POSTSCRIPT / October 14, 2007 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Probing the NBN deal: It's the motive, stupid!

MOTIVES: The venerable Jose Bautista, our editor in the pre-martial rule Manila Times, used to nag us reporters working on police/crime stories to spend time digging out the motives of the characters involved.

Motives, he would tell us again and again, explain the behavior of people and thus illuminate the entire canvas of the story. An understanding of individual motives makes it easier for us to see the pieces of a human puzzle falling into place.

Since many senators seem to enjoy playing amateur sleuths and TV talents — with their main lawmaking duties pushed to one side — they might as well be advised of Joe Bautista’s lecture on “motives.”

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REASONS: Discerning motives will enable us to see through the smokescreen why the National Broadband Network deal was signed in the presence of a consenting President even if the project was neither affordable nor urgent.

Motives will tell us the multimillion reasons why its price had to be padded, and why thieves garbed as honorable gentlemen dropped their ill-fitting costumes and quarreled in public over the loot.

Motives will explain also why the deal was exposed in the first place and by whom, why certain people acted the way they did, and why some dogs in the Senate refused to let go the $330-million slab of Chinese ham after they tasted slices.

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CONVERGENCE: The contract involved erecting communication infrastructure. But that is erection, not elections! So why was Commission on Elections’ Benjamin Abalos excitedly swinging his golf club over it? What was the motive of the commissioner?

It is not the job of Speaker Jose de Venecia to poke his finger into an Executive project. What then was his motive in going out of his way to help his son Joey grab the contract from a Chinese firm, in the process exposing himself to graft charges?

Joey’s firm did not have financial capacity, so why was he insisting on getting the giant deal while his father was resigned to seeing the project scuttled altogether? Will their seemingly divergent motives converge somewhere?

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CONFUSED SOLONS: Whatever General Leandro Mendoza thought of the project, DoTC Secretary Leandro Mendoza approved it anyway. Then NEDA Director-General Romulo Neri had misgivings, but let the project pass. Why? What were their motives?

Why does First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo show up — by “coincidence” — in awkward situations, such as while the NBN deal was being discussed? If he did not appear on his own at Wack-wack, what was the motive of whoever brought him?

Why do confused senators pay scanty attention to their main job of making laws and instead devote more time to playing policeman, prosecutor and judge of people forced to appear before them like grand larceny suspects? Motive is obvious.

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SEPARATION: “Manny” of sent some materials that I share here for Sunday reading. Entitled “ Misunderstanding Separation of Church and State,” the piece goes:

“The principle of separation of Church and State is often cited by many persons in all sorts of situations. From traditional politicians trying to surreptitiously push a morally questionable population control program, to anti-clerics who want to monopolize debate on important issues, the principle of separation is often used whenever the Catholic Church, or any other religion, speaks out and steps on a few toes.

“The separation of Church and State is often thought of as a ‘wall’ separating the affairs of the two. Those who follow this thinking usually claim that religion should have nothing to do with the affairs of men.

“They would probably also say that religious belief should not influence the crafting of laws, affect the actions of public officials, or even be part of public debate. Instead, government should be neutral towards all religions and be totally secular in nature.

“Such secularism can therefore be seen as an embodiment of the separation principle.”

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SECULARISM: In his essay “Secularism: A Hidden Danger,” Carlos Palad, a member of Catholic Answers Forum, explains:

“Secularism is an attitude that takes away the public sphere from the rightful influence of religious belief. Secularism is an outlook, sometimes rising (as in contemporary France) to the level of a state-sponsored ideology, that insists on considering all public matters from a vantage characterized by a reliance on human reason, and free of any reference to the sacred.

“This is because the individual conscience must be defended and freedom of discourse allowed, and (so secularists believe) this can be done only by allowing for common ground characterized by a ‘reasonableness’ uninfluenced by ‘sectarian’ considerations.

“For this reason, the secularist mentality insists on excluding religious views from the public square, often under the plea that Church and State must be considered separate.”

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PRIVATE VS PUBLIC: Palad continues: “Secularism does not necessarily judge religious beliefs to be ‘wrong’ or even ‘irrational.’ It simply considers them to be purely a matter of private judgment or opinion that should be left at the doorsteps of any public institution.

“Secularists often profess respect for religious belief, as long as it is kept precisely that: a mere belief without bearing on public affairs.

“Behind this attitude towards religion is the presupposition that religion is a dangerous element once brought into the public sphere. Religion is seen as productive (better word is ‘product’) of intolerance and bigotry, and as precluding all ‘common ground’ between the various combatants in the sphere of public discourse.

“Examples of this indifference towards the importance of religious belief in public life are the so-called ‘Catholics’ of the Democratic Party (John Kerry, Edward Kennedy) who say that they are ‘personally opposed’ to abortion but that they favor its continued legalization because they don’t want to impose their private beliefs on other people.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 14, 2007)

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