Spirituality in politics: Diosdado Macapagal’s legacy

Published September 29, 2019, 12:35 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat



Fr. Rolando V. Dela Rosa, O.P.
Fr. Rolando V. Dela Rosa, O.P.

Is it possible to mix spirituality with politics? These two seem worlds apart, like oil and water. Combining the two is like rubbing the sublime with slime.

Spirituality can be described as an inherent human quality from which springs beliefs, convictions, and principles that we regard as most profound, most sacred, and therefore, inviolable. A spiritual person does not absolutize the here and now; he orients his life towards truths and values that are transcendent or ultimate. Spirituality, like love, is self-diffusive.  It impels a person to bring it out of the private realm and make it bear on the everyday realities that he encounters.

President Diosdado Macapagal, whose 109th birth anniversary we celebrated yesterday, was a man who imbued politics with spirituality. He believed that this was the best way to offset the cynicism, apathy, and the immense power of moneyed interests that gripped many Filipinos like a vise.

His political discourses were steeped in religious language. In his first 60 speeches as president, he mentioned the word “GOD’ one hundred times. He always remembered his firm conviction that a poor man like him, who became president because of God’s grace and providence, must build this nation upon faith in God and faith in oneself.

He explained: “To govern well, a person must sincerely have faith in his own self, his talents and abilities. If people perceive that I have faith in myself, then their faith in me is validated, reassured, and strengthened. They are thus empowered to contribute their share in governance. But my faith in myself can deteriorate into mere posturing to get public support and approval. I realized that it is only from my personal encounter and communion with the God who calls whom He wills, and who brings to completion what He has begun, that I can derive a realistic faith in myself.”

President Macapagal’s spirituality ennobled his brand of politics, and helped him avoid using his office for self-aggrandizement. In 1962, he admitted the power that he had: “If he chooses, the President of the Philippines can become a multi-millionaire in one day from sunrise to sunset. Mrs. (Evangeline) Macapagal and I, however, have vowed to God, to ourselves, and to our people, that during my incumbency, we shall not earn one centavo beyond my salary.

“As temporary residents of Malacañang, my wife and I have become accustomed to simple living. We believe that it would help the moral regeneration program of my administration if other leaders and our people, live in the same way. But we are in no position to compel anyone to follow our example. What do we mean by simple living? To me and my wife, it means frugal and dignified living within one’s means. It means neither wasteful and extravagant nor shabby living.”

He walked his talk. He left the office of the president in the same economic situation as when he ascended it. A man of great humility, he was willing to admit mistakes and to correct them at once, unlike other leaders who do everything to cover-up their mistakes, look for scapegoats, or make their PR strategists do damage control. When accused by political opponents of some misdeeds, which were never proven, he humbly said: “In the process of administering the affairs of government, we shall make mistakes but they shall be honest mistakes which we shall take pains to rectify once they are shown to be so. This is the spirit with which we shall approach these accusations hurled at us.”

President Macapagal’s spirituality oozed with hope, but he knew that hope takes work. In calling for a constitutional convention in 1963, he declared: “My opponents say that where there is life, there is hope. We submit, however, that where there is life, there must be more than hope — there must be a real opportunity for the common man to make that hope a reality. This is only possible if we rely more on God’s help rather than on our own efforts. As I have often said: ‘Let’s do our best, but firmly convinced that God will do the rest.’”