FRANCISCO S. TATAD
I THOUGHT the error was plain, and President Rodrigo Duterte would correct it, after Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, who heads one of the two Houses that make our laws, said, “who doesn’t have any girl friend?” to absolve himself of his adultery after it had been publicly exposed. But DU30’s response shocked even his own supporters.
“How many lawyers/lawmakers are without affairs?” he said. “Who isn’t entitled to happiness?” Among desert travelers, this wasn’t just a man giving a thirsty traveler a poisoned drink. This was a real character poisoning what could very well be the only well in the desert.
In one of his columns in Crisis Magazine, Fr. George Rutler, pastor of St. Michael’s Church in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, and a well-known author, said that bad men do bad things, but evil men destroy the truth. PDU30’s unusual take on the banality of adultery and fornication in public office does not just condone a moral wrong but exalts it, and damns and destroys the good. Manuel L. Quezon tried to teach generations of Filipinos, up to my youth, the basic rules of “good manners and right conduct.” Today, when we hear the President’s defense of Alvarez, we have to ask: what does he intend to teach the present and future generations of Filipinos?
Not only a sin but a crime
Adultery is not only an offense against the Ten Commandments. It is also a punishable offense under our laws. What happens when, instead of punishing public offenders, the President promotes them as role models instead? Has the time come for us to scrap our entire educational system, Congress, the courts, all our moral laws, and seek “happiness” in moral depravity and crime under the guidance of our President?
In absolving Alvarez, DU30 has put on trial everything we have learned through our reason and our faith. He has erased the distinction between good and bad, right and wrong, lawful and unlawful, and made himself the final arbiter of what is to be permitted or not, purely on the basis of what he says. He has now invaded the depths of the moral realm, where no one may intrude except to abolish all our inherent rights.
Pleasure can deceive
We have descended into a new Dark Age, where the sexual orgies at the tyrant’s court defined its noblest achievements. DU30 must save himself from this, and he can do so only by going back to the basic truths. Man has an intellect that perceives the good, and a will that desires it once it is known. Written in his heart is the first principle of practical reason—-Do good and avoid evil. He, therefore, seeks “happiness” in the good, never in the bad, or in evil. His ultimate happiness lies in God, his First and Last End. Crime or sin may give him pleasure, but such pleasure is passing; it leaves a deep wound in the soul and the taste of ashes in the mouth.
DU30 would be shortchanging himself unless he learns to support the good. There are still a few of them left in government. He needs to work with them, not against them. Yesterday, the late former Finance Undersecretary and National Treasurer Victor Macalincag was laid to rest at Heritage Park, after long years of dedicated and unblemished service to four Presidents. DU30 should try to find a few men like him. We remembered Macalincag at a short necrological service on Monday evening. Jimmy Laya and I were asked to speak, and some friends asked if I could run my eulogy in my column today so that friends and former co-workers who were not around would be able to read it. Thus, the following piece.
Tribute to Vic Macalincag, 81
We gather here today to offer the Holy Mass, as we have just done with Fr. Louie David, S.J., to pay our final respects and say goodbye to our dear departed friend and brother Victor Macalincag, who was many things to many people. To his beloved wife Remy (former president and chair of Landbank), he was a loving husband and a conscientious provider; to his three lovely daughters—-Sylvia, Susan and Sonia—his son-in-law (Anton Guanzon), and his grandchildren, he was a doting father, grandfather, and role model. To us, he was an irreplaceable friend and heroic comrade in our daily search for relevance and meaning. And he was, incontestably, a priceless and tireless resource for the nation.
Vic remained in the service of God and country, long after he had retired from his last official position, and men and women of lesser substance engaged public attention. Like many of us, he complained a lot, unceasingly I would say, about the many wrong things he saw every day with his own eyes; but unlike many, if not most of us, he did not just complain, he tried to construct, even if only in his mind or in our private conversations, a remedy for every wrong he complained about.
How to make the poor a more productive part and co-owner of the economy; how to feed, house, educate and look after the health of millions by managing our modest resources well, instead of just trying to eliminate the poor through draconian measures of population control; how to decongest our cities, create more parks and open spaces instead of those asphyxiating residential towers and malls; how to create mass transport systems that run on time; how to create a more gentle and egalitarian society where the rural areas would rise to the status of the cities, and everyone would share the benefits of expanded opportunity, education, technology and innovation. How to have a government that talks less and does more, leaders who have something to teach the nation and are willing to learn from others what they have not learned, like Robert Fulghum, at kindergarten
Our coffeeshop conversations could have gone on interminably, until his sudden, unreported and ultimately fatal illness intervened. No grander or nobler ideas could have filled our conversations at Temple Drive and at the Podium, had we been actually in charge of governing the nation, or tasked to design the course and conduct of our society and government. We dreamed together, despite our age and the harsh realities around us, which have never been kind to dreamers.
He was relentless in his pursuit of ideas, and uncompromising in opposing anything wrong. Wrong was wrong, whoever was behind it. He was always morally upright without ever moralizing, and would not yield an inch to those who would want to bend the rules, for whatever reasons. Had the Lord not taken him away from our midst when He did, I wonder how many cups of coffee it would have taken to quiet his rage over the latest official quip that every public official is entitled to an extra girl friend, in the pursuit of their own corporeal happiness and wellbeing.
Our faith in the living God, whose passion, death and resurrection we will once again relive this coming Holy Season, allows us to believe that our friend and brother has left us for an infinitely better world. But we have the courage and confidence to believe that Vic was, for all his human failings, a genuine gift to us all—-sent in our midst to help us make our imperfect world a much better place to live in. How much poorer we would have been if we had not been blessed with such a friend and brother.
A self-made man
Like many of us, Vic was not born to wealth or social status. He had to work for his own education, at the University of the East, where he majored in accounting before he took his master’s degree in Economics, and where he first met the love of his life and silently carried the torch for her from a distance. But by dint of hard work and native talent, he soon found himself holding his own at high-level international financial conferences with foreign executives who had gone to Harvard, MIT, Wharton, Stanford, Kellogg, Oxford, Warwick, etc.—the most prestigious international schools abroad. In the company of highly pedigreed technocrats and academics, he did not have the academic pedigree, but it was clear he did not need it, nor did he suffer from the lack of it.
He spent his longest years in government as Finance Undersecretary doing the work which his bosses did not mind presenting as their own. At one time, according to a friend, he found himself seated next to an economic Cabinet member who had difficulty reading the government’s balance of payments statement. Apparently, the minister had entered the Cabinet without this rudimentary knowledge. Vic very casually helped the minister out of her problem without anyone in the room noticing.
This was typical of Vic who helped people without making a show of it. All sorts of people—from sitting and aspiring presidents and senators to serious journalists—would ask him for an intelligent reading of the yearly budget and highly technical congressional tax proposals. And he would gladly give it, without any second thoughts or expectation of being thanked. Remy remembers that he would stay up late poring over these documents just to accommodate a friend. He remained the quintessential civil servant, long after he had left the civil service.
Specialist and generalist too
Vic was a specialist, but he never lost sight of the big picture and never ceased to be a generalist as well. And he never allowed himself to be mixed up on anything. Although he married the fairest and brainiest woman in the Lava family—-(he had all As in his report card, while Remy had all A+ in hers)— there was no sign he ever allowed himself to be drawn to the ideology with which three of the famous five Lava brothers (Vicente, Jose and Jesus)—all Remy’s uncles—-tried to mesmerize the Filipinos after Independence, as the first pillars of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
It probably helped that Remy’s father Horacio was only a communist sympathizer, rather than a communist ideologue, says his daughter. There was therefore no risk of Vic getting ideologically infected because of his marriage. But Vic, who did not share the politics of the famous Lava brothers, had such an unalloyed humanist view of society, which put the poor at the very center of all his hopes and fears. This must have done the Lavas mighty proud.
From sunrise to sunset
Vic was a visionary. He had an acute sense not only of the present and the past, but above all of the immediate future. He saw many things happening before they actually did. To borrow the words of Kipling, “he saw the sunset long before others saw the sunrise.” And yet for all the gifts, he was never one to call attention to himself. He tried to pass unnoticed, like many called to be saints. Invited to a public function, he would take the most inconspicuous place until the host would ask him to take a more appropriate place. Exactly as Scripture says-—that, when you are invited to a banquet, do not take the front seat lest the host tells you to take a lower seat, but rather take a lower seat so that the host, when he notices, will tell you to take a higher seat. This is what our dear departed friend and brother Vic did all his exemplary life.
My deepest prayer and sincerest hope is that when our Lord, who died for all our sins and rose again to redeem us from our Fall, notices our brother and friend so calmly poised in that lower seat, he would say to him, “Come, my brother and friend, I have prepared for you a higher seat.”