Loyalty or faithfulness is the strongest and most enduring bond a human being nurtures in his heart, his sinews for another person, his parents, his siblings, his life partner. The bond is ritualized in the marriage ceremony – ‘til death do us part. Most of the time, it is an unwritten pledge; in the old days, it was celebrated with the blood compact. The pledge of loyalty to the revolutionary Katipunan was signed in blood. This loyalty is not just to people; it can also be for an ideal, an organization, or a nation. If it is for a nation and it is betrayed, it becomes treason, a supreme crime sanctioned by death. Loyalty can, of course, be tested, and all through history, stories of these tests are instructive – they are what men live by.
The Bible has several of them. In the Book of Genesis, there is Abraham, the father of the Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. God tested him – make a sacrifice of his son, Isaac, and when he was about to kill his son, he saw a ram caught in a bramble nearby, and it was the ram that was killed instead. Then, there is the Book of Ruth – when her husband died, Ruth decided to follow and serve her mother-in-law. And Job, that poor man – God tested him, too, and he lost everything he owned. But even in distress, Job never left God.
From the ancient Greeks, there is the glorious story of fidelity of two friends, Damon and Pythias. In 367 BC, Pythias was accused of plotting against the tyrant Dionysius and was sentenced to death. Pythias asked to return home to Syracuse to bid goodbye to his family and settle his affairs. The king refused, he knew Pythias would not return. It was at this point that his friend, Damon, suggested that he take his place – that if Pythias did not return, he would die in his place. The fateful day came without Pythias, and when Damon was about to get executed, Pythias arrived; the boat that carried him was captured by pirates; he was thrown overboard, and he had to swim to shore. Dionysius was so impressed by their friendship and loyalty that he pardoned Pythias.
Let us now head for more recent examples of such iron loyalties, to Japan where such a virtue is commonplace. The tests are severe.
After Tokugawa triumphed, defeated all rival clans and united Japan, he asked one of his leading followers to illustrate his loyalty by killing his wife. He did Hara-kiri – suicide as atonement for failure is a tradition in Japan. It reached its goriest and, to the Japanese, its loftiest glory during World War II with the Kamikaze pilots that rammed their planes on American warships.
I met a Japanese student whose father was a pilot who trained them, how on their last night, they had a good meal with sake, then as they boarded their planes, wore white bands on their heads. Their teacher, according to my informant, always cried, remembering them.
In the district of Shibuya is the beginning of Tokyo’s first subway line, the Ginza. It is now the terminal of other subway lines – Shibuya is known as the hangout of young people. In the plaza before the station, there is a statue of a dog named Hachiko. It is perhaps the most popular meeting place in all Japan. A beautiful story known all over Japan, too, is about the dog. It used to go to the station every afternoon to wait for its master. Its master died, but it continued to keep vigil at the station until it, too, passed away.
Japanese politicians are as pragmatic as other politicians all over the world. But they don’t drift from one party to the other for reasons of personal profit. It is the same with most congresses or parliaments all over the world.
Why can’t some Filipinos remain loyal? Why do they leave one party to join another, or worse, betray their friends, their company, their country? First, they are basically pragmatic and thinking only of themselves, how they can benefit by being disloyal, particularly when they see that a particular friendship or cause may now be harmful to them.
This happens all too often when a particular political position is not popular or considered contrary to conformist morality or attitudes, or those who subscribe to such unpopular ideas are stigmatized. Or a particular friend may no longer be useful because he has lost power. This is particularly true with politicians who have become lame ducks or businessman who had fallen into bad times or bankruptcy. These are fair weather friends and the earlier they are exposed, the better. A friend in need is a friend indeed.
The absence of loyalty can easily lead to the lack of conviction, and with the absence of conviction comes the death of civic morality. We see this in the widespread corruption and worse, in the betrayal of the self and of the nation. Look back at our history, at the many betrayals from which we have yet to recover. If I may paraphrase again one of my characters, Pepe Samson, in my novel, Mass, the concluding novel in the Rosales Saga: “We are a nation of traitors… we are also a nation of ingrates… Diego Silang, Apolinario de la Cruz, Andres Bonifacio, Antonio Luna – they were all betrayed. But the worst betrayal is when we betray ourselves for a few pesos… and we don’t even know it.”
That’s it. Know ourselves, know our past, our real loyalties and, most of all, now and particularly next year when we elect new officials. It’s time we have less politicians and more government with a parliament composed of one delegate only from each province, a parliament working only one month each quarter although the president can call for a special session whenever necessary. It’s time to decongest Manila and transfer the capital to Bukidnon. It’s time we have a bigger police force and Armed Forces. And finally, it’s time we really have a government we truly deserve.
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