In her Nobel Lecture 2021, Maria Ressa asked, “What are you willing to sacrifice for the truth?” Whether Ressa was conscious of it or not, or she intended to subtly send a spiritual message, the question reminded us of the ongoing search for truth. As Christians, our mandate is to bring the truth, as found in the Gospels, to everyone, not necessarily just through preaching — although that is a noble act — but through our daily actions and by walking our talk. Some people will call it being “self-righteous,” but in the end there are objective standards of behavior and codes on how to live with others. Living by those standards and making judgments about behavior is part of our humanity and exercise of freedom.
Evangelize, if you must, and in all or certain aspects of human endeavor, if that is where you are led. There is such a thing as political evangelization which is what Ressa is, from my standpoint, talking about.
And as Ressa continues highlighting the fight for the truth, she says we need facts to get to the truth, you need the truth to act with sincerity, and with sincerity we have a shared reality and we can work together for democracy.
The causal relationship that seems to have been formulated is that without truth, there can be no freedom and democracy. Those who are anti-democratic or tyrants or autocrats have always had problems handling the truth, as uttered by Jack Nicholson. Tom Cruise who plays military lawyer Lieutenant (junior grade) Daniel Kaffee, USN, JAG Corps in the 1992 movie, A Few Good Men, is defending two US Marines whom he and fellow lawyer, Lieutenant Commander JoAnne Galloway, USN, JAG Corps (Demi Moore) suspect were ordered by their superior to kill a fellow Marine in Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba. Ressa emphasizes that the perversion of truth and its execution is made possible by subordinates who are “simply following orders.” We are only too familiar with these acts of complicity by people who are willing enablers, who “follow instructions for fear of losing their jobs and benefits and perks.” In various organizations, and most especially in sports where one is constantly reminded to respect the rules of the game, respect the preparations made by your opponent for your encounter in the field of play, respect your organization’s own constitution and rights of others, and most of all, respect yourself and the truth. Too often, parties acting the “Oscar Awards or FAMAS Awards way,” as the humble victim, the abandoned, the neglected, is the ploy resorted to in order to sweep the dirt, like false reports, under the rug.
Ressa speaks of the police officer who came to the Rappler offices to arrest her. The arresting officer, rather apologetically, told Ressa, “trabaho lang po” (I’m just doing my job [by following instructions] and read the Miranda rights in a whisper.
This officer is one of many examples of enablers who “are just following instructions” as professional soldiers, policemen, subordinates, employees, followers, sycophants, etc. who prolong the tenure and reign of petty tyrants in all situations including sports and even in civic groups and country clubs. This group includes and is no different from the killers of thousands of drug campaign victims, human rights abuses, Ninoy Aquino, thousands of Martial Law victims, judges, hearing officers, and prosecutors in a flawed justice system that welcomes manipulation by the rich and the powerful. Short cuts in the procedural aspects of law are made and even suggested by the supposed independent arbitrators without any sense of guilt and impropriety. As Ressa said, we have this tool of power: how good men can become evil and can lead to the loss of a nation’s soul.
Simply put, we are asked: how far will you go to get to the truth, to fight for it, to defend it and to proclaim it in the face of communication platforms that thrive on distorting, defacing, and, most recently, revising the truth and history.
At the end of the day, to fight for the truth brings us closer to physical and spiritual cleansing. Conversely, manipulating and distorting the truth for one’s vicious agenda clogs our spirit, adds a heavy burden on our consciences, taxes our mind since remaining consistent with one’s trail of lies requires a rather sharp memory, skill in mental gymnastics, and good play acting which however brings us closer to the sewers.
In her well-applauded speech, Ressa said the sacred mission of the journalist is bring the truth and hold power to account. I would like to add what one journalist said was the function of media: “to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.” I would like to think, however, that bringing the truth is everyone’s mission, including those who purportedly stand for the highest standard of sportsmanship and trace their roots to the ancient Greek city of Olympia. To be a journalist presupposes one accepts the higher standards imposed on journalists and those in communication. She cites the examples of journalists all over the world who, because of their higher standards of truth, suffer for bringing the truth: Jimmy Lai, who continues to languish in a Hong Kong prison and journalists in Burma, India, and Sri Lanka, to name a few.
Ressa points out that certain professions are especially threatened in places that do not value the search for truth and the democratic space needed to arrive at that ideal point. She cites the number of lawyers and journalists who have been murdered over the last five years as the campaign on drugs intensified.
The insight one gets from Ressa’s speech and earlier statements is that social media has produced millions of self-styled commentators who spew lies and engage in science-based, micro-targeted vilification thus encouraging and promoting authoritarianism in the macro scale and in organizations. Certain platforms received special mention from Ressa: “The virus of lies inflect all of us to give rise to dictators (and petty tyrants).” You combine this with what Ressa calls “the absence of law and a democratic vision” and you’re headed right into the pathway of revisionism, autocracy, and dictatorship.
Yet, despite all this gloom and doom and the selfishness and the “me, my, I, and mine” attitude disguised as love of country and loyalty to the flag, Ressa sees hope ahead. She speaks of people who have “nothing, offering what they have” to help the search for truth. Such examples of compassion, prompted her to show off to the crowd a T-shirt with the following message: “Believe there is good in the world.” And that, I would guess, is the message of hope that everyone should propagate as part of political and spiritual evangelization: there is Hope.
Hope is expressed in Ressa’s statement that the more she was intimidated, the more resolute she became because she had evidence, the facts, and stood on solid ground. This resoluteness has infected other people who are also engaged in the difficult battle for truth as people with twisted values put more premium on and lap up “PR truth over the legal, factual and moral truth.” But all these will come to an end soon.
You can’t sustain the lies and false humility forever. To begin with, authentic humility means putting the interest of the larger community ahead of yours.
Philip Ella Juico’s areas of interest include the protection and promotion of democracy, free markets, sustainable development, social responsibility and sports as a tool for social development. He obtained his doctorate in business at De La Salle University. Dr. Juico served as secretary of Agrarian Reform during the Corazon C. Aquino administration.