CONTRARY to popular belief, “Vox Populi, Vox Dei” is not a Church doctrine.
Yes, we are told to respect authority and public officials. Yes, we are told to follow the Law and to work for the Common Good of our respective communities and nations. And yes, we are also taught to value democracy and all its fruits: the recognition of human rights and dignity, and the power of the ballot, among others.
But there are times when the Voice of the People - even if they speak in astounding unison - cannot be mistaken for the Voice of God. There are times when people are misled by lies, or threatened by force, or rewarded for believing what they know to be untrue.
I think this is very relevant today as we reconcile ourselves with the outcome of the recently-concluded elections. Not merely because I am disappointed with its results, but rather because I am concerned with what they mean for us as a country moving forward.
What I find most concerning is our relationship with truth. The advent of social media has made the spreading of information easier and more convenient, but it has not made the information more reliable. Throughout these elections, many problematic opinions and downright false news and information have proliferated in order to attack certain people and lift up others.
Of course, this is nothing new. Studies from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada (APFC), and other reputable academic institutions have noted the prominent role of Youtube, Facebook, TikTok, and Twitter in increasing the media reach of national politicians, most notably the presumptive President in providing “alternative facts” related to the history of his family and his own alleged misdeeds.
I am also no stranger to the fact that many relationships have been fractured by debates and discussions on what is true and what should be believed, and the actions which historical facts should entail. I feel the frustration in every person who, upon wholeheartedly trying to convince the other to not fall for lies on the internet, was just met with a dismissive plea to “respect” the other person’s “opinion.” But I also understand why people find some truths hard to accept.
Sometimes, it isn’t just because of doubt. Sometimes, it’s because of fear. Accepting one truth, if we are being honest with ourselves, will force us to accept other truths, which may even be more difficult to accept. For example, some find it difficult for others to accept that Marcos was a dictator whose family stole millions from the country because they lived quite bountifully during the Marcos Administration. For those people, accepting that people were dying of hunger and violence while they lived in privilege would mean that they should accept that they benefited from such dark times. And that all the time they spent actively denying and defending those historical facts would have been cruel, unjust, and downright evil. That would be shameful.
Accepting truth can also be uncomfortable because it demands specific actions and changes from us. You cannot live an honest life without acting on the truths that you learn. For example, if one seeks to be an honest person who believes that all people deserve dignity and respect, then he must always respect and listen to everyone: even those with whom he disagrees. Believing something to be true and acting on it can be difficult and inconvenient.
That’s why many of us just settle for half-truths. Half-truths do not require a lot from us. Only that we keep telling ourselves and other people those half-truths. For example, we can believe the truth that the minimum wage should be raised for people to cope with increasing prices, but also believe the lie that we don’t have to picket and petition the government to increase it. That way, we don’t have to join unions or organize rallies or attend meetings. Convenient. Believing some truths while buying into some lies keeps us from committing to meaningful action.
There are many of us now who are struggling to forgive those who have bought into blatant lies and half-truths. We find it hard to believe that a dictator’s son who actively denies the injustices and crimes his family has committed, has won based on and in spite of his family’s legacy. We find it hard to accept that we live in a society that approves of violence against our fellow citizens. That tolerates human rights abuses in the name of discipline. That perpetuates lies about the human and economic cost of the Marcos regime.
But perhaps it is our turn to accept such hard truths. And to accept what they mean.
Maybe it is our turn to accept that life was not so different for many of us under the Marcos regime. That poverty and abuse of power remained rampant and acceptable regardless of who the President is. That desperation has turned the elections into an opportunity to earn extra money, even if it means giving power to the undeserving. That, maybe, we ourselves have not been good examples of authority and power to our children and relatives.
They say “vox populi, vox Dei.” But that is often not the case. After all, the same people who welcomed Jesus when he entered Jerusalem were likely the same people who called for his crucifixion. Our faith believes that God speaks in numbers of ways: through His Commandments, through the actions of His Son, the deeds of His followers, and sometimes, even through “a still, small, voice.” But here’s the thing: He never speaks in lies.
Whether or not the elections have brought to power the people we wanted, it is incumbent upon us, as Christians, as Church people, as members of the labor movement, and as citizens to use this time to reflect and listen. What is the God of Truth trying to say to us? What are we required to do to correct the injustices of the past? And upon hearing what that Voice has to say, it is our task to speak the Truth, no matter how different it may be from the lies which drown out the Voice of the People.
May 27, 2022
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