The Pope, governance, and siopao

is the subject of my Trade Tripper column this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld:

To not put a too fine point to it: where is this country going? The mess is obvious -- public officials are acting like Keystone Cops running around in several directions, the President’s strategic communications team being all "sound and fury signifying nothing," and our President, with fire in his belly, decides to fill it with Emerald siopao instead of leading. Also, considering how serious the country’s problems are, one would have thought that this is the one time not to have officials who would need "on-the-job training." Unfortunately, for the local government, tourism, and even finance areas, "OJTs" seem to be the fashion.

The foregoing also betrays what happens when one has no unity and clarity in thought, principles, and values. One can’t build an entire government platform on the ridiculous propaganda of zero corruption. There must be something greater than that: an idea of what the Philippines stands for. Frankly, one can’t expect that if the person in charge is still in the process of finding out who he is. This goes for his minions too.

Which led me to thinking about Pope Benedict XVI and his Caritas in Veritate. Because here we see a brilliant (if not beautiful) illustration of what happens when one has clarity of thought, continuity, and unity. The Pope in his encyclical drew on a variety of sources from within the Catholic Church and yet demonstrates to us the Church’s entirely coherent unified teaching, consistent with the past but particularly grounded in the present, and yet with an eye to the future.

On justice, Pope Benedict talks about how "every society draws up its own system of justice. Charity goes beyond justice, because to love is to give, to offer what is ‘mine’ to the other; but it never lacks justice, which prompts us to give the other what is ‘his’, what is due to him by reason of his being or his acting. I cannot ‘give’ what is mine to the other, without first giving him what pertains to him in justice. If we love others with charity, then first of all we are just towards them. Not only is justice not extraneous to charity, not only is it not an alternative or parallel path to charity: justice is inseparable from charity."

In relation to my field on international economic law, Pope Benedict reminds us that: "The Church has always held that economic action is not to be regarded as something opposed to society. In and of itself, the market is not, and must not become, the place where the strong subdue the weak. Society does not have to protect itself from the market, as if the development of the latter were ipso facto to entail the death of authentically human relations. Admittedly, the market can be a negative force, not because it is so by nature, but because a certain ideology can make it so. It must be remembered that the market does not exist in the pure state. It is shaped by the cultural configurations which define it and give it direction. Economy and finance, as instruments, can be used badly when those at the helm are motivated by purely selfish ends. Instruments that are good in themselves can thereby be transformed into harmful ones. But it is man’s darkened reason that produces these consequences, not the instrument per se. Therefore it is not the instrument that must be called to account, but individuals, their moral conscience and their personal and social responsibility."

Like any human endeavor, economics (like politics) "is part and parcel of human activity and precisely because it is human, it must be structured and governed in an ethical manner."

Obviously, Pope Benedict’s encyclical is too rich to be discussed within the confines of my 800-word column. But just to give you an idea of his depth of thought, not to mention practical common sense, here is what he says regarding contraception: "If there is lack of respect for the right to life and a natural death, if human conception, gestation and birth are made artificial, if human embryos are sacrificed to research, the conscience of society ends up losing the concept of human ecology and, along with it, that of environmental ecology. It is contradictory to insist that future generations respect the natural environment when our educational system and laws do not help them to respect themselves."

The point here is that our values and ethics must be the anchor for our policies and positions. For far too long, we’ve been doing it the other way around. And we cannot continue treating government as the domain of individual fiefdoms. There must be unity in our policies and measures. Otherwise, we’ll end up with, to paraphrase St. Augustine, a government that is "just a bunch of thieves." Or perhaps, equally as disturbing, the Keystone Cops, the Three Stooges, and the boy who likes siopao.