Confronting EDSA Fictions: Renewing our Collective Memory

Twenty-five years after EDSA 1, we have yet to come to an agreement on its precise meaning and significance.

The hard Left and disillusioned elements tend to treat it as a historical cipher, a mere blip in the radar screen of this country’s long history of unfinished revolutions. No revolution has really happened, for it was neither a genuine transfer of power to the people nor a decisive overturning of the old order of patronage politics and class privilege.

Military forces who got thrust at its center had arrogated for themselves its quirky success as a historical project, as if it were mainly their own making instead of the failed mutiny that it was until, by happenstance, it turned into a popular uprising against the Marcos regime.

Those whose personal histories are entangled with the dark days of authoritarianism cynically dismiss it as a mere chapter in the long contest for power between opposing political dynasties in this country. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., in a television interview, once reduced its significance to ‘mere politics.’ The toppling of his father from power was but part of the usual ups and downs in the game of fortune that goes by the name of politics in this country.

From the perspective of one who, like the many `nameless Filipinos who crowded at EDSA, was a direct participant in the events of those epochal four days, I wish to propose at least two ways of framing this upheaval: one, as a direct assertion of popular will in the face of the institutional hardness of a repressive regime; and two, as a peculiarly indigenous form of protest that is continuous with the fusion of the religious and the political in previous wars of liberation and resistance.

Direct democracy

The events at EDSA1 have been unduly ideologized into either a liberal democratic project – the ‘restoration of democracy’ – or, negatively, a ‘non-revolution’ when measured in traditional marxist terms.

The fact is that majority of those who rushed to add to the body count at EDSA were animated, not primarily by the thought of restoring lost democratic rights, but by the more primal sense that by standing there bravely, -- unmoved by the prospect of being mowed down by gunfire or crushed by onrushing tanks -- one could stay the hand of bloodshed. It was not so much to defend the defecting soldiers – failed mutineers trapped like rats in Camp Aguinaldo – that I and my friends staked our lives; it was more because we had this collective sense that by being there, we were somehow putting an end to the monstrous power that had ruled us for so long.

It is a mistake to appropriate ‘people power’ as an instance of a re-assertive civil society fighting for democracy as elaborated by western liberalism with its highly developed language for ‘rights.’ What we were fighting for was more fundamental – the right to breathe the air of freedom. It was the primal instinct to be rid of a repressive regime that prompted such massive droves of our people to seize a historic opportunity to take direct action

I suppose this is also what all peoples in corrupt and repressive regimes long for – whether in contexts of right-wing autocracies as in Latin America or left-wing totalitarianism as in Eastern Europe, or now in the Islamic societies of the Arab world.

What we are seeing these days is the re-surfacing of the ancient truth that tyranny – whether in the guise of a semblance of secular democracy or donned up by a religious collar – has an expiration date. It is in the nature of evil to deceive us into thinking that powerful hegemonies will last forever. But the inspirational influence of our kind of People Power lies precisely in demonstrating that despotism has limited longevity. It can be ended by a peaceable people who boldly take to the streets unarmed, fortified merely by a just cause.

This is not to say that EDSA1 was completely devoid of ideological content.
It is simply to say that in going out into the streets our people did not derive their motivational force from civil society discourse, much less the notion that we were waging a class-driven struggle. It was a fresh and simple response to the hard intransigence of a long-entrenched authoritarianism.

Subsequent events would of course make us wonder what it was we fought for. The accidental heroes from the ranks of the military, wanting to foist on us their delusionary vision, mounted a series of coups against the fledgling government, The old apparatus of traditional politics re-installed itself. The recycled faces of the Marcos regime strutted back into center stage. The old order morphed into a new round of autocratic rule, gross corruption and extra-judicial killings, all in the name of a strong republic and the war on terror.

What this tells us is that there is a profound disconnect between our supposedly restored democratic institutions and the actual culture that animates our political life. A huge gap exists between our democratic aspirations as shown in EDSA and the efficacy of our institutions to deliver on that promise.

This brings us to consider the possibility that the dysfunction may be due to a certain lack of fit between the categories and structures by which we seek to explain and institutionalize the meaning of EDSA1 and the culture that could make them truly operative.

A religio-political fusion

At the moment, available data indicate that perhaps, the bloodless transfer of power, the fiesta atmosphere, and the reconciling gestures between soldier and people could be accounted to the culture’s deep sense of ‘pakikipag-kapwa’, this sense of shared identity which lies just underneath our seeming fractiousness as a people.

At EDSA, we saw united a motley crowd of rich and poor, Christians and Muslims, society matrons and plain housewives, soldiers and activists of various political colors. We surprised ourselves and found us capable of coming together for a revolutionary project of some magnitude. For once, in that one brief shining moment, we were a nation.

Evident but little analyzed is the religious dimension at EDSA1. The powerful intervention of Jaime Cardinal Sin, the ubiquitous presence of nuns, priests, the Virgin Mary and the hordes of religious movements that formed the mass of grassroots participation, along with pockets of organized civil society groups, has yet to be thoroughly documented as a social phenomenon. The propensity to readily account to God and the supernatural events and signs deemed to be miraculous speaks of a culture that at bottom is sensitive to the spiritual.

It is this dimension that most baffles social scientists and defies usual ways of categorization. The sociologist Randy David, referring to this, once remarked to me, “I have been a student of revolutions. But this is the first time I have seen a revolution led by the Virgin Mary.” At night during those four days, the statue of the La Naval de Manila goes on procession and is carried up and down the length of EDSA. This was done in the belief that as in ancient days, the statue would ward off evil and bring protection.

Prayer was a major activity of almost all the participants at EDSA, religious and nonreligious alike, especially when the tanks revved up their engines and proceeded to try and break up the human barricades before them. All we could do then was stand together, arm in arm, and implore the Almighty to hold at bay the hand of violence.

It was perhaps this element of supplication before ‘Him whose nature is always to have mercy’ that spelled the difference between what happened at EDSA and at Tienanmen Square.

I have never seen a nation so massively on its knees. Our group, Konsiyensiya ng Febrero Siete ( KONFES ), was tasked with organizing the various religious groups camped along the walls of Camp Aguinaldo. It was a sight to behold. The Muslims spread their mats and bowed in prayer five times a day. The brown-clad women of the Legion of Mary intoned their rosaries and novenas come Angelus time. The evangelicals sang their rousing hymns, which now and again would be picked up by Radio Veritas and DZAS as a way of pepping up the crowd and the troops.

Surely, this was no way to conduct a revolution. But the scene reminded me of how, at various times in our history, our people had rebelled in a similar way, -- fusing the religious and the political seamlessly in protest against the abuses of the friars. The figure of Hermano Pule in the 1840s, a quasi-religious leader of millenarian movements round Mount Banahaw, loomed in the distance.

What happened in 1986 seems continuous with a kind of politics, yet unnamed, that is rooted in a depth of spirituality that now and again surfaces in events like that of the two EDSAs. It is uncanny that a popular movement of this magnitude should get repeated in 2001 and display similar characteristics.

It is perhaps this element that makes EDSA1 autochthonous and peculiarly ours, even as it resonates with peoples everywhere who are struggling to overthrow oppressive regimes.




( As printed in 1985-86 Philippines Yearbook of the Fookien Times )

The deciding factor in the successful February Revolution was undoubtedly the people – the hundreds of thousands who took to the streets and formed the human barricades that stopped the armed might of the dictator.

The author was one of those who made EDSA her home during those four historic days, and this is her story. An AB-Journalism and MA-English graduate of the University of the Philippines, she works for the Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture ( ISACC ).

22 Saturday

It has happened. Now, in the gathering darkness, the stray bullet, the outside chance, the quirky twist that jars and turn awry the bestlaid plans of mice and men, has happened. Ramos and Enrile, pillars of the regime’s armed support, have declared insurrection. Butch Aquino on the radio has called for a human buffer to stay the hand of bloodshed between the partisan troops. Meanwhile, the voices of Ramos and Enrile hogged the airwaves, tough and resolute voices steeled by despair, and maybe the sense that somehow somewhere help will come like lightning from the sky.

So be it, said the fast-talking minister of defense on the prospect of fighting to the last man the formidable forces he had helped assemble for many years. The tone of fatalism, of desperate surrender to the all-powerful and inscrutable hand of God, was something new. What is he really like, we thought. Of all the king’s men he was there – at the center of the terror of having soldiers come in the dead of night for a brother or a sister who at crack of dawn would be found hogtied, brutally salvaged. Is he merely frightened, a hare on the run wanting to go down with a bang and not a whimper. Or is he part of an elaborate plot, stage-managed from somewhere, meant to steal the thunder from underground elements waiting in the wings and secure a historical opportunity for some interested friends.

But the voice, surprisingly, had the ring of truth in it, and in places where it faltered because hope was nil it was moving. One senses that something quite out of our usual reckoning had taken place – a man’s fitful struggle with conscience and the Power before whom all are accountable; a coming to grips with the costly demands of principle, without which life is cheap and not worth the air we breathe.

Where does it start, this inner movement towards integrity of being ? What is it that makes us grope for light, for the searing heat that burns the lie and makes us pure and entire ? The two men have made a wild shot at mutiny; the boldness of the bid perhaps could only come from a bracing experience of the singular force of being, for once, on the side of principle. Righteousness makes any man a lion.

I turned off the radio and looked out the window. The stars were few. For many years we have lived in a vast universe of silence. The country was like the land of Kafka: one gets jailed for reasons no one knows, and there is no one to turn to for redress, no one to make an answer for the howl of grief one hears in the dark of night. Here, under the starless sky, we are asked to believe that an unseen hand has come down in mercy and has wrought a transformation only slightly less dramatic than St. Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus, striking him blind and getting him down on his knees.

While in many ways suspect, this military defection to the cause of the people is nevertheless a marvel worth falling off our seats.

23 Sunday

It had been a sleepless night. Morning came by stealth, soft and uncertain. I and a number of friends who have banded together under the name Konfes ( Konsiyensiya ng Febrero Siete ) sat huddled together in the shadows, quiet before the Presence, awed and sobered by what we had done. It must have been like this, I thought. Those old warriors must have felt dull and grim, dumb before the perils that lay ahead as resolutely they grasped a spear cold to the touch in the early morning light. The quiver and the fear was there, but so was something else, the sense that what needed to be done must be done. Lighten our darkness, Lord, we prayed; by the mercies of thy dear Son defend us from the powers and dangers of this night.

Thus we went in faith, our own great weakness feeling. We were ordinary people; we had no massive organization behind us, nor were we the sort who would normally run around in the streets with a placard. There were some among us who have had experience storming the gates of Malacanang or some such things, but we were young then; life was green and we had not known the greying wars of innocence besieged and precariously unsurrendered. We could not tell then the lie from the dream, the dream merchant from the visionary. We chanted and raved under the impulse of feeling that all things were possible. Now, many years after the disillusionment of seeing friends die under the cruel and overbearing strength of monocratic power, we did not know if we were being brave or simply being foolhardy.

But we went, and there we were – a small band of people wanting like the rest to put an end to the monstrous power that had gone haywire. The scene was like the many things we do as a people, bright and chaotic and irrepressibly festive. The air reeked with sweat and broiled squid, streaks of yellow assaulted the eyes pleasantly, and all around were grimy monuments to the Filipino’s entrepreneural spirit, long used to wresting opportunity from the marginal side of things.

It was no way to conduct a revolution, but perhaps it was truer than the stonecold stringency of the usual uprising. Great upheavals of the spirit, like suffering, take place in the most casual of circumstances, as when ‘someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along,’ as Auden puts it. Something big and deep was growing inside us as a people, and how else was it to get born but in the merry and familiar sights and sounds of the marketplace ?

Casual grit. That was what it was the afternoon the tanks came charging. The engines began to roar, but the people refused to move, a defenseless but determined wall of restraint against the tidal lust for bloodshed. It was a war of nerves, but perhaps, more deeply, a trial of faith: faith in the rightness of standing there, quaking yet fortified by an instinctive sense that the doing ofthat which is right will pay off somehow. Like much of the serious business of life, it had its light carabaos that had wandered on the road and someone held up a cross as if to ward off evil – gestures of instinct and ritual that come to our aid when all else fails.

A group of priests and nuns ringed themselves round some troops, sprinkling holy water. It was as if the demons of violence, brutish and palpable, could be exorcised by the steady and relentless application of timeless appurtenances to the sacred.

With the tanks held at bay, there was the problem of maintaining attentive vigil all through the night. We were assigned to guard Gate 2 of Camp Aguinaldo, along with some Muslims, some of whom were former MNLF. It wa a peculiar show of solidarity – Catholics, Protestants and Muslims all ranged together for a war against war. Seated back to back, we barricaded far into the night, fighting off sleep and resting on each other’s shoulders.

Morning would find us aching from the ingenious contortions our bodies had to resort to. But the watchers remained in formation, faithful to the end to the calling to keep watch.

24 Monday

The moon was full though pale and wan when I woke up at three. It shone like a stage prop just above the rooftops. EDSA looked forlorn and deserted except for pockets of vigilantes. Radio Veritas, silenced for hours the previous night, holed up somewhere and once again was beating the drums, this time from another frequency. June Keithley, flurried and distraught, appealed to nearby citizens to spill out of their houses into the streets and reinforce the sorely depleted columns valiantly staying the troops determinedly advancing.

Being neophytes in the art of surviving military violence, we were told to wet handkerchiefs as added protection from tear gas. Somebody distributed calamanci, the juice of which we were to rub on our faces to keep the skin from burning. We closed ranks and once again stood in formation, a frail chain against the impending rush of soldiers approaching EDSA.

Radio pleas for more people sounded more and more shrill and frantic. The troops have broken through the first line of columns. Sikorski gunships could be heard rumbling from the distance. Since the rebel forces were all in Camp Crame we were told to forsake the Aguinaldo gate and fortify the pitiful remnant left at the Crame gate. Once again we stood there, shoulder to shoulder. Then the helicopters came, blotting the sky.

It was but a moment, but the waiting seemed forever. Are these the enemy, we asked. We shall die then, not by sharp and swift bayonet thrusts, but by fire dropped from the sky. Oh, this is the end. This is it. I looked up to the sky and prayed.

I thought of home, of failing to say goodbye. Is it worth it, I asked myself. This is romantic, a gesture of youth. There is more important work to be done than standing here like sheep to the slaughter. Give us guns, said our comrades the ex-MNLF. I could understand. Non-violent resistance is against our very human blood. And yet, really, when all the options are taken into account, there is really no other way to keep blood from flowing. For this belief we stood together, locked in communal defense of whatever it was that brought us there, to serve as proof that there is power in powerlessness.

The helicopters hovered, then landed straight into the Crame compound. News swept us they had defected. We were stunned, then very wide grins broke out in our faces. We felt happy and stupid at the same time. The joy of it was hardly getting in when reports of defections among the advancing troops tingled in our ears. And then the unbelievable circulated: Mrs. Marcos had left the afternoon before, and Mr. Marcos left early this morning. The news was unconfirmed, but soon things broke loose and seemed to make it true: Ramos and Enrile came out of the gate and cheered, we sang and jumped and embraced one another in tears. Bags of pan de sal started going round, then someone took it into his head to playfully throw some to the people up the ledges of the gate. The crowd joined in and all of a sudden the air was full of a jolly traffic of pan de sal being thrown back and forth by the people up and below. The gesture was more than fun; it was an unwitting sign of what we were about. Other struggles had bullets and stones; we had bread, and joy thrown along with it.

It was utter privilege to be part of the occasion. We wept, perhaps for the years of suffering and silence, perhaps for the experience of solidarity in a country whose revolutions have always remained unfinished for failing to get its act together; and maybe even for ourselves, for having been touched by something bigger, humbled by the sense of being caught up in the larger and surer ways of Him whose nature is always to have mercy. We felt part of a great sacrament, the sacrament of the brother, of justice and peace and righteousness that a wonder had been performed, and we are witnessess to its awe and stunning power.

Like all good Filipinos we took pictures of ourselves for posterity’s sake, to show to our children’s children the pride and joy unspeakable of so great a liberation. We walked home along EDSA as in a dream, pleasantly dazed by a sky that had never seemed so glorious and warmed by the faces we met in the streets. We hailed each other with the Laban sign, now fast becoming a more universal symbol of a people’s will to be free.

When we got home the puffed, sleepless face of Mr. Marcos stared at us. He was on TV, proclaiming to all and sundry the inescapable fact of his presence. We blinked and dropped our weary selves on a seat. Is it a last-minute piece of propaganda, or shall we take up arms again ? Telephones rang to confirm that yes, the man is still around. We sat in silence. There is a tenacity, a hardness to evil we would all do well to always take into account. Very well then, we hall go back to the barricades and slug it out for many more nights. But first let me get some sleep, I said. So off I went tracking down dragons in sleep; it was at least a way of keeping the monster at bay.

Afternoon found us regrouping. We prayed and asked for strength, aware of the ache and weariness in our bones, and of the prospect of a protracted struggle of millions teeming along EDSA. Once again we felt our faces changed by an inward glow kindled by His presence.

There was talk of strafing during the night. In spite of this, our ranks swelled. The fiesta atmosphere intensified with the primeval drums of the Ati-Atihan and the periodic noise barrage. There was much singing among us, rosaries and novenas among the brown-clad Nazarene women beside us, a brass band going up and down the length of EDSA, and stars from the movies and other arts on parade. This is not a revolution, shook some heads. Well, perhaps not; it is perhaps more ancient, more inveterate and romantic than the atavistic desire to tear down things and make them altogether new. In the pomp and folksy pageantry, in the ritual call to the gods, we see resurfaced perhaps a people’s collective mechanism for the expelling of a hideous spirit, not quite unlike the banging of pots and pans in the old days to frighten away the whale that was thought to be swallowing the sun.

Refusing to forget the danger, we aked everyone to make a conscious decision whether to stay for the night or not. Most eleced to stay, spreading newspapers on the sidewalk and every space that could be colonized for some stretching and sleeping. The pavement a very hard bed indeed. Packed side by side and lying supine, we looked at the stars together and wondered what a blitz looked like. A blaze of fireworks, perhaps; a pity we may not be there to see it.

Late in the night I shook off sleep and surveyed the hundreds of bodies lying around me. One or two of our men sat glued to the radio; some were out reconnoitering. The silence was strange after the boisterous singing just a few hours before. Just then I felt the weight of having to make an answer for the loss of each life spread out and breathing there before me. But then perhaps no one can be made to answer. Every man must do what he needs to do. There is really no other way to live; some things are of more value than life itself.

25 Tuesday

At half past four almost every one had roused himself from sleep. There was some mist, which made the morning gray and pale. Smoke rose from piles of garbage being burnt, as the enormous litter in the streets threatened sanitation. Unlike the morning before there were lots more people who had camped out.

We gathered to praise and worship God together for the relative safety of the night before. The day was expectd to be tense, as both Mrs. Aquino and Mr. Marcos had indicated their intention to get proclaimed as newly elected president at noon. We braced ourselves and got more organized.

Mrs. Aquino’s swearing-in was a brave, confident vote for a liberated future. Things still hung in the balance; while on her side were the people and a marginal collection of armed defectors, on the side of the incumbent was an immense firepower, a monolith of wayward armipotence. But perhaps power could take alternative shapes. Mr. Marcos’ inauguration was cut off in mid-air, rebel troops having taken over the TV channels. Radio Veritas continued its media siege, a uniquely novel use of information as handmaid to revolution. And of course there were the people, swarms of them – a throbbing, busy, bustling swirl that for many years was thought to be docile and inconsequential in the mathematics of pwer.

The people at the barricades were not the dreamed-of masses rising in arms, sufficiently primed and programmed to wage class conflict. It was a miscellaneous rabble of regal matrons and scruffy riffraff, priests and nuns and bedraggled vendors, middle-class adventurers and quiet dissenters and gristly veterans of the parliament of the streets. There were babies, old women, portly housewives on garden chairs. It was a revolution incredibly supplied with accoutrements to a pleasant survival: a flow of food and drinks, tents, quilted mats, beach umbrellas, even a snap toilet brigade for those who suffer discomfiting calls of nature.

Revolution is not a picnic, someone has said. This one is, and perhaps, rightly so. It is always a joyful act to participate in the toils of freedom. Besides, the Filipino people being what they are, it is only apposite that their rites of passage towards political maturity and power be singularly recalcitrant, irrepressibly happy improvisations that defy the usual iron rules of power struggles.

Towards evening there were rumors that negotiations between Enrile and the beleagurered president were going on, the nature of which we can only infer from the helicopters flying overhead to somewhere. Violent streetfighting was on in Mendiola, we were told; would we like to go and serve as a tempering presence in the conflict ? We discussed the issue together and decided to stay put, feeling a certain inevitability of vehemence in the surfacing of long-repressed feelings of rage. Malacanang was being stormed by an angry mob; we prayed for restraint, for the gift of decency and dignity in an occasion of great though understandable temptation to violence and excess.

The news traveled fast and loose: Mr. Marcos and company have left Malacanang, and are quartered in Clark Air Base for an early morning journey to Hawaii. This time we were wary, and wanted verification; feeling like horses who had the experience of being led to the water without being allowed to drink.

It’s true! shouted some of us in glee. I merely stared, quite stumped by the fact that the wounded tiger who had seemed so dangerous and deadly, threatening a comeback strike, had turned its tail for a run. Quietly, without the flush and flare of triumph, we embraced one another and mulled in our secret places the meaning of the boom that had come to us.

The Ati-Atihan sounded its drums. Cars honked and people began to shout and dance in the streets. We lustily sang hymns of praise, and saluted marching passersby with a final and rousing rendition of Bayan Ko. Once again there were the tears, triggered by memories of abject humiliation, of a nation once cowed and quiescent, conditioned into a self-protective subjection by centuries of colonization. This revolt has surprised us, has made us aware of what we are capable of doing, and of becoming as a people. Pride in ourselves, in our furture as a nation, swelled our hearts and dimmed the eyes that beheld each other in newfound wonder.

Shortly after midnight I was walking along EDSA headed for home, arm-in-arm with friends. Streams of people walked with us, shouting and stomping and making a din and a noise that was pleasant to the ear.

Tonight we had firghtened away the dragon that had long swallowed the sun. Tomorrow, for sure, we hall wake up to a morning with a stream of yellow bursting through the window.




Hearing the Call of the Great Flood

“Ate, tubig! Dali, may tubig!” I was upstairs trying to finish writing a long-delayed book when I heard this shout from my sister down below. I rushed downstairs and saw water seeping through the door. ‘Where is all this water coming from ?’ I asked, fearing that the Marikina River, about a kilometer from the back of the house, has overflowed. ‘From out front,” she said. True enough, the water that came rushing was mainly from the street outside. This means that the water was rushing down from some mountain higher up. The sight startled me.

But there was no time to lose. Within minutes, the water rose to knee-high. We grabbed some food from the fridge, carted up a precious charcoal portrait of my parents and other paintings, salvaged what we could of the electrical gadgets from the kitchen, and tried to lug the chinaware and other breakables starting to spill out of the cabinet. By this time the water was up to my chest. Then the fridge started to float, banging itself against the table and chairs whirling round the living room. We tried to get it up the winding stairs but couldn’t since we were only two tiny women. The one man in the house is my grandnephew, but he was out in school taking his exams. He himself got trapped and had to sleep on the third floor of his school building that fateful Saturday night.

In less than an hour the water hit the ceiling of the first floor and started to seep through the second floor. I realized I could do nothing from hereon and got on my knees to pray. Then a man knocked on the glass of the bay window in my study and asked if they could get in. There were two women with him standing on the roof of my dirty kitchen, one holding a baby. They swam through the flood from the house at the back of mine. I fumbled with the lock of the emergency exit in the bay window but the key has gotten stuck. We got the baby through an opening in the window of my bedroom instead and the three swam to the terrace on the side of the house and got inside. It turns out that their grand lola was still in their house, waiting frightened on the second floor. He went back to fetch her but she wouldn’t hazard swimming through the floodwaters. We figured it was best that she stay put. If the water rose and we all had to evacuate and rescue comes I gave my word we shall not leave without her.

From the study I watched agonizingly as the river swelled, the flood rising inch by inch, up the wall fence. Frantic calls for help were made. I managed to reach the head of the Office of Civil Defense, Anthony Golez, and asked for a boat, a helicopter, whatever. He said sorry, it was not possible for them to help. We tried whoever else we could reach with the remaining batteries of our cell phones. All too soon the cell phones went dead. We have done what we could.

I sat down behind my desk and swept the room longingly with my eyes. Maybe it was my way of saying goodbye to the things I love, -- the books that have meant much to me and those I have yet to read, picked up from my various travels; the pictures and paintings, and especially the portrait of my parents done so lovingly by an artist friend. In the event the water finally engulfs us I figured I could manage to take my computer. All the rest will have to go. I put the most important books on the topmost shelves and thought of how everyone could get evacuated, -- baby, lola and all.

Inside, in that place where the battle between hope and despair is waged, my faith in the Lord of wind and rain was being tried. I knew that this was nature striking back against all our environmental sins. God does not suspend natural laws he himself has built into creation. We violate these laws at our own peril. Still, I also knew he could stop the rain if he wanted to. I confess the shadow of a half-doubt began to creep when I felt the firewall slightly move with the swirling force of the waters. I prayed that the concrete wall at the back, which served as buffer against the raging current from the river, would not give way. I do not think I have ever implored the Almighty as earnestly and anxiously and tearfully as I did at that moment.

Mercifully, the rain stopped. The water crawling up the roof of my dirty kitchen halted to a standstill. Rescuers came on board a makeshift raft. We did not relish staying the night at the clubhouse as a temporary evacuation shelter. We decided to stay put in the house and trust that the worst is over. We cooked some rice and broiled fish over a stove made out of an old tin can of biscuits, with newspapers as fuel. We chuckled over the ingenious improvisation, glad and thankful just to be alive.

Darkness covered the waters of the deep. Somehow I felt I was being invited to enter the depths of ‘somewhere I have never traveled’, -- the immense and fearful mystery of life and death, but also the forlorn helplessness of the poor in our land who always get buffeted by the wild winds of both nature and misfortune. I went to bed thinking of the castaways swept from the river banks, clinging for dear life on some tree or an old tire, or washed away by the floodtide along with the rubbish and rusted tin roofs of what used to pass for their houses. But tiredness and aching arms numbed and stupefied the mind for any more such thoughts. I went to sleep like a log.

Morning was eerily calm. It was also strangely beautiful. Along the river drifted a solitary man on a ragtag raft of banana trunks tied together. From a distance it all looked so picturesque, with the treetops visible on the surface of the now placid waters that have begun to subside. I learned later that many dead bodies were found floating on that river, some swept from as far away as Tanay.

It is now the ninth day since the Great Flood. Mud four inches thick had been cleared from the house. The yard is still full of mud, with mounds of things and furniture piled up in the muck waiting to be cleaned and sorted out. Life is moving on, and I am trying to make sense of what has happened to us.

For the first time, I was a flood victim. I thought this sort of thing happened only to those without means to live in decent places. I was, suddenly, on the receiving end of a thousand kindnesses from friends, kindly neighbors from Couples for Christ, and my own evangelical church who sent food and water, helped clear the mud and debris, checked the electrical wirings and in many other ways reminded me of God’s tender mercies in a time of great testing and vulnerability.

The poor have no access to such help. Even now, thousands are in evacuation shelters, with no homes, no families to go home to, no friends and relatives with resources to tide them over. In short, no social capital like those of us who are middle class and able to pull ourselves by our own bootstraps without waiting for government to dole out help that is too little and too late.

I asked God what all this means for me. So far, the one thing clear is that I am being asked to share in the ‘fellowship of his suffering’, in that great mystery of solidarity where the sorrow and degradation of one human being is the sorrow and degradation of all. Whether we are aware of it or not, we live in the presence of one another. The presence of the vast poor among us says as much about the rest of us as the kind of government we live under.

In a small way, I now know what it must be like for those who are swept to the margins, forced to live precariously in cities with no thought nor place for them, squatting dangerously along esteros, river banks and other waterways. Comfortable people tend to see them as obstructions, clogging our life systems. The truth is that it is a horrendous scandal that so many have nowhere else to go.

There is something very wrong with a society where almost everyone ‘turns away leisurely from the disaster’ as the poet W. H. Auden put it. In our vast carelessness and indifference no one anticipates the coming catastrophe until calamity crashes upon us. It is estimated that about 20 to 25 typhoons batter the country every year. But those whose business it is to prepare for such eventualities, like the National Disaster Coordinating Council, have no plan in place. In its stead is mere technical reflex, like releasing water, uncoordinated, from all four major dams all at once, without thought for the hapless people along the waterways.

It is worth investigating why, after weeks of rain even before Ondoy, no one in Napocor or the National Irrigation Administration who have charge of these dams ever thought of releasing water before it reached critical level. Why did they have to wait until another typhoon came? My own experience gives me the impression that besides environmental degradation, the one decisive factor that made this flooding so devastating is the uncalibrated release of dam water, coinciding with the heaviest rainfall we have seen in forty years. I have lived where I am for nearly 20 years. All through that time typhoons stronger than Ondoy have come and gone. But the Marikina River had not overflowed the way it had in this recent deluge. This disaster is man-made.

To me, the biggest disaster of all is when we once again miss our historical cue, failing to hear the call of what this means to us as a people. One call is that we must change our timeline as a culture; transcend our present-orientedness and anticipate the floodtide of the future. For all who do care that this country should have a future and a hope, we must see to it that all our do-gooding is such that it finally puts an end to the unconscionable helplessness and uprootedness of our people. As a German poet puts it,

“Make it so the poor are no longer
despised and thrown away,
Look at them standing about, --
like wild flowers, which have
nowhere else to grow….”


( media contact/reference: dcultureworks@gmail.com/+639228932597 )




Dear friends,

We are sending herewith the ISACC draft statement on Erap’s pardon. We focused on the moral issue as this is our major concern as a faith-based organization.

Please send in your comments on or before 12:00NN tomorrow, so we can finalize and send it in to the newspapers before 5:00PM. You may affix your signature at the end of the document if you subscribe to the Statement.

We would appreciate prayers for this. Feel free to circulate this to your own network of friends. This is a good teaching moment for our churches and constituencies to think biblically on current issues.


Melba Padilla Maggay, Ph.D.

ISACC Statement

Erap’s pardon is cheap grace

On the surface, granting former President Joseph Estrada executive clemency may seem like an act of compassion. In reality, it is cheap grace.

A pardon is an act of grace. It is a concept borrowed by jurisprudence from the biblical idea of ‘unmerited favor,’ meaning that the offender is spared the penalty for ‘sin’ or breaking the law, not because of any merit in him nor of any circumstance that might lighten his case, but because the punishment has been paid for in his behalf by someone else – the Son of God himself. For God to forgive, his own son had to be sent to the cross.

The demands of justice had to be met before God could pardon our sins. Because he is just, he did not seek reconciliation by simply sweeping things under the rug. He did not issue a general amnesty and bury our guilt and grievances under a show of bonhomie. Instead, in his mercy he stripped himself of immunity, took upon himself our humanity, and suffered the full horror of what it means to die the death that we deserve. As the writer to the Hebrews put it, “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.”

Forgiveness is costly. It is premised on repentance, on acknowledgment of wrongdoing. Estrada goes scot-free without bowing to the court’s judgment that he is guilty. We do not expect from our leaders a ‘moral revolution’; only that those who profess to have seen the light should, like Zaccheus, show signs of true repentance by admitting wrong and making restitution.

Likewise, we deplore the undue haste with which Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has pardoned Estrada, betraying a gross moral callousness over the seriousness of his crime. Hot on the heels of the revelation that the President is implicated in the ZTE scandal, the timing arouses suspicion.

Leaders set a moral benchmark for the nation. The President’s free-and-easy pardon, coming just a month after the Sandiganbayan declared him guilty of plunder, further erodes faith in the justice system and the rule of law. It sends the signal that the powerful can commit a heinous crime and run free just because they can threaten mayhem on those who uneasily sit in power because unsure of legitimacy.

Justice and mercy go together. This is what the cross tells us. Without justice, compassion becomes capitulation and sinks this nation ever deeper into moral rot and corrosion.

--- Staff, members and friends of
The Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture


Dr. Melba Padilla Maggay
Dr. Violeta Bautista
Cynthia A. Lucasan
Clayton Y. Lucasan
Celine A. Lucasan
Lanie Permano
Ligaya ____
Gina B. Duanan
Mely Estoque
Judilyn Arielle Ferrer
Dixie Lacuesta
Mrs. Dolly I. Girao
Michael Suguitan
Erlinda Eileen G. Lolarga
William B. Girao
Maria Fabella C. Fajardo


A Derelict Democracy

This Monday, May 14, the citizens of the oldest republic in Asia will troop to the polls and cast their votes in the country’s mid-term elections.

Many are likely to vote quite willy-nilly, with no great expectations that the exercise will mean something to the vast poor crowding in its rapidly mushrooming slums. It is a political right that has steadily lost its luster since the apparatus of democracy was restored following the “people power” uprising two decades ago.

Months before, this election was seen as a kind of referendum on the legitimacy of the Arroyo government. Just like the US midterm elections, which sent clear signals that the Bush policy on Iraq was way out of line, it promised an orderly way of ascertaining what the people must feel about the unresolved allegations of fraud that has hounded the Arroyo presidency.

It also held out the possibility of recomposing the balance of power in Congress, and with it the off-chance that the fast train bulldozing its way on a wild rush toward constitutional changes could be stopped.

This optimism as to its significance quickly dwindled into disillusionment. The expectation that the battle lines will be drawn along the divide over these critical issues has evaporated. The parties in this contest have come together, not because of a common stand on policy, but because of a common pragmatism premised on the realities of “winnability.”

With the exception of Kapatiran, a rather quixotic attempt at a “politics of principle rather than personality,” the major parties—the administration’s Team Unity and the Genuine Opposition—are bands of miscellaneous rabble glued together by political convenience.

In this election, we see the final dissolution of the party system as more normal democracies know it. This is partly a residue of the Marcos regime, which once dismantled it and turned it into a shadow play, the protagonists totally controlled from behind the scenes. But it is also partly a product of an entrenched political elite, whose dynastic character is perpetuated by the intertwining of power and privilege through a complex system of patronage and a closed network of clan alliances and loyalties.

For some time now, the lack of a clear party system, as seen in the ideological divide between Democrats and Republicans in the US, or the current contestation between socialists and the Center-Right in France, has been bewailed by more reflective elements in Philippine polity.

The pronounced preference for personality rather than ideology on the part of voters has challenged the cultural premises of those schooled in “good governance” as practiced in the West.

The palpable presence of political dynasties and personalism in voting patterns have persisted despite the half a century of direct tutelage in American-style democracy. A former colony of the US, the Philippines was once billed as America’s “showcase of democracy in Asia.” This myth was shattered when nary a whimper was heard from mainstream citizenry when martial law was declared and the iron hand of authoritarianism fell on dissenters in 1972.

The euphoric rise of “people power” as a direct instrument for expressing popular will has briefly fanned hopes of a government that the people can own. This quickly developed a dark underside, however.

“People power” became a tool for those wanting a show of popular support for their vested interests. An example of this was the so-called Edsa Tres, an assault on the seat of power mounted by a ragtag collection of poor people in support of Joseph Estrada who was ousted in 2001 in a second uprising called Edsa 2. Since then, crowds have been mustered for a variety of political purposes.

The fallout of all these has been a deepened disenchantment with the electoral process and the mechanisms of democracy as a whole. There is a perception that ours is a derelict democracy that has lost its way, rendered dysfunctional by the realities of oligarchic power, social monopolies and a political system disconnected from indigenous ways of doing things.

Already, the ghosts of history haunt the political landscape: there are voices wanting a return to the supposed “disciplined order” of strongman rule, and the government’s “war on terrorism” has taken the form of masked men on motorcycles lawlessly gunning down supposed insurgents, dark knights of primitive justice let loose in a general climate of apathy.

The Philippines is America’s oldest experiment in transplanting democracy in an alien setting. Its continuing failure is a patent lesson on why grandiose projects like democracy in Iraq will not flourish. There are deep structures of culture, power and social networks that need to be engaged even before mechanisms resembling democracy can be put in place. While peoples everywhere want freedom and self-determination. American-style systems are not exactly what will work.

The Philippines, like every nation, has to find its own way and fashion a viable democracy out of the dislocations of its colonial history and the aggressive influences of the current global order and polity. To come up with a system that works, it needs to fit and root itself in the traditional culture while negotiating with the demands of effective governance in a postmodern world.

Why I'm voting for Kapatiran


First posted 01:27:41 (Mla time) May 14, 2007
Melba Padilla Maggay

THE SOCIAL WEATHER STATIONS finding that 77 percent of the people would vote according to conscience whether or not the candidate will win is welcome news to those who wish to see the end of the "segurista" (sure thing) mentality that keeps qualified candidates from winning simply because they do not, at first instance, figure in the survey ratings.

If in today's elections our people do vote according to conscience, there is some chance for marginal parties like Kapatiran. A strong showing by its candidates will send a strong signal that there are people of conscience out there who can be a healing force in our diseased politics.

This possibility is like a drop of rain in a long summer season of drought and political discontent. This election has seen the collapse of an already fragmented party system into free-floating groupings of vested interests.

The hope that it would be a sort of referendum on the legitimacy of the Arroyo administration has been dashed by the lack of clarity and coherence in the stance of major parties on issues needing closure.

There is great doubt that the will of the people will truly surface, mainly because of widespread fear of fraud in the actual vote count, presided over as it is by a Commission on Elections tainted by the "Garci" scandal and headed by a chairman with proven ethical pliability.

Yet at the same time, quite softly and without much fanfare, an alternative that may turn out to be historic has presented itself.

Kapatiran, the party which alone has a clear platform, has managed to resonate among those seeking a way out of the morass of our morally greasy politics. One wonders why savvy politicians with some remaining shreds of idealism had stayed away from it. What would it be like if the Kapatiran is taken a little more seriously as something more than a quixotic blip on the radar screen of politicians and voters alike?

Preference for personality

A long lament over the state of our politics is this pronounced preference for personality rather than platform. Kapatiran stands for a politics of principle, and because of this it has dared to put up candidates that are not known and have no name recall, but are competent and have the character to match their brains and the published aims of the party.

Zosimo Paredes, Adrian Sison and Martin Bautista will not be noticed if they walk down the corridors of a mall or a grocery store. They are known only to colleagues and friends who witness their daily walk of faithfulness in the big and small things they are called to be responsible for.

In this they are similar to the many faceless men and women in this country who have what it takes to rule this country well, but remain in the margins because they do not push themselves forward.

But then these days these Kapatiran candidates have taken a step that is distinctly out of character with the rest of this country's talent pool.

Unlike those who migrate or are content to sit on the sidelines, these men have been prepared to be thrust into the mess of politics and leave their careers, their comfort zones and quiet pursuits to obey a call to "put God at the center of politics." Precisely because they are not your garden variety politicians, it is not without sacrifice that they put themselves forward in the service of the larger good.

Politics of virtue

The possible effect of a "politics of virtue" is not to be scoffed at in a time when our people are utterly sick of our political elite, perceived to be mostly scoundrels merely taking turns in seizing power.

The huge crowds that surfaced in the rallies of Eddie Villanueva, the religious leader-turned-presidential aspirant in the election of 2004, is sign enough of a latent electoral power that could be summoned given a cause of some moral credibility.

The fact that this crusade for "moral governance" frittered away quite quickly in the aftermath of the elections is also an indication that our people are discerning enough to decisively withdraw support and turn away disenchanted once they smell the faintest whiff of moral rot.

Research shows that our people gravitate toward leaders who combine in themselves genuine charisma and moral authority. Leaders of millenarian movements, like Hermano Pule, are of this type; there is a great deal of longing in the culture of men and women who will lead with spiritual integrity.

It is not an accident that the brunt of resistance against Spanish and American colonialism had been waged by leaders of such quasi-religious movements. We should not be surprised that our religious leaders today have an almost medieval power over their flock, and tend to have more credibility than politicians. It also explains the very low trust level accorded those who currently occupy seats of power and by past choices or "lapse in judgment" have soiled themselves.

Fusing political, spiritual goals

As in our wars of independence, there is a long tradition of fusing the political and spiritual in our national affairs. The Kapatiran is a contemporary example of this impulse.

Far from conjuring images of Rasputin and Cardinal Richelieu from the muddled history of Church-State relations in the West, the Kapatiran is a national political party, not of clerics but of lay people seeking to make a difference in this country from their faith perspectives.

Having learned from failed socialist experiments that love of neighbor without love of God ends in killing fields, they believe that all change begins from the inside, even as they also know that injustice can be entrenched in structures and need confronting systematically.

I have no illusions that the Kapatiran candidates will make it. It will take a major miracle for any of them to land in the top 12. But then, I am not voting for success; I am voting for change. And who knows? If the 77 percent who said they will vote according to conscience really did so, they may stand a chance. So remember: Paredes, Sison, Bautista. Para Sa Bayan ito.


Religion, Human Rights and Development Cooperation: Some New Wineskins*

In the face of the resurgence of Hindu nationalism, an Indian writer puts to words the central concern pressing upon us : “There is now a peculiar double-bind in Indian politics: the ills of religion have found political expression but the strengths of it have not been available for checking corruption and violence in public life.” 1

This about sums up the task before us.

By way of moving forward, let me outline some perspectives already surfaced in this conference and reframe them, hoping that in doing so we can look at these things afresh and find some answers.

Some perspectives
The rise of political religions: imagining the past as future. The rise of fundamentalisms, -- whether Muslim, Christian or Hindu – is perhaps best seen as a reaction to the perceived decadence of western liberal democratic values. The Two-Thirds World, particularly, feel the threat of homogenizing forces from today’s global centers. In the face of these we are rediscovering the power of the old religions as a buttress against unwanted modernizing forces. The more reflective elements in these societies do not wish to be trapped in the ‘iron cage of modernity’ – with its impersonal rules and bureaucratic systems and the social costs of unbridled economic rationality.

Most of these societies, while linked to the global economy, remain, at bottom, traditional. Culture pride and identity often supersedes the desire for material wealth. This can be seen particularly in those with memories of a lost civilization and feel a sense of present humiliation, like the Arab world with its history of the Ottoman Empire and its splendid caliphates in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The past is re-imagined and projected as a goal for the future.

Secularism as ideology and secularization as a cultural development process. We need to make a distinction between secularism, which relegates religion to a corner of life, and secularization, which is a process of cultural elaboration and differentiation from the once dominant hold of religion as an institution. Both are historical products of the Protestant Reformation, issuing from Calvin’s idea that the whole earth is ‘theatre of God’s glory.’ The sciences, politics and the arts were freed from the dictates of the church, gaining what the statesman Abraham Kuyper calls ‘sphere sovereignty.’ Unfortunately, in the two hundred years after the Age of Reason or the Enlightenment, it broke away from these moorings. It came to mean that religion is to be kept in the private realm, without relevance to public life.

In contrast, most of the cultures of the world are still religiously-based. The western concept of religion as a private and separate compartment in life does not exist in any of my indigenous languages nor in Indian and Chinese languages. All of life is lived within a religious worldview. There is no divide between the secular and the sacred. It is only the modern West which has secularized and is an exception to this.

This wholism is consistent with the biblical understanding that all of life is religion. Jesus’ command to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and Luther’s doctrine of the ‘two swords’ does not mean that the church is separate from society. Augustine’s civitas dei and civitas terrena are both realms where God acts and is sovereign.

But then history tells us that the higher the degree of influence of religious institutions in civic life, the less progressive they tend to be. Orthodoxy and conformity are rewarded, whether in medieval papacy or in regimes ruled by ayatollahs. Hence secularization, the idea of the separation of powers between church and state, is a necessary and desirable evolution in political thought.

Minority rights within a context dominated by a majority religion. There is no escaping the fact that in any one culture, there is always a majority religion. This is due to the historical fact that all cultures are, at bottom, religiously based. As the missiologist Stephen Neill once put it, “There has never yet been a great religion which did not find its expression in a great culture. There has never yet been a great culture which did not have deep roots in a great religion.” 2

In today’s global village, what this means is that migrant communities whose ethnic and religious identities are different from that of the mainstream culture will find themselves always at risk and vulnerable. In spite of all the talk about tolerance and civility, those in the majority religion will tend to press their entitlements or sense a threat to their culture and history, whether they be in pluralistic megasocieties or in multi-ethnic countries. In both pre-modern and post-modern worlds, identities are shaped, not by the sense of nation, but by more primal self-definitions based on ethnicity or religion. Where I come from, our Muslim minorities no longer identify themselves as ‘Filipinos’. They are, I am told by one of their scholars, ‘Malays’, this ethnicity being synonymous with ‘Muslim’ in Southeast Asia.

Social integration in multicultural societies has always been a problem. What gives it a sharper edge in our day is that political conflicts are now seen as civilizational and given force and power by underlying religious convictions. Modernity once prophesied that religion will be replaced by science, tribes by individuals. Today, not only does religion persist, it has re-tribalized societies even as it goes global.

The question that now confronts us is this: how do we maintain cultural diversity and respect for minorities when a dominant religion tells us that its truth claims are universal and ought to be believed and lived by all ?

Democracy and human rights. Alexis de Tocqueville, a young French aristocrat sent by his government in 1831 to investigate the prison system in the US, traveled for seven months all across America with this research question: why had the French Revolution led to the Reign of Terror and the rise of Napoleon, while the American Revolution led peacefully to constitutional democracy ? The simple answer is that in the small townships and church congregations of Puritan settlements in New England, respect for individual freedom, supported by social and economic equality, nurtured the roots of what we now know as democracy. ‘It was not democracy that paved the way for the freedom of worship, but freedom of worship that made democracy possible.”3

The Christian idea that all are made in the image of God, that there is something about each of us that is utterly valuable and precious and can not be violated, was the seedbed for the Bill of Rights. This much is acknowledged even by those who have difficulties believing in God. Says Jeffrie Murphy: ‘the liberal theory of rights requires a doctrine of human dignity, preciousness and sacredness that can not be utterly detached from a belief in God or at least from a worldview that would be properly called religious….’ 4

It is this kind of religious sense which in modern times had been lost and which had led to the massive erosion of human rights in those societies where the state had been apotheosized. Much earlier, the novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky had already foretold what happens when we push human autonomy to its logical conclusion: with the downfall of the altar of God, we are left with the anthill, -- that humless social machine where an individual is valued only in so far as he is part of the collective, an abstract human being defined as ‘a multitude of one million divided by one million’ as Arthur Koestler once put it -- or the myth of the superman who becomes a law unto himself, to whom, as Raskolnikov argues, ‘everything is permitted.’ Past the experience of authoritarian states, we know where this kind of language leads us.

To me, religion is important not mainly because it contributes to the common good or fosters respect for law and order or can support the nation-building projects of the state. More critically, it relativizes Caesar. There is a Lord higher than Caesar. That the Vatican, for instance, is a sovereign state stands as a sign that there exists a realm outside the rule of temporal powers. There is the sphere of individual conscience, where the human spirit, against all constraints, asserts its will to be free.

Some proposals
Focus on faith and economic values. It has been a while since Max Weber linked a faith value – the ‘Protestant work ethic’ – as a causal explanation for the rise of capitalism in the West. Picking up from this are some studies like the Soul of Development which documents improvement in well-being and economic conditions among mostly poor Pentecostals in Latin America.5 While it is quite sweeping to stereotype whole cultures as either ‘development-prone’ or ‘development-resistant’,6 there is some empirical evidence that a genuine faith awakening leads to better life conditions.

Within the Christian tradition, this phenomenon has often been seen and documented and goes by the name of ‘redemptive lift.’ In a research our Institute did on the coming of American Protestantism in the 1900s, we noticed that many families of early converts climbed from poor to middle class in one generation. Today we see this again among urban and rural poor people who come to faith. A woman in an Indian village was asked what her newfound faith now means to her. She replied, “one brick at a time.” What she meant was that now her husband no longer drinks; the money saved goes to buying one brick at a time for the house that she was building. There are plenty of such stories about the economic gains from no alcohol, no gambling, and ‘righteous living’ that issues from a conversion experience. In a microfinance institution where I sit in the Board, scores of women report that because of their faith they have better relationships with their husbands, and their business gets better and more sustainable because of the consequent family support. Faith-based development organizations that are very intentional in their value formation are often able to do much good that is far in proportion to their resources.

While there is no evidence that spirituality necessarily leads to economic success, there is at least substantial witness that genuine faith transforms people into becoming more just and honest and better stewards of resources. This leads to a degree of social wellness over the long haul.

What this means is that donor organizations ought to pay a bit more attention on identifying and strengthening values within faith traditions that make for development, particularly those related to wealth creation. Some cultures may need to have changes in their mental sets regarding time and their attitudes towards the future, the use of resources, risk-taking and other such values needed for more efficient stewardship.

Engage the informal and deep structures of the culture. Development efforts seeking structural changes often deal only with the formal systems and structures – matters of governance, peace talks that mostly have the local elite and government leaders talking, official development assistance for roads, telecommunications and other such large investments on physical infrastructure. The fact is that in many of these initiatives, the level of engagement stays on the level of the elite, whether local or national. Also, only the surface structures are engaged. A law or policy may be put in place, but it is rendered unenforceable or dysfunctional for want of the necessary supportive norms that will make it work. We may, for instance, tie up funding to policy changes in gender practices. But if the culture has no ‘software’ of values to support those changes, but instead continues to have a compelling metanarrative that justifies, say, female circumcision, laws prohibiting this will simply die a natural death.

Changes in systems and policy structures must be backed up by a corresponding change in values. Mere ‘institution-building’ will not do without the appropriate infraculture. A country may have a democratic structure in place but the ‘software’ of totalitarianism may continue.

This means that we must engage the deep structures of the culture, and not just impose conditionalities. As Daniel Etounga-Manguelle puts it, what Africa needs is a ‘cultural adjustment program,’ not just structural adjustments. “Culture is the mother; institutions are the children.” 7

Also, we need to look out for what actually works in the culture on the informal level, and simply formalize it. We have found, for instance, that a great deal more peacemaking happens when people work together. In our southern part of the country where most of our Muslims are, there is an organization called Al Hayat where Muslims and Christians discover each other as human beings as they organize communities together. Similarly, there is a common experience of bonding among those of us who belong to different faiths and yet work together for justice and other such concerns. On this note a remark made to me by a Catholic nun may be relevant: “It seems that we have no trouble working together for a cause. It is when we talk theology that we divide and break into conflicts. Why is this ?”

Name the idols of our time. A perplexity that disables many of us is the reality that while there is no lack of religion in today’s world, this has not issued in justice nor a deeper ethical life in our societies. There are many complex reasons behind this. One helpful lead is to grasp that religion, when it is true to the best of what it believes, is liberating. When it is not it is most oppressing. The reason for this is the phenomenon of what in anthropology is known as ‘extension transference’ ( ET ). There is a tendency in all of us to confuse the Creator with the creature, to transfer our ultimate loyalties from an invisible, transcendent God to a visible and immanent representation of him. The old term for this is idolatry. In the place of God we erect a golden calf, and this is seen in a variety of contemporary social behaviour. It is seen in our tendency to absolutize our extensions, our cultural elaborations, of what God is all about. We absolutize our theologies, such that they become ideologies. We then sacrifice human beings to the altar of a fixed idea. Dogma and dead orthodoxy replaces a living and growing relationship with a God whose thoughts are not our thoughts, and whose ways are not our ways. Those of us who are not particularly religious idolize economic wealth or the state, or the tools, systems and procedures that give us a measure of control and order in our lives. This is particularly true with the West. Those of us in Asia tend to surrender all autonomy to authorities or the pull of social ties and clan loyalties.

How then do we engage these idolatries ?

First, I think we must begin with the recognition that there has to be some critiquing element in all of our societies. Some things are universally bad and some things are universally good in whatever culture we find them. The caste system is bad, and so is materialism, authoritarianism or female genital mutilation. Cultural respect does not mean that we tread softly and do not engage each other on the roots of our failure as societies. This is paternalism. A genuine conversation begins with the mutual recognition that both sides have truth claims that may or may not be shared by the other. A theologian says that what we need is an ‘ecumenism of conviction, not an ecumenism of accommodation.’ 8

Having said this, it is really quite wonderful that in spite of our differences, we do have common values. The right to life, for instance, is a value shared by most religions, finding justification from the Christian idea of the image of God in men and women or the Buddhist concept of ahimsa or non-violence towards all beings. We need to identify and discover those areas of ‘overlapping consensus’ that are critical to public order.

At the same time, we may need to ask if it is necessary to have a uniform civil code that should apply to all citizens of a country. We may need to allow a ‘plurality of secularisms’ to flourish, the look and shape of which should emerge, not from the influence of globalization or western-educated elites, but from dialogue with the defenders of tradition in our grassroots communities.9 Societies in transition must be accompanied, not towards the beaten path of western modernization as articulated by the likes of Walt Rostow, but towards their own development according to the peculiarities of their historical, cultural and political context.

We need to have a plural sense of the ‘good life.’ What is the people’s concept of development ? Often, the people’s notion of the good life is not merely economics-driven. In my context, people define this as freedom from poverty within a context of social harmony. I suspect this is probably true with many cultures that put a premium on a high relational quotient. Capitalism and its excesses is not human nature as neoliberal economists believe.

Secondly, we need to name precisely the idols of our time, including the way our organizations are shaped. One of the ironies of the post-Marxist era is that we are now much more determined by economics. Donor agencies, simply by specifying their preferred projects, coopt the agenda of those in the South. I am told by bible scholars that Jesus talked more about money than about the Kingdom. I suspect that the reason is that of all possible idols, Mammon is the most seductive, most comprehensive rival to God.

Also, in a time when there is increasing conflict between human rights and citizenship rights, particularly in global centers, development agencies will need to serve as culture brokers. Most of you have experienced the vulnerabilities and complexities of living in other cultures. There is need to articulate, both theologically and sociologically, the rights and plight of the stranger and sojourner who has come to live among us.

Related to this is the difficult task of widening access to opportunity of minorities. Conflict begins when religious identity becomes synonymous with social status – in my country, to be Muslim is to be poor. I do not think that political mechanisms such as affirmative action is the answer to this. Those of us who live in soft states do not have high expectations from government in this regard. What should drive this is not politics but economics, an economic development that has at the center of its vision the poor and the just distribution of resources.

This was brought home with renewed force to me when an election commissioner told me that violence and vote-buying in our Muslim south and other such pockets of deprivation can not be stopped. The people are too poor. It is a perfectly rational choice to sell votes. Our Abu Sayyaf bandits recruit from among young people there who have no skills and no future. The only real industry in the area is the making and selling of home-made guns. Solve the problem of poverty and you solve as well the problem of political dynasties and bad governance.

Studies show that when people have no means for achieving the goals desired by a society, like wealth or success, people reject the rules of the game. They innovate or break the rules. Countries with a high achievement motivation but also a high level of inequality and narrow options, like Russia or the Philippines, tend to be corrupt and unstable. In these countries, there is a critical mass of highly educated and culturally sophisticated people who get frustrated and turn to crime and mayhem because they have no access to opportunities, either for leadership or the flourishing of their careers and gifts. It is not an accident that the latest suicide bombers are British in nationality.

Make a space for grace. By now, most of us who have been in development work for quite a while will have learned that it is not primarily structures, policies, or programs that spell change. There is a growing consensus, -- from management gurus to grassroots community organizers, -- that all change begins from the inside. It begins when something happens to people, in that place where God alone can go and where we move from resignation and helplessness to a sense of power, from despair to hope. Quite beyond our making, things come together and surprise us.

This, to me, is grace, -- that margin of mystery where all our calculations collapse and we come face to face with something altogether wonderful and unexpected. These are movements of the Spirit that we do well to tune in and follow. We must keep the door open for unexpected outcomes, for processes outside our logframes and our usual measures of success or failure. We need to come up with new wineskins, new benchmarks for capturing the fresh work of the Spirit among us.

Through the years I have become convinced that a genuine work of transformation is often higher and deeper and messier than what can be contained within three-year projects. I have often wished that donor agencies would partner with us over the long term towards the kind of change that begins with movements of the small – those moments when ordinary people wake up to their own sense of purpose and potential and pull in their weight towards the growing good of the world – mustard seeds that take years to grow into trees. The yeast as metaphor for the Kingdom tells us that it works in quiet, hidden ways. Unlike conflicts and disasters, it rarely gets into the papers. Yet silently, steadily, it does its work in human society such that one morning we wake up and find that things have changed.

Maggay, Melba Padilla, Ph.D. ( President and CEO, Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture ). Conference on “Religion and Spirituality as Source of Human Rights and Development Cooperation”. Soesterberg, Holland,a Sept. 6-8, 2005. Read on September 8, 2005.

1. Ashish Nandy, quoted by T.N. Madan, “Secularism in its Place”, Journal of Asian Studies, 46.4, 1987, p.757.

2. Stephen Neill, “Religion and Culture: A Historical Introduction,” The Gospel and Culture, John RW Stott and Robert T. Coote, eds., William Carey Library, Pasadena California, 1979, p.1. Copyright by Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization.

3. Vinoth Ramachandra, Faiths in Conflict ? Christian Integrity in a Multicultural World, London Lectures in Contemporary Christianity, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, England, 1999, p.157.

4. Jeffrie Murphy, “Afterword: Constitutionalism, Moral Skepticism and Religious Belief” in Alan S. Rosenbaum, ed., Constitutionalism, the Philosophical Dimension p.248, as quoted by M. J .Perry, The Idea of Human Rights, Four Inquiries, Oxford & NY, Oxford University Press, 1998, p.41.

5. A.L.Sherman, The Soul of Development: Biblical Christianity and Economic Transformation in Guatemala, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1999.

6. Mariano Grondona, “A Cultural Typology of Economic Development,” in Culture Maters, How Values Shape Human Progress, Lawrence G. Harrison and Samuel G. Huntington, eds., Basic Books, NY 2000.

7. Daniel Etounga-Manguelle, “Does Africa Need a Cultural Ajustment Program ?” Culture Matters, ibid. pp.65-77.

8. Dr. Timothy George, Dean of Beeson Divinity School and executive editor
of Christianity Today, commenting on the declaration, Dominus Jesus issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as quoted by Richard John Neuhaus, “The Public Square”, First Things, November 2000 No.107, p.69.


A Call for Moral Courage and Social Discipline

We, the officers, members and friends of the Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture (ISACC), express our deep concern over the gross scandals rocking the government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Likewise, we decry opportunistic attempts to use these as political fodder for destabilization and a power grab on the part of the opposition.

We deplore the stench of corruption and the cloud of doubt that has descended on the highest office of the land. The accusations now being hurled against the seat of power need swift response from the President.

We call on President Arroyo to demonstrate beyond doubt the will to stamp out corruption by letting the law run its full course on the charges brought against her, her relatives and her administration. We want her to dispel the grey pall of doom and doubt that hovers round her office by a forthright display of moral courage.

Time is running out and there is but a small window of opportunity left her to put her house in order. She should come clean, or else resign and allow an orderly succession to take place.

At the same time, we stand against any entity or force that would make a mockery of our democratic ideals, our Constitution and our laws by creating conditions that lead to lawlessness, mob rule and the use of force in effecting a change of power.

While we acknowledge the right of everyone to an opinion on the present crisis, we see calls for ‘civil disobedience’ and ‘people power’ as cynical mimicry of such historic forms of expressing popular will. We condemn in no uncertain terms the machinations of coup plotters and all forms of military adventurism.

Our Constitution and our laws have provided the proper venues where grievances may be appropriately addressed.

Let the corruption complaints and the allegations of electoral fraud be sufficiently backed up by incontrovertible evidence and brought before duly-constituted authorities. These should not be unduly dramatized and sensationalized by media before the blood-thirsty bar of so-called public opinion.

Irresponsible accusations of fraud should not be allowed to taint and cast doubt on the over-all credibility of our democratic institutions. To do so would negate the hard-won gains of our people in the struggle to restore our democratic tradition.

To our people we urge wisdom and vigilance against the seductive wiles of those who wish to subvert our democratic processes. Let us not lose hope in the efficacy of our political institutions, no matter how imperfect and subject to anomalous pressures.

To all who believe that there is a sovereign God who rules over the affairs and doings of nations, let us heed these words from a church father named Cyprian as the Roman Empire crumbled and tottered before his eyes: “Let us stand upright amid the ruins of the world, and not lie on the ground as those who have no hope.”

Signed by Board and Staff of the
Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture
Representing 200 individual members and friends and 30 organizations