The devil goes shirtless

Listen, I think President Duterte is a hypocrite.  For all his bombast against Catholicism, his pronouncements, lo and behold, have a solid foundation in Scripture.  I fell off my chair when I realized this because, with this President, you cannot take his every word at face value.  For Catholics searching for meaning in the gospel according to Rodrigo, they have to work hard because he does not make things easy.  One has to reach elbow-deep into the excrement coming
out of the wrong side of his digestive tract to discover the biblical pearl I am talking about.  That tendency to re-state the Good News in his own words is what makes parsing the President’s statements a test of faith for Catholics and Christians alike.  But the reward, I promise you is revelatory.

Of no mean significance is the President’s salvo against vagrancy.Vagrancy, I should mention, used to be a felony under our laws.  I became acquainted with it during the second semester of freshman year in law school when we studied Book Two of the Revised Penal Code.  One cannot just be any old vagrant, one cannot just hang around the street and then call oneself a vagrant—as with all felons, the honor must be earned.  One kind of vagrant, the law said, is any person who, having no apparent means of subsistence, who is physically able to work yet neglects to apply himself to some lawful employment.  Yet another kind is any person who loiters in public or semi-public buildings or places or who loiters or wanders about the country or streets with no visible means of support.  A third kind is any idle or dissolute person who lodges in houses of ill-repute, as well as those who habitually associate with prostitutes, and a fourth is any person found loitering, without any lawful or justifiable purpose, in any place, whether or not inhabited, owned by another.  Persons who fit these descriptions could be jailed under the old law, that is, until Noynoy Aquino decriminalized vagrancy in March 2012.  It was about time, too: if the authorities had been serious in implementing the law, about a fourth of the population of Metro Manila would have been behind bars.

In contrast, vagrancy aggravates President Duterte.  It offends him to see able-bodied men—and women also, in the interest of gender parity, oh and let’s not forget the children—having nothing better todo than stand in street corners without shirts on, talking about whatever it is they talk about.  He sees these tambays as criminals-in-the-making and consistent with his vision, sees nothing wrong in ordering the police to arrest/accost—I am unclear which is which—these, well, tambays.  It is fair to say that the presidential net has widened; from drug pushers to vagrants was a logical progression.

The Christian thing, the Catholic thing, like I said, that underpins his words and actions is there if you care to see past the hard-line legalism and the bleeding-heart rhetoric opposing each other.  In essence, the President thinks that idle hands are the Devil’s playground, or workshop, or tools.  If one is busy doing nothing, then the presidential thinking goes, the more time one has to be up to no good.  It makes sense, actually.  The old arguments explaining away vagrancy, mendicancy—that’s begging to you—or plain idling really have no basis in the Bible.  I can recall one reading from Paul the Apostle that teaches “He who does not work does not deserve to eat.”  Harsh, I first thought, but it’s St. Paul talking, ergo God.

One argument heard to excuse vagrancy is that your friendly neighborhood tambay is unemployed.  That is valid to an extent, but I have also heard it said that if one has not found work, one has not looked hard enough.  The latter has a germ of truth to it, I think, because in reality, there is a ton of work out there if one isn’t afraid of honest labor, manual labor or hard work.  Take busking. That’s the term for singing for one’s supper, literally, and buskers are those who sing and play improvised musical instruments on sidewalks in exchange for a donation of coins from strangers.  That’s work compared to mere loitering, and so is sweeping streets or washing clothes, yet somehow, the people who do such much prefer it to lazing the hours away.  This may sound counter-intuitive, but doing nothing all day can be tiring.

Which is not to say that the government plays no role in providing its citizens with gainful employment.  It does, just as much as it has a duty to ensure that our kids stay in school and get a decent education, one that will find them work after college and help them choose better at the voting booths.  It is therefore President Duterte’s job to give both and he can’t loiter about Malacañang insulting bishops and world leaders and women when there is more important work to be done.

I do not believe Rodrigo Duterte to be anti-poor or even anti-Filipino (as though the art of tambay is uniquely Filipino); if anything, he is pro-stirring the pot.  No politician in his right mind would call God “stupid,” but he did, so does that make him “anti-God”?I think the seed is planted in him, judging from the sentiments beneath his outrageous remarks, and who knows, seeds thrive in manure.




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