President Aquino and the Magnificat

My soul praises the Lord…/Because He has put down the mighty from his throne/ And lifted up the lowly/ He has filled the hungry with good things/ And has sent the rich away empty.

As I was listening to President Noynoy Aquino’s inaugural speech, I thought of these biblical lines from Mary’s Magnificat. I first used these in relation to President Cory Aquino in 1986, after I got out of prison, when I was asked : “How do you feel about EDSA people power and Cory?”

My immediate answer was straightforward: “I am happy about EDSA and Cory. After all, I have been released from prison much earlier than I expected.”

The follow up question was harder to answer: “But you are a social activist. You don’t judge an event only on the basis of its personal benefit to you. What about your struggle for social justice, and your hope for more radical changes?”

At that point, the lines from the Magnificat provided a useful language to describe what had happened and what still had to happen.

He has put down the mighty from his throne. That has happened. Authoritarian rule was ended. That was reason enough to celebrate and welcome Cory Aquino’s presidency.

But will the lowly be lifted up? Or will the one mighty be merely replaced by competing groups of mighty? In secular language, will elite authoritarianism be replaced by a restored elite democracy, dominated by democratically competing elite factions, rather than by a much broader, participatory, and popular democracy?

I said that the end of authoritarian rule opened up democratic space for greater people’s participation. it was up to us to pursue the opportunities, in cooperation or competition with the dominant elite factions.

Next year is the 25th anniversary of EDSA. That would be a good time to look back and assess to what extent the possibilities for a more popular democracy have been realized in the context of an elite-dominated democracy.

I liked President Noynoy”s description of the roles his father and mother played, and the role he intends to play, in relation to democracy in the Philippines. Ninoy offered his life to restore democracy. Cory devoted her life to protect the restored democracy. Noynoy says that his role is to make democracy deliver benefits to the people. Gawing kapaki-pakinabang.

It reminded me of a quote from Thailand, attributed to a leader of the poor people’s forum: “We want a democracy that we can eat!”

He mentioned only two cabinet members by name – Procy Alcala of the Department of Agriculture, and Leila de Lima of the Department of Justice, and their brief marching orders.

That was when I thought of the remaining texts of the Magnificat.

He has sent the rich away empty. In 1986, I half joked that some of our very rich were sent away, but not empty! They took quite a bit with them, in addition to what they had already salted abroad earlier. And most of the other rich stayed behind, switched sides, and continued to control most public and private resources.

Hence the hungry still wait to be filled with good things.

These biblical texts are not a substitute for needed analysis of complex causality. But they evoke the more immediate and popular expectations of justice – as retribution and redistribution, linking them to the hope that government will deliver benefits to the poor.

Somewhat like the catchy, but over simplified, campaign slogan “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.”

The marching order to Procy Alcala (one of the more inspired cabinet appointments) does acknowledge that “filling the hungry with good things” needs more than retribution and redistribution. It needs other interventions – irrigation, technology, markets.

Still there is also the closely related redistribution issue of agrarian reform, if the increased production and incomes are to benefit the small farmers, and not just the general public or the national economy.

When the ANC took power in South Africa, they faced similar questions about how to address this interrelation of justice and productivity. Their initial formulation of their development strategy was “growth through redistribution.” But over time, the operational strategy tended to be “growth, then redistribution.”

In his speech, the biblical image Noynoy invoked is of Calvary and carrying a heavy cross. I presume that his immediate reference is to the problems he has inherited from the past administration. But I think the heavier burden is that of leadership, and the high expectations he has generated.

Six years from now, which lines from the Magnificat will we have reason to invoke?

Explore posts in the same categories: Leadership, Popular democracy, Renewing our spirit

3 Comments on “President Aquino and the Magnificat”

  1. Jun Cacho Says:

    The scriptural parallelism that strikes me most is the cross. The emblem of Christian leadership which Matthew defined as service. To lead is to serve.

    The cross also delineates the way of Christian discipleship. Noynoy capsulized his inaugural as his ‘taking up ones cross and following Christ.’ Immediately, Noynoy completed this call with the acknowledgement of the mandate given him by the people.

  2. […] puts it succinctly when he uses Mary's Magnificat to extrapolate the meaning of President Aquino's address as one that enables Filipinos to be just like that once more, hopeful. But they evoke the more […]

  3. […] izany miavaka tsara i Edicio raha mampiasa ny Magnificat fanaon’i Mary izay manakatra lavitra ny hevitry ny kabarin’ny Filoha Aquino izy hamela ny Filipiana ho toy izay indray , feno fanantenana.  Saingy ny andrasana avy hatrany […]

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