2022 Philippine Elections

[OPINION] Discernment beyond the elections

Stephanie Ann Puen, Raphael Yabut
[OPINION] Discernment beyond the elections
'Discernment is a continual process of listening, dissenting, and collaborating with one another'

Platforms and campaign promises are just the beginning of the work ahead for the candidates, and our participation as citizens does not end as we cast our votes in May. In a democratic country like ours, participation is key in creating a more just society. Our leaders should be people who allow this dialogue to happen, even after they have been voted into office.

Discernment as a practice goes beyond the elections. The work for the common good is not a one-time event, but an iterative process, where we do our best to move towards progressive well-being for everyone. When we come together to collaborate towards the common good, we still need to discern together on how to best move forward. As we begin the actual work of dialogue and discernment beyond the elections, we consider two important questions: first, how do we work together towards the common good, and second, what “dangerous” memories do we need to remember so that we do not repeat the mistakes and horrors of the past?

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Working towards the common good

After all the excitement of the campaign and the election season, we pick up from where we left off – the work is set before us and we’re faced again with the wounds that continue to harm our country. We continue to rebuild our communities based on the vision of the common good that all of us are constantly discerning. How are we envisioning the common good in our country today and how do we imagine justice?

In answering these questions, we consider an understanding of the common good that genuinely considers the human dignity and flourishing of all. Doing injustice against minorities or ignoring minority voices in the conversation for the sake of the “common good” is an inadequate understanding of what the common good is. This has happened multiple times in our history – Duterte’s campaign against drugs is a war against the poor, a vision of a drug-free country is being executed at the expense of thousands of lives without getting to the root cause of drug use; Aquino’s economic development projects displaced thousands of indigenous families from their ancestral homes, rather than helped them thrive and flourish. We can think of other examples that ignore the flourishing of some for the sake of the many. Whenever we hear the refrain of “sacrificing a few for the many,” we also need to ask who is being sacrificed or doing the sacrificing, whether they are committing or are being forced to do so, and if that sacrifice is the just thing to do given compensation, expectations, and the long term.  

Discerning the common good comes through dialogue, an approach that ensures social participation. Because we hold different perspectives, it is important to listen to one another and consider multiple visions of the good that people hold. There will be many disagreements on what this vision will look like, but the spirit of discernment encourages us to genuinely listen, especially to those whose situation makes them most affected by any decision to be made; we have to make sure that the most vulnerable are included in this process. Discernment is a continual process of listening, dissenting, and collaborating with one another, given that attaining the common good does not happen immediately but through several steps, which can often be tentative and uncertain. 

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Remembering dangerous memories

Our work towards the common good is based on how we remember the dangerous memories of our past. The political theologian Johann Baptist Metz calls the memory of oppressed people and the victims of history as a “dangerous memory” as it continues to challenge those who remember to imagine, work, and hope for a future that liberates the oppressed. This memory ensures that those who died or were sacrificed unjustly, or were forgotten in their work for the common good continue to be remembered and their work continued today. Dangerous memories challenge seemingly nostalgic memories that threaten to make us think that the bygone times of before were better and were a perfect golden age. Dangerous memories challenge our preconceived notions of who we think are the heroes and villains in our history. 

This memory of the past is dangerous because it brings real implications for our work in the present. Resistance and hope are anchored in such dangerous memories, opening us up to creatively think about the vision of the future we want to work for after the elections, without forgetting those at the margins in our community’s past and present. We discern with these memories and voices in mind – may we learn from these memories so we may never again create a nation of orphans and widows.  

As we vote this May, let us remember that our discernment and participation does not end there. We are continually called to discern and to collaborate with one another towards building the common good for everyone. – Rappler.com

Stephanie Ann Puen, PhD is a theologian and ethicist at the Ateneo de Manila University. She has taught and done research on economics and business ethics, Catholic social thought, sexual ethics, and theology and popular research at both the Ateneo de Manila University and Fordham University in New York. Follow her on Twitter @profspuen. 

Raphael Yabut is a graduate student of theology and education at Boston College, USA. He has taught undergraduate theology at the Ateneo de Manila University. Follow him on Twitter @yabsyabuts.