Subsidiarity for soup

Subsidiarity for soup Featured

“Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity.” – Pope Francis, address to US Congress, Sept. 24, 2015

SEN. Manny Pacquiao once remarked, “I eat the same foods almost every day. I have my favorites like Filipino beef broth, chicken soup with lots and lots of rice.” Like the Pacman, we Pinoys love the accompanying broth of piping hot bulalo (beef shanks), native chicken stew, bangus sinigang, goatmeat goulash or just about any soup to go with our staple rice regardless when they’re served front, center or rear of our meals.

In formal banquets, as a means for social interaction, soups are preferably served first “to act as appetizers,” providing ample time for people to talk, discuss and catch on current affairs.

The French eat their favorite onion soup, a popular choice worldwide, at dawn or early part of the morning as a starter course. Observing mores and habits of different races, I find the French approach to their meals compelling and worth emulating. They deem eating as a pleasurable event; they prefer set meals per day, in smaller portions; they relish eating together, whether with family, friends or colleagues and they take their time dining leisurely while seated at the table.

This piece though, won’t be laying out my culinary skills or ideas but would serve as a take-off discussion point for the groundbreaking role of subsidiarity in our country, a principle Centrist Democrats like me consider as vital towards a functional democracy and rule of law, a social market economy with a level playing field and an institutionalized political party system that promote and uphold human dignity.

Our political menu thus, will observe the French’s carte du jour with subsidiarity as starter soup, on this article, to be followed next week by a mishmash on constitutional and political reforms in digestible portions and topped by a copious amount of viewfinder insights on decentralization and autonomy as ideals of good governance with federalism as main entrée, presupposing we’re all seated together on the same democratic table setting, agreeing to disagree if need be. After all, popular democracy as we know it today was inspired by the French Revolution of 1789 with its ideals of liberte, egalite and fraternite, literally freedom, equality and brotherhood.

The word subsidiarity was first coined and formally developed in the encyclical Rerum Novarum of 1891 by the Roman Catholic Church under the papal authority of Pope Leo XIII as part of its social teachings. It is derived from the Latin word subsidium which means help or support. The principle states that “individuals do not exist for the State but rather the State exists for the well-being of individuals and families entrusted to their care.” In clearer terms, subsidiarity can be understood as essentially a principle of how a society should be ordered and should function. On the lowest level of the organization, individuals and groups make decisions respecting freedom, initiatives and specific roles. The higher level’s help or support is sought only when it is clear that the task cannot be effectively carried out at the lower level. This relationship or support system will serve to safeguard the common good and maintain good order.

In a related encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, Pope Pious XI states: “It is a fundamental principle of social philosophy, fixed and unchangeable, that one should not withdraw from individuals and commit to the community what they (individuals) can accomplish by their own enterprises and industry. Subsidiarity assumes that people are by nature social beings and emphasizes the importance of social group such as the family, the church and voluntary organizations as structures favoring the development of the individual and the vitality of civil society.”

This is the basic concept behind subsidiarity, the idea that decisions should always be taken up, that is, proposed, discussed and approved at the lowest possible level or closest to where they will have a maximum impact. The principle is to help strengthen the existing network, interdependently, starting with members relative to their family; families to their community; communities to a larger government body such as a city or municipality; the latter to the region in an expanded sphere of sovereignty or autonomy and eventually in relation to central government or state.

Interrelated with subsidiarity is the act of the state in dispersing decision-making governance to lower structures, closer to the people, through decentralization, political devolution or administrative de-concentration so that the national level can now focus on more vital government functions of policy-making, coordination and control. Subsidiarity and decentralization are thus intertwined in importance they are almost taken to mean the same thing.

In all my years of work conducting CDPI-sponsored political lectures, I have to admit only a few of the attendees or even regular party members can articulate in a concise and comprehensible way the meaning of the term subsidiarity, perhaps due to the fleeting nature of the seminars and perfunctory interest of participants. Our understanding of political issues is quite limited to electoral practices, concerns about corruption and shenanigans of our politicians and paltry ideas about federalism ranked from woefully inadequate to trifling raw to practically zero. Subsidiarity as an advocacy or ideology would be under radar range and therefore largely unknown to the average citizen.

There is, I believe in the Barangay grassroots level at least, a need for serious and sustainable political education or socialization, a “process by which people learn about their government and acquire the beliefs, attitudes, values and behaviors associated with good citizenship.” Parents, teachers, senior citizens, students, workers, church associates, farmers, mass media and popular culture, through their initiatives, should undergo political orientation and become involved in community-based people’s programs, formulating and deciding upon matters that directly affect them, rather than those being dictated by anyone at the upper rung who have vested interests. It’s this concern for the common good and cooperation in the spirit of subsidiarity that Pope Francis talks about.

Subsidiarity soup, anyone?000
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