09 December 2011

Does SC have "Utang na Loob" to GMA?

GMA and Corona
The present conflict between the executive and legislative branches of government is of great interest to social bloggers and constitutionalists. The verbal and very public exchanges reflect the frame of mind, values, hopes and fears, and even resignation to fate by both branches of government. What they do in the midst of criticisms hurled against them also tells a lot about the level of their political maturity.

Observing the tirades of both Chief Justice Renato Corona and President Benigno Aquino III against each other is both exciting and frustrating. Exciting because, by and at large, the accusations and manner by which they were delivered are run like a circus, but frustrating, too, because it was observed how painfully slow the government moves towards clean, honest, credible, and enlightened justice system.

The judiciary is sizzling hot at this time, what with the credibility of Justice Corona and the 11 of 15 former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) appointed Justices being questioned left and right. The Executive Branch defended its offensive as an "attempt to remind the Chief Justice and the other members of the justice apparatus of the people's agenda and the obligation of public officers in responding to this (accountability)."

The administration of President Aquino is reportedly raising the issue of the Justices' "Utang na Loob" to GMA, who was allegedly favoured by the Supreme Court in several legal issues she found herself defending against. One characteristic of true "Utang na Loob" is that it can never be fully repaid, not by all gold bars in the world, which made it a good investment for somebody who can foresee what could possibly happen to them in the future.

GMA's legal investment reportedly paid off when all the 19 cases against the former President brought before the Supreme Court, Corona never once voted against her. One columnist labelled this as "The score is all for Gloria, none for glory. The score is all for one, none for all."

This concept of "Utang na Loob", is a deeply rooted Filipino value. A person who is "walang utang na loob" is "walang kuwentang tao." It is however, a double-edged sword. They can be good or bad, depending on the circumstances by which they are manifested.

"Utang na Loob" may be invoked by some people to demand favours from someone, for the right or wrong reasons. One is free to return the favour or not, but must take the risk of "burning his bridges". Social conformity in Filipino culture is valued (the term "pakikisama" captures this virtue), and one has to face the possibility of being ostracized for not being loyal. This is the immediate drawback.

The negative impact can be best summarized by an entry in one of the blog entries I read I few months ago:
"Utang na Loob" when used in the context of blind loyalty has negative ramifications. This includes blind loyalty to one's family ("lood is thicker than water", "my family, right or wrong"), friends ("he is my best friend", "he is my son’s ninong"), political leaders ("he has done so much for my family", "he gave us money when we needed it").

Often this blind loyalty is invoked by those who have the power” and material resources to sustain a dependent relationship, and by those who have not been empowered to break from these ties or relationships. Thus, one finds many poor and uneducated people in the Philippines in this kind of dependent relationship, and "Utang na Loob" is a tie that binds them for a long while.