Human Dignity, the Common Good and Active Nonviolence

By: Benjamin T. Tolosa

March 2, 2015

Violent Extremism, Integral Development, and Catholic Social Thought

How does one respond to persistent violence and social division from the perspective of Gospel values and Catholic social teaching? During these past two months, we have been confronted with world news of horrendous and senseless violence, particularly in the Middle East. Philippine events are not in the global media spotlight, but since January 25, the country has had to face the tragic consequences of a police combat operation to arrest a Malaysian terrorist, the alleged mastermind of the Bali bombings. It led to the death not only of the suspect, but also of at least 67 Filipinos—44 police officers of the Special Action Force, 18 soldiers of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and 5 unarmed civilians. The resulting shock, grief, and anger are threatening to derail the passage of a law that would grant meaningful autonomy to the Bangsa Moro (Muslim people) in Mindanao after many years of injustice and war. Indeed the whole peace process itself that many stakeholders have worked long and hard to facilitate and make permanent is in danger of unraveling amidst polarizing rhetoric and the surfacing of deep prejudices.

This past week, the Philippines also commemorated the anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolution that ousted the Marcos authoritarian government in February 25, 1986. It was a period when the Filipino nation faced institutionalized violence and political polarization. Yet somehow victory over dictatorship was achieved through unified, nonviolent action. What stories of this time can be shared that have relevance for the dilemmas of today? If the stories of the traumatic martial law period are not just about injustice, destruction, and brutality, but also about how people can overcome violence, respond generously to a call to service despite adversity, and discover human dignity amidst seeming inhumanity, the possibilities for forging human solidarity, promoting the common good, and building lasting peace are enhanced.

EDSA was not just the four days of February 22 to 25, 1986. What paved the way for the uprising was a longer process of sociopolitical awakening, formation, organization, and practice in active nonviolence. What made this alternative attractive and viable was that following Vatican II and the social encyclicals of Pope Paul VI, there were already many efforts in the late 1960s to the early 1980s promoting social justice, popular empowerment, and integral human development. These projects were anchored on the core principles of upholding human dignity and the common good. Social formation matured into political involvement. There was an emerging climate, culture, and even spirituality of active nonviolence and civic engagement.

But the direct catalyst was the brutal assassination of Senator Ninoy Aquino in August 1983. Even as the brazen murder galvanized street protests, what was perhaps more crucial was how Ninoy’s death was seen as an act of self-giving, inspired by a profound religious conversion during his imprisonment. Fr. Catalino Arevalo, S.J. said shortly after the triumph of People Power, that EDSA as a communal faith experience was “a disclosure story—a story of a person responding to what God is asking him [or her] and that in turn moving others to respond.” It was about being stirred by the bravery and selflessness of Ninoy and Cory Aquino, the murdered opposition politician Evelio Javier, the undaunted citizen election monitors, the computer workers who walked out when they witnessed wholesale election fraud, military reformists, Church leaders like Cardinal Jaime Sin, and many others who defied the violent dictatorship. These little stories of personal calling, painstaking work, self-sacrifice, and commitment converged in a nation overcoming differences and fears, and emerging victorious at EDSA. Together, people profoundly witnessed God as present and moving in history.

How is God calling and moving through us today?

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