Change the rules we refuse to enforce

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

| Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

We are afraid of that big white elephant in the room. It is not Marcos, by the way, or Sara. Instead, it is the true state of our nation, which, by the way, is floundering as one. A nation is defined in several ways, definitions that are common in many aspects but also specifically unique in some.

Let us take a common definition: a large body of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language inhabiting a particular country or territory. This definition seems universal enough.

But let us now go to a specific one: a large body of people associated with a particular territory that is sufficiently conscious of its unity to seek or to possess a government peculiarly its own. Similar but quite different, too, as unity in purpose is conscious, not just derived from being in one same space or territory, and governance becomes both a need and purpose.

Why floundering? For one, we are sufficiently conscious that we need unity and that unity results in having a government from that. Well, we have no unity, so there can be no fruits from the non-existent state of unity.

However, unity can be further broken down into numbers, not the quality essential to its being a virtue. Unity by numbers is there because a majority creates a veneer of being one in something. However, it is like justice broken down by numbers as well. It is simply impossible to equate the essence of justice with the number of cases filed and heard, even adjudicated. Justice, like unity, is simply too qualitative to be tucked inside the quantitative.

Consider that the Constitution is supposed to be the major reference point of a people’s unity. It is not just territory that can host great conflict or admirable harmony. It is the belief system that carries in it our most important values and visions, the guiding framework of our being one people in one territory. When we as a people agree on the most important and further agree to be guided by them more than our individual points of view, we have the needed unity to be a nation.

Do we? I do not think so.

Do we agree that our unity as a group of human beings, from being a family, a community, and a nation, uniformly demands that we must avoid, condemn, and punish acts inimical to the unity of our togetherness? In other words, we identify what we must follow and denounce to preserve harmony and order in the family and to all extensions beyond the family towards the nation.

The most common act that disturbs and ultimately destroys our unity, whether as a family, community, or nation, is lying. Lying is not only a crime by one person to another but also corroding the basis for an order. The order needs defined and constant truths around which it operates. Lying destroys that.

The following common crime that disrupts order as much as relationships in families, communities, and nations is stealing. Nothing can destroy harmony and order as stealing can. Imagine a nation where stealing is tolerated, and all relationships with the world of nations will be suspect, fragile, and exploitative. Same as a family, as a community. We will soon be at each other’s throats if we tolerate stealing.

Lying and stealing are the most simple yet massive provocations for violence and killing. I can imagine what a judge or arbiter will hear when mediating between two contending parties. Both parties will accuse each other of lying and stealing. Not too long after, they will be accused of killing the other.

Laws everywhere, no matter the form of government or religion followed in that land, will condemn and punish lying and stealing. It matters little whether Christian, Muslim, or Hindu, the world’s three most populous religions, all consider lying and stealing wrong or sinful. In Hinduism, in fact, there is a special wrong assigned to a person who cares about his own and his family’s good but harms other living beings and is always envious of them.

I mentioned caring for one’s family but committing wrong to others, even for family’s sake. Filipinos are supposed to be very family oriented. To support our family, we often cross the line and tolerate wrongdoing or crimes when our relatives commit them. Actually, no belief system justifies lying or stealing simply because we favor our families or envy others.

When Filipinos laugh at corruption and accept lying as something normal, when we look up to thieves and liars and choose them to be our leaders, we must realize it is not them. Liars and thieves must pay for their crimes here or later in the afterlife. But I tend to think that those among us who knowingly and willfully tolerate lying and stealing are worse as enablers to the few until we all become like them.

For over 70 years, I have seen many liars and thieves among VIPs and ordinary people. The VIPs are easy to notice and then judge. But ordinary folks like you and me, we get away with little lies and little stealing here and there. And our small transgressions make us guilty enough to tolerate when others commit big lies and steal in the billions and billions. |

We have to change the rules if we refuse to enforce them. We cannot start to change what is wrong when we no longer know the difference between wrong and right. We might as well erase what is wrong and consider them right. After all, they will not be punished, but we pay for policemen and judges to do so – for show.

We can then get on with our lives having the lowest ethical and moral bar, reduce the need for controlling liars and thieves in our systems, and just money does all the talking.

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