Session Hall of the Philippines’ House of Representatives | Photo via Wikimedia Commons
I am part of a small group of friends, all of us also co-workers and volunteers in anti-poverty and community building advocacy. This work has been our common bond for over 20 years. With almost half of us in our seventies, I must admire how compassion and our vision of a brighter tomorrow continue to drive us still.
Faith and nation-building have been identified as partner aspirations in our work. Without faith in a creator and collective identity as Filipinos or sons and daughters of the motherland, it would have been impossible to design and pursue what we continue to do.
For over two decades, we have struggled to apply bayanihan as our default manner of doing our mission. Somehow, the bayanihan spirit is Filipino and can be the most effective pathway to nation-building. From our political independence in 1946 to today, I am amazed how our leaders have never chosen bayanihan as the primary pathway for development and progress.
It doesn’t mean that bayanihan has been absent in our lives. Both from the force of circumstance and tradition, bayanihan has been exercised. Yet, in governance, the opposite has been true, top-down, and still quite feudal. It is ironic because democracy is best lived with bayanihan as its primary spirit and form. What is more for the people, of the people, and by the people than bayanihan?
Denying ourselves the deliberate use of bayanihan as our operating system and substituting foreign concepts and practices has created serious tension in our country. We cannot follow an intellectual governance format even if its components appear more than reasonable. At the same time, we cannot discard our historical and cultural attachments to traditionally doing things. We have a split-level democracy and a split-level parental system.
Our group meets for breakfast or virtual meetings every other Sunday when face-to-face meetings are impossible. Last Sunday, we discussed Lenten matters to set the mood for our Holy Week. We pondered over the perennial questions of the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus, the betrayals from fear and greed, and the failure of political leadership – Pontius Pilate’s.
“This radical teaching of Jesus was at the core of the conflict between his value system and the opposing format of authoritarian rule. Democracy in the Philippines is subordinate to governance by personality. After more than 2,000 years, democracy and bayanihan are viewed as threats by those who sit in power.”
The story of Lent was about politics and religion and how this often contentious relationship between the two remains dynamic in our present societal life. But even as we seriously pored over the religious teachings around Lent, we could not avoid the political climate that now dominates Philippine society. The electoral season has seen the active involvement of religious leaders despite the impossible doctrine of separation between Church and State.
Filipinos are going through the Lenten season, where suffering and sacrifice are key features. I am sorry, but Lent will not go away with Easter, at least not for Filipinos. The state of our affairs is in a very bad way, and elections reveal the delicate status of fractured relationships. From both faith and governance, we are in active collision.
It may seem that democracy as introduced to us by the West and our tradition and culture are incompatible. However, I do not believe that they cannot find a beautiful fit. Faith and governance have common umbilical cords at their deepest cores and their highest virtues. The Christian faith salutes Jesus as the first revolutionary that challenged the hierarchical system of governance then.
Jesus was the first democrat, espousing the lowest as first and the highest as the last, introducing the principle of servant leadership. The people as the source of power, and officials as their servants – flipping the pyramid, so to speak. Elevating the lowly and the ordinary as the most powerful was grounded on the creator’s values, regarding each person as equal in worth and dignity.
This radical teaching of Jesus was at the core of the conflict between his value system and the opposing format of authoritarian rule. Democracy in the Philippines is subordinate to governance by personality. After more than 2,000 years, democracy and bayanihan are viewed as threats by those who sit in power.
The concentration of power in the presidency is authoritarian and feudal. Bayanihan and volunteerism will dilute the control from the top and, therefore, will be given lip service but never adopted as the primary manner of governance and nation-building. When volunteers become more active, leaders in the traditional mode become more authoritarian.
“During our Lent, I can sense a political resurrection forming in the wind. We may wait longer for our political Easter to come, but it will be more than worth it. The youth of the land will not stop anyway, and time is entirely on their side.”
The emerging form of governance is an empowered citizenry that conflicts directly with authoritarian and rigid legal leaderships. However, the entry of the younger generations will disrupt centralized authority and overarching control. The tension will intensify until the central authority uses power to control totally and until the younger citizens who comprise the majority will remove those in their way. That is why we cannot get out of our continuing Lenten season.
It is not as though what I am saying is still that far off in the future. The present political dynamics have awakened the younger sector of society to re-introduce bayanihan with new terminologies like ambag, abonado, and resibo. Democracy has suddenly found an exciting symbol for an empowered citizenry in presidential candidate Leni Robredo. Her decision to be a party-less candidate has triggered a passionate volunteer army, empowered, generous, and brave.
There must be close to 2 million Leni volunteers if we consider those who attend her rallies nationwide. That is an awesome center for a movement that will go way beyond elections. I hope they will be encouraged by the older set of Filipinos to pursue this new direction of political engagement. When citizens accept responsibility and accountability as their mission, there is no better way to build a proud and productive nation.
During our Lent, I can sense a political resurrection forming in the wind. We may wait longer for our political Easter to come, but it will be more than worth it. The youth of the land will not stop anyway, and time is entirely on their side.