The Catholic Social Teaching emphasizes the promotion and protection of the common of society as an expression of one’s love to God and neighbor. This duty is crucial to salvation. For Catholics, promoting the social welfare of people even to those who are outside to their inner circles of relatives and friends is a fundamental expression of their charity and love for God and His Church. Filipino Catholics must then promote the good good at all cost to attain personal and societal salvation. But what is the notion of Filipino Catholics on the common good (panlahatang kapakanan)? It this understanding in harmony with the Church’s social teaching?
1. The Filipino Concept of the Common Good
The term “Filipino” is a social and legal construct that creates one national identity of people living in the Philippines. However, this term does not only refer to one group of people sharing one culture. The Philippines is composed of various ethno-linguistic groups, with each one with unique language and culture. That is why we were not called “Filipinos” during the Pre-Spanish period but called according to our ethnolinguistic group whether we belong to the Warays, Tagalogs, Ilokanos, and so on. It was Dr. Jose Rizal who first used the term “Filipino” to refer not only to Spaniards and mestizos residing in the country during the Spanish period but also “indios” or natives. It is difficult then to find one common criteria on what makes up the common good for all the ethnolinguistic groups in the country. There is always a cultural nuance in understanding the common good for each ethnolinguistic group of Filipinos. Thus to use the term the “Filipino sense of the common good” can be misleading. Nonetheless, we still find a broad cultural pattern of this concept to many Filipinos today—a privatized understanding of the common good.
Despite the achievements of Filipino heroes led by Dr. Jose Rizal and the continuing efforts of the Philippine government through education to promote the imagined community of the Filipinos as one nation and people, the sense of the public life of many remained ambivalent. The ideals of nationhood promoted by our national heroes are stark contrast with the cultural understanding of many Filipinos on community, the state and public life. In real practice, Filipinos can hardly conceive of the public or social arena outside their networks of their families, relatives and friends. According to anthropologist Niels Mulder (2000), the overall image of the public world to many Filipinos is that of a marketplace, a place to bargain and to earn a living that is kept at a safe distance from private concerns (Mulder 2000:190). A study of the Filipino sociologist Ricardo G. Abad (2005) on the social capital of Filipinos also reveals that Filipinos generally build strong binding social networks with family members and depend upon them for material, psychic and symbolic needs as well as include close friends as part of their social networks to augment what the family and kinship ties cannot or meagerly offer (Abad 2005: 44). These strong binding ties with their families, relatives and friends is, however, accompanied by their relative lack of bringing social capital or ties to wider networks obtained from membership and participation in organizations (ibid). This means that Filipinos’ social concern is focused only on their networks of family members, relatives and friends whom they can trust and ask for support for their needs but not on the unfamiliar non-kin groups and organizations or what is called the sphere of civil society.
2. The Common Good and the Church’s Teaching
The term the “common good” is often understood by many Filipinos contrary to the official teaching of the Church. The common problem in understanding this term lies on its correct interpretation. Which “common good” one is referring to? Filipino politicians are fond of using this term in their campaign speeches. But one wonders whom are they actually referring to in actual social practice. If Philippine society is stratified unequally according to social classes and social statuses with the élite at the top of hierarchy controlling economic resources and public opinion through the media, then lay Catholics may interpret this moral concept in a distorted way if they do not see the intricacies of social stratification and their inherent inequalities.
If one cannot think outside the box so to speak, more likely the “common good” would be interpreted as those things which promote the status quo or the welfare of the élite and rich and their networks of family members, relatives and friends. Given the privatized view of the public world, as already mentioned above, it is more likely that the welfare of relatives or kins is a top priority when thinking of the common good. As Zialcita (2001) argued: as early as the 16th century Pre-Spanish period, the “Filipino’s” concept of the community is kinship-based. What promotes the welfare of the person’s community of relatives and family members is what makes up the “common good.” Contrary to critical view of some the Filipino historians (e.g. Constantino) which depict the pre-Western Philippine societies as egalitarian and communal and blaming colonization as creating “colonial individualism,” Zialcita argued that there were already cases of land being owned by families (e.g. rice terraces) and controlled by datus and their kins as well as landlordism, indicating that the Filipinos’ preference of promoting the common good of their families and relatives dates back even before Spanish colonization. Centuries have lapsed but this cultural pattern still persisted in Philippine society. An interesting anthropological study on Philippine culture in seventies by Richard Stone revealed that Filipinos have a privatized view of public space and public office. Applying an anthropological theory called the “the transitory ownership of public space”, Stone argued that if Filipinos occupy public space or office temporarily, they treat that space or office as a private property and thus tend to use it for his/her personal and family interests. Thus, an incumbent mayor will view public office as a form of private ownership which s/he can use it for his/her own end, or a police officer considers collecting bribe as his “right” in view of his public position. Moreover, an urban poor who “squat” in public spaces would assert their right simply because they are now occupying the space temporarily. Thus, demolition jobs of removing shanties in railways or public roads would be difficult because of this tendency of Filipinos to view public space as a form of private property even in transitory basis.
The social world of the Filipinos is therefore said to be particularistic and focused more on their kinship networks. A kinship network is a “working coalition drawn from a larger group related by blood, marriage and ritual” (McCoy 1994:10). Filipinos are people with many relatives (kamag-anak). According to Medina (2001), kinship among Filipinos is interpreted in terms of three criteria: descent, marriage and pseudo relationships. They define kinship bilaterally–that is, they trace their ancestry through both the mother’s and father’s line, they consider the consanguineal (blood) and affinal (in-laws) relatives of both the husband and the wife as relatives, thereby widening their social networks and narrowing their generational consciousness. Moreover, “Filipinos act as principals in ever-extending bilateral networks of real and fictive kin” (Ibid.:9). Sponsorship in baptism, confirmation or wedding as godparents (ninongs and ninangs) in the Catholic Church has a new set of fictive and ceremonial relatives for Filipinos (Medina 2001:31-32). The godparents, parents of sponsored persons, godsons and goddaughters and their secondary sponsors or witnesses are considered fictive relatives who can mutually support one another in times of need.
For anthropologists, a strong social awareness of “we” or belonging to one community or nation under one sovereign presupposes a more advanced and highly urbanized state. Urbanization and migration sideline the kinship structure that binds people in agricultural or pre-industrial societies and replace them with a more impersonal structure of the modern state. The Philippines, being a predominantly agrarian society, is still largely organized along kinship and personal ties and thus the privatized view on the common good continues to prevail in Filipino consciousness. An organized and massive reeducation of Filipinos on the CST may help in widening this narrow understanding of the common good–which confines it to the welfare to one’s friends and relatives–in order to embrace the other or the unfamiliar public.
Promoting the common good for Filipino Catholics, according to the CST, implies prioritizing the needs of the unfamiliar public over one’s familiar private interests. What the CST is referring to as the common good is beyond the sphere of the family and networks of relatives and friends. This pertains more to the welfare of the “other” or people and social groups or what is sometimes called as the civil society or groups, associations and non-governmental organizations outside the government and one’s kinship network. This probably the sphere of what the founder of modern sociology Emile Durkheim calls as “collective conscience” where every individual conscience in society participates in promoting societal unity and integration regardless of one’s social status and class.