Of Sophists and Pharisees
OFF TANGENT - Aven Piramide (The Freeman) - August 2, 2020 - 12:00am

One day, a long time ago, I attended an affair where Rep. Eduardo Gullas was the main speaker. He opened up his speech with a statement that carried a huge impact beyond its obvious simplicity and humility. Congressman Gullas said “confession is good for the soul”. In this column today, let me imitate Sir Eddiegul as I confess that there are two words, among many, that I hear often but I have never fully understood their meanings. The first word is sophistry. A teacher of mine in college spoke of sophists. Unfortunately, I took the word for granted that I did not come to know what it really meant. In the homilies given by priests, we hear “Pharisee”. This is the second word. Yet, I have not fathomed its true meaning. As if it just breezes through into one ear and out the other, my best personal translation of Visayan idiom “mo sud sa usa ka dunggan lapos sa pikas dunggan”. I hope that this confession is good for my soul.

Having realized my ignorance about Sophists and Pharisees, I tried researching for their meanings. What shallow learning I discovered about these words, brought me some chills. They are not descriptive of ordinary minds. In fact, they refer to learned people. But, they use their profound thoughts for some devious ends. Consider this. The internet tells me that a sophist “is a person who reasons with clever but fallacious arguments”. On the other hand, a Pharisee, according to the dictionary, is “a self-righteous person, a hypocrite”. Both words seem to be cognate.

Let me share with you why my late interest in these words. What triggers me to attempt to learn even just a passing understanding about Sophists and Pharisees? The hearings of the two committees of the House of Representatives on the franchise application of ABS-CBN, that’s what. Somehow, I have to admit witnessing obviously learned men in action. Their reasonings were very clever. Who can juxtapose a simple constitutional provision on citizenship with an undefined notion of allegiance as to make me think that what was written in the 1935 Constitution had far more unexplained ramifications as to make a certain Lopez a non-Filipino? Oh, some Sophists did!

When I went back to the Constitutional Law books that I used in almost 40 years of teaching the subject in Law school, I could only see the fallacy of their reasoning. Believe me, I can defend this position of mine against the conscience of the 70 lawmakers who spelled the death of ABS-CBN. Their votes against the network brought chilling effects.

During the so-called first quarter storm, I marched with student-rallyists and shouted “oligarchs, imperialists and fascists” to pursue our pronounced idealistic dreams. In witnessing the televised franchise hearings half a century after our massed street demonstrations, I thought I could relate myself with a few lawmakers. To dismantle the Lopezes was, to them, to dismantle the oligarchs. But when it became clear that a high official targeted the Lopez family for some perceived personal grudge, the social cause against oligarchy lost its foundation. I could not help but to categorize the concerned legislators as Pharisees to mean like members of an ancient Jewish sect, distinguished by strict observance of the traditional and written law and commonly held to have pretensions to superior sanctity. What hypocrites!

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