Innocence, Guilt And Change

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

“Presumed innocent until proven guilty” is a legal principle of the justice system obtaining in the Philippines. It has little to do with the guilt or innocence of an accused. Hopefully, the legal system ultimately satisfies the minimum objective of justice – that the guilty and the innocent are declared so by law within a reasonable time and the best efforts of all concerned.

Sometimes, though, it does not. Sometimes, the legal principle of a justice system does not end with justice but its travesty. Sometimes, the guilty who are presumed innocent are declared not guilty, or not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt – in violation of the truth. Worse still are the innocent declared guilty by law.  How many of the guilty who get away with it or the innocent who are unjustly punished determines the maturity of a people and the societal values that they live by.

From the public explosion of the Napoles scam that started with the alleged kidnapping of Benhur Luy, I have been very attentive to the flow of the collective sentiment. It has been hard to sometimes remain aware of the pattern and trajectory of a growing public mindset because of the furious distractions thrown into the same pie. From the preponderance of non-essentials to sheer inanities, secondary information and unlimited commentaries from the sidelines, most especially of media who have to say something even if there is nothing more substantive to say, the emergence of a new reality is missed by many. Pity, for it is the beginning of the end of a most ugly era and the birthing of a new nobility among Filipinos.

But pity will be short-lived because the emerging reality will all too soon become too tangible and visible to be missed. And too beautiful not to inspire. We are a people creeping out of our shell of submission and resignation, of a historical conditioning that has made slaves of freemen, that has debased a most refined value system to a warped coping mechanism. I read somewhere what could be a succinct analogy for our journey: “When the caterpillar thought it was the end of the world, it turned into a butterfly.”

I do not often hear or read from television and radio shows, newscasts, or newspapers about the Filipino and the Philippines in context. It is too often about a present detail as though it just dropped from the skies. More than that, there is an abundance of speculation, as though what is current is not enough, as though the absence of a context is simply normal, as though what is ugly needs to become more grotesque. People do not discuss, do not get stimulated to reflect on what is enduring, or profound. Instead, they are bombarded by what titillates, even if these be completely without substance.

Of course, life is a drama. I have no wish to make it less so. But I have a serious distaste of the way the public consciousness is being distracted from the more fundamental reality of change that is happening today, that will happen all the more tomorrow. It is vital that our people understand that this emerging change is being caused by them more than their government, that, in fact, their government is also pushing for change because of the people’s pressure. I am so disappointed that there is not more deliberate effort in the communications effort of both government and advocates to draw people away from the blame game. Why not instead think of motivating ourselves to become builders of the democracy we are struggling to grow?

We have this crazy notion that building our nation is done by the destruction of what ails us, as though corruption is defeated by railing against it, as though poverty is eliminated by rhetoric condemning it. Of course, corruption and poverty must be confronted, and crushed. But the methodology, the only methodology, that can succeed is to replace these cancers with virtues that produce, that contribute, that create against all odds. It is work, it is sacrifice, it is nobility, all these that raise the strength of a people and builds the character that can make the Filipino proud and independent.

We can go to the streets, we can risk life and limb to bring down tyrants in power, and we can succeed. That is clearing the way for building our nation, but not yet the building of our nation. That is why nation-building is not called anti-corruption, or anti-poverty. Nation-building is precisely that, BUILDING. It is building our virtues and value system that will define and guide our personal and collective behavior. It is building the discipline of productivity and contribution, each one creating a product or service and giving one’s share to the common interest. It is loving our motherland and being prepared to protect and defend her against all threats. It is bayanihan at its highest, being heroes for one another.

We are not here mainly to talk about legal niceties, and all the more about the illegal practices of many of our leaders. We are to build our intolerance to what is wrong by living out what is right. To use a cliché, we must be the change we seek to be, that change is an inner journey that has collective power only when enough Filipinos take the first step of personal change. That is not only a moral pathway – that is democracy by participation and by action.

As we witness the dramatics and hysterics that will surely happen as the unthinkable unfolds, as the “no wang-wang” principle finds its greatest challenge in the persecution of big and small fish, let us learn about that which shames us as Filipinos. Let this learning lead us to work diligently towards that which will bring us, our families and nation the brighter future and honor we seek.

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