Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Political Discernment and Reflection

by Dr. Prospero E. de Vera

"Discernment" and "Reflection" have now become buzzwords in our continuing national political drama. With more than ten declared presidentiables - Manny Villar (NP), Jojo Binay (PDP-Laban), Chiz Escudero and Loren Legarda (NPC), Gilbert Teodoro and Bayani Fernando (LAKAS), Eddie Villanueva (Bangon Pilipinas), JC de los Reyes (Kapatiran), Nicanor Perlas, Noli de Castro, Joseph Estrada (PMP), Jamby Madrigal, Mike Velarde, and even Dick Gordon - jostling for limited media space and fickle public attention, it appears that extra human interventions are now needed in deciding whether to run come November.

Noli de Castro has been "discerning" (whether to run for President, whether to join the administration party, whether a GMA anointment is political suicide, or both, or all is not clear) for sometime now.

And Noynoy Aquino, as everyone is aware, has gone on a
"spiritual retreat" before finalizing his decision for the 2010 elections.

But what exactly is a "retreat" and how does one engage in "discernment"?

A "retreat" is defined in the dictionary as "a period of retirement or seclusion, especially one devoted to religious contemplation away from the pressures of ordinary life". "Spiritual", on the other hand, refers to "the higher intellectual or endowments of the mind, intellect, consciousness or the moral feelings or states of the soul".

Making a "spiritual retreat" then involves choosing a place of quietude, perhaps with a teacher or spiritual guide, to rediscover the divinity that exists at the center of our lives.

Is it then a "retreat" if it is announced in advance (and through the media) as Noynoy Aquino did lately when he said - "This weekend, starting tomorrow actually, I will be going on a spiritual retreat as I pray for discernment and divine guidance"?

The Holy Bible in Matthew 6:5-6 said:

"And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

Many people I talked to are aghast with how politicians go through a "retreat" and seek "discernment". It would have been best, they added, if Noynoy Aquino simply left town quietly without fanfare and without a media statement to pray and seek God's guidance. He could have simply said "I need personal space for a couple of days, please bear with me", and went his way.

Why the need to mention the place, convent, and those who will give him guidance? Why all the media hoopla? Why can't this be done in secret?

There are so many references to the scriptures about why and how we seek God through silent prayer and meditation. The retreat of Noynoy Aquino may have this "silent" component even if it was done with the attendance of spiritual advisers, but the fact that he had the media following him or reporting on his discernment trip contradicts the very essence of why one goes on a retreat.

In Luke 4:42 we can see how a retreat and discernment is done - "And when day came, He departed and went to a lonely place; and the multitudes were searching for Him, and came to Him, and tried to keep Him from going away from them."

In Matthew 14:23, "And after He had sent the multitudes away, He went up to the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone." He sent both the seeking multitudes and His disciples away so He could be alone with the Father.

This means Jesus did not succumb to the temptation of feeling and being wanted. He disciplined himself to be alone and did not think of his importance, his power, his indispensability.

Why can't our political leaders who are truly seeking discernment or
praying for the blessings of God, do this in their own solitude and not
have the cameras follow their every move?

Those who can't resist the clamoring attention of media should refrain from
trumpeting their religious values to get supporters and followers.

They may be holier-than-thou but Filipinos are smarter-than-thee.


  1. However one technically defines 'spiritual retreat'; however it is done - in secret alone or with the company of preferred pious individuals, it is not for us to measure the worth and sincerity of his piteous supplications. It may be possible that Sen. Noy did not intend to 'contradict' his humble desire to go on a retreat by giving out its details to the public. At the very least we should give the gentleman due credit for asking divine influence though 'shared' rather than unduly claim greatness as his own making though privately kept. Because long before Mr. Aquino became a politician he first became a creation of His God, hence let us leave that relationship between the two of them. As for the media, they are bees drooling for nectar in order to subsist through life. They can be sometimes exasperatingly engaging but what can we do. So long as events, controversies, scandals, and celebrities hover our land, assuredly the media will always find their place - a natural occurrence in a cyclical life balance. On another direction however, a Noynoy presidency is embryonic and raw - I can't support it. He has yet to prove a lot and perform some more. Less has been heard about his stint in the senate and the public deserves to know what they have gained from giving him a senate seat. And with these, I can only urge the electorate to be watchful and critical; use the brain and not the heart; be rational and be not emotional. Thank you. FRS

  2. I am not questioning the sincerity of Noynoy Aquino in his quest to seek divine guidance. But at the same time I question the penchant to make the whole thing a media event. It is within the power of great leaders to control the circumstances of their actions.

    I remember the former Prime Minister of Korea who went inside a cave in a mountain to do penance for his actions as chief executive. This was in addition to his asking forgiveness from the public for his poor performance as their national leader. He did not announce this to the media and certainly did not allow the media access to his conversations with God.

    It is my contention that we should impose higher standards for our national leaders, particularly the President, compared to everyone else. The Presidency is not for everyone, it is reserves only for special people. And all those who want to become President should be scrutinized (as you agree and point out) very thoroughly for all their actions.

  3. I appreciate the refutation sir. I was led to say everything I had said when my eyes stumbled upon special mention to specific Bible quotations. They are accurate in describing sanctimonious piety and in telling the punishment God has prepared for those who delight in its practice. Which, when taken in comparison with Sen. Noy's revelation of his retreat that has turned out to be, according to you, a media event, can go without saying that he is insincere with his intent to have a talk with his Maker. On the other hand, however, I do not find it inconvenient to submit when you opined that the senator shouldn't have allowed the media to tailgate his every action. Such passivity to take opposite and equal reaction on the matter might only be construed against him as overblowing the whole thing into a political rendition of Pinoy Big Brother. FRS