here, but can we ever extricate ourselves from the predatory capitalistic tradition that money is the be-all and the end-all of our lives?

This covetous thinking can mean different things, but one thing it does do is leave the impression that the line between heaven and hell has been blurred beyond recognition. I used to be able to easily tell the difference between incomparable cosmic values and their accompanying high scruples and the cold realm of the mundane, materialistic reality. As a young man, I could afford to do so. As a man plugging away at middle age, I am sometimes compelled to treat that difference with a grain of salt.

Infuriating isn’t it? It sure as hell is. I derive no comfort in “mistaking” what is right and what is wrong. I wish I could just snap my fingers and some inner voice would make me understand what would be interpreted by Moses to be in line with the Ten Commandments and what would and should be unforgivably condemned. But the way things have been going for a long time now, what might qualify for falling under the rubric of the blessedly noble and harmonious can, depending on who you ask, rankle those who only have their self-interests at heart.

The twenty-sixth anniversary of EDSA I, the trial of Philippine Supreme Court Justice Renato Corona, and the forthcoming trial of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo are temporally and emblematically converging to stoke views on the right and wrong antithesis that would be synonymous with my agnostic own. What ails all three of these events is that the people intimately involved in them have to prove to the rest of Philippine society that these momentous stress tests have been conducted for the benefit of the nation and not for the deliberate advantage of a few or at the risk of compromising our morals.

When it comes to EDSA I, I have an overwhelming urge to go back to the past and build a special bridge to it from where we are now as Filipinos. The memory of EDSA I lines the walls of Filipinos’ shared consciousness but does not absolutely flow into it. EDSA I’s memory is always a sight for sore Filipino eyes; we never get tired of riding on its historical fame and symbolism which vaulted the Philippines back into the rarefied air of democracy. However, friends and supporters of EDSA I in 1986 come away nowadays largely detached from its continuing relevance.

The Corona and Arroyo trials are working in two directions: towards one based on the rule of law, the other on a winner-take-all power struggle that threatens to close up the choice over good and bad and turn it into a man-made fantasy. Both trials’ backsliding remoteness from the minds of common Filipinos who only want justice is an unpardonable disavowal of the right/wrong dichotomy they hold so dear. But the politicians and the lawyers engaged in the two cases have no shame as they strut proudly like a motley band of sophists and blowhards in front of the cameras, not really caring about what is best for their countrymen and women. They are the last people Filipinos should expect to get a lesson from in distinguishing right from wrong.

Those of us who know that where goodness and badness begin and end is not so much a remnant of the past but a lot like finding a diamond in the rough, can nevertheless take some solace in the complex world which we inhabit. Our solace comes from a blend of Filipinos’ religious beliefs, guiding character, rigorous approach to life, and astonishing capacity for renewal. No mention of these attributes can be acknowledged on the part of the lawyers and politicians. Shorn of their hot air and false statesmanship, these legalistic and political moonshine dealers wouldn’t know what “right” was if it hit them in the face.


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