The Common Good and My Good

I wish to make some comments on the very interesting column of Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban that appeared in the Inquirer on October 13, 2010. It concerns the Filipino concept of justice. The ideas he presented there, however, came from a lecture given by Dean Jose Manuel I. Diokno, whom Panganiban duly quoted and acknowledged.

The essence of the lecture as quoted and hence, of the article as written, is to dissect the concept of justice in the Filipino culture by examining the words Filipinos use to express that concept and other words related to it. He put forward the following words: katarungan (or justice, from tarong, a Visayan word that means straight, upright or correct), karapatan (or right, from dapat that means fitting, correct or appropriate), batas (or law, this is the word Filipinos use for law and it means command), kapangyarihan (that can mean both power and authority).

After examining these words and the concepts conveyed by them, Diokno, as quoted, concluded: “In summary, our language established that there is a Filipino concept of justice; that it is a highly moral concept, intimately connected to the concept of right; it is similar to, but broader than, Western concepts of justice, for it embraces the concept of equity; that it is a discriminating concept, which distinguishes between justice and right, on the one hand, and law and argument, on the other; that its fundamental element is fairness; and that it eschews privilege and naked power. (emphasis in the original)”

In the end Diokno, also gave another analytical definition, but this time of “social justice” which is the justice that is practiced not just between two persons (commutative justice) or between authority and subjects (distributive or legal justice), but the justice at work in a society. It is the dynamic aspect of justice as practiced in the social setting.

All this seems to indicate that Filipinos have the basic concept of justice and social justice. What I find missing, though, is the mention of a key concept related to and inseparable from justice and social justice: the common good. Do we Filipinos lack a word for this concept and so, do we lack the concept as well?

The common good is a fundamental teaching of the social doctrine of the Church. It means the good of all in a society that includes the good of each. The purpose of all law and of all structures and institutions and of justice in a society is precisely to attain the common good. The common good is not at odds with the particular good of the individual person because the common must include that particular good. And yet the common good is, in a way, a greater good than the particular good and can have primacy over the particular good provided that this latter good is not an inalienable one. It is a rather complex concept, yet very important.

In some occasions I am tempted to think that we Filipinos might lack this concept of the common good. We have a very strong concept of the particular good, my personal good. And sometimes, we assert our particular good to the detriment of the common good. Just recently I was going up to a certain town passing through a busy two lane provincial road. An accident happened somewhere along the road and so only one lane of the two lane road was passable. But soon, the road was not passable at all because some motorists invaded the left side of the road to go counter flow, wanting to pass the whole queue. Of course, this move of theirs blocked incoming traffic. What do we do now? Where’s our sense of common good here?

The concept of the common good has to do with the idea that in a problem or situation facing our society, we are all in this together. It’s either we all stay afloat or we all sink together. We cannot go on our own or think only of ourselves. A person who has a clear concept of the common good will think that if he works for the good of the society, he will also end up improving his own lot. So, if I help keep the traffic moving, I will move faster myself. And I will not help the traffic (or the nation) to move forward if I just think of myself and my selfish interests or each one thinks just of his interests.

Do we have a word for this concept? What comes to mind is bayanihan. But people usually associate this word with a whole bayan helping another person to move his house, or many persons helping a person in need, or any collective cooperative effort. Perhaps the word is there but the concept still has to develop in our minds and our culture. We all have to be aware of doing what is just so as to build our nation; and all of us can contribute our little share. This is working for the common good; this is our present day bayanihan.


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