Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A truly Catholic statesman

Hilario G. Davide Jr., Chief Justice of the Philippines from November 30, 1998 to December 20, 2005, is an example of that once-common but now dying breed of Filipino statesmen for whom Catholicism is the defining source of guidance not just for private life, but also for life in the public square. He represents a tradition now seriously threatened by the militant secularism that is increasingly pervading the Philippine political and social establishment. 

He was second to the last in the line of openly and proudly Catholic Chief Justices who headed the Philippine judiciary from the time of Pres. Corazon Aquino until the retirement of Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban in 2006. 

Whatever one might think of his actions regarding the "Edsa People Power II" revolution in 2001, there is no denying his fidelity to his Catholic convictions. One of my fondest memories of him, is of him leading the Philippine Senate in singing the Catholic Church in the Philippines' "Jubilee Song" (for the Great Jubilee of 2000) at the end of the last day of the Senate impeachment trial of then-President Joseph Estrada for the month of December, in the year 2000. 

The following passage is taken from an interview with him published yesterday by the American Catholic magazine, the National Catholic Register: Philippines' Constitutional Framer: More People, More Glory to God.

Talk about the People Power revolution of 1986.

These were turbulent times for the Philippines, times of oppression and injustice for the people due to the dictatorial regime of Marcos.

The leader of the opposition was Ninoy Aquino, who was exiled by Marcos and lived in America. When he returned in August 1983, he was shot and killed right on the tarmac of the airport. Many others were victims of persecution, many died, but we were empowered by the death of our icon, Ninoy Aquino, which galvanized opposition to Marcos. …

Then, in 1986, Marcos called a snap election, and there were so many irregularities, and we knew that Marcos won because of cheating and fraudulent reports. We believed that our opposition candidate, Cory Aquino, the wife of our slain leader, had actually won. This led to massive street demonstrations and the ouster of Marcos, and she was proclaimed president.

I was no longer in government at the time; my term had ended in 1984, and I was back home in Cebu. But when she called the constitutional commission of 1986, I was one of the 50 selected to draft the 1987 Constitution of the Philippines. I was chairman of the legislative committee that formulated the power of the legislative body, and I was a member of other committees. We did our best.

You have said that you are proud that the word “love” is in the preamble.

Yes, our preamble is, I think, the best of any preamble of all the countries in the world because it mentions the word “love.” We ask for “the blessings of independence and democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality and peace.” The preamble is a prayer, asking the Almighty to help the sovereign Filipino people to establish a just and humane society and a government that embodies our ideals, hopes and aspirations.

A scene from the 1986 EDSA Revolution.

Do you think that the bloodless People Power revolution paved the way for Eastern Europe to throw off communism three years later?

Yes, definitely; it became, really, the light of the succeeding events of our country and the guide for many of our people — and for many other people of the world in the years to come.

The Philippines stands out as the only nation, besides the Vatican, to prohibit divorce.

Our constitution prohibits divorce and abortion. We are anti-divorce, anti-abortion; we are pro-life, pro-family and pro-marriage under the constitution. The right to life of the unborn from the moment of conception is in the Bill of Rights. But, unfortunately, at one time, the Philippine legislature enacted a bill providing for the implementation of the death penalty for some heinous crimes; but it was repealed much later because it reflected badly on the Philippines, especially among the Catholics.

Has your Catholic faith guided your public service?

I would attribute what I have accomplished to my Catholic faith. I have full confidence in the providence of God. We are told by Jesus how to love our neighbors, and we have to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. It is only by the grace of God that you can say that your life has been fulfilled. Even in our family, our children and our grandchildren are brought up being taught how to pursue this life of faith and service to others.

What do you see as the future of the Philippines, which is often called poor and overpopulated?

I am very hopeful for the Philippines and her people. In a recent survey by the University of Chicago, it was demonstrated that, of all the peoples of the world, the Philippines has the greatest level of belief in God. The people’s faith in divine Providence has sustained them, in time of calamity, in time of adversity. So you can see the Filipino people as the most “smiling” in the world. … Even with rising population, this is no problem in my view. We will have more workers, more people and families to work for the greater glory of God.

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