Bernardo M. Villegas
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Common Good

            Time and again, we have to remind ourselves that the common good is not always the "greatest good for the greatest number."  In a democracy, there are many instances in which the two concepts coincide:  the election of public officials, the allocation of the government budget, the reform of land ownership, the setting of public utility rates, etc. etc.  There are, however, some very important public issues that cannot be decided by majority vote.  Examples are the right to life of certain marginalized individuals, the freedom of religion, and the right to form a family.  In these cases, the common good--which is enshrined in the Philippine Constitution of 1987--should be the operating principle.  This concept has been contributed to the modern world by the social doctrine of the Catholic Church.  Let us, therefore, review how the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the common good.

          We read in paragraphs 1903 to 1911:  "By common good is to be understood 'the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.'  The common good concerns the life of all.  It calls for prudence from each, and even more from those who exercise the office of authority.  It consists of three essential elements:

          "First, the common good presupposes respect for the person as such.  In the name of the common good, public authorities are bound to respect the fundamental and inalienable rights of the human person.  Society should permit each of the members to fulfill his vocation.  In particular, the common good resides in the conditions for the exercise of the natural freedoms indispensable for the development of the human vocation, such as the 'right to act according to a sound norm of conscience and to safeguard...privacy, and rightful freedom also in matter of religion.'          "Second, the common good requires the social well-being and development of the group itself.  Development is the epitome of all social duties.  Certainly, it is the proper function of authority to arbitrate, in the name of the common good, between various particular interests' but it should make accessible to each what is needed to lead a truly human life:  food, clothing, health, work, education and culture, suitable information, the right to establish a family, and so on.

          "Finally, the common good requires peace, that is, the stability and security of a just order.  It presupposes that authority should ensure by morally acceptable means the security of society and its members.  It is the basis of the right to legitimate personal and collective defense.

          "Each human community possesses a common good which permits it to be recognized as such; it is in the political community that its most complete realization is found.  It is the role of the state to defend and promote the common good of civil society, its citizens and intermediate bodies."

          The above-mentioned principles should make it clear that the State is a completely indispensable institution in every society.  Together with the family, as the individual social unit on which every society is founded, the role of the State is also founded on natural law and  cannot be abolished.   If in a particular country the Government happens to be a corrupt institution, the solution is not abolition but of reform.   Although it may be an understandable expression of desperation, the comment that the Philippines should follow the "Italian model," i.e. to make the Government irrelevant to the attainment of the common of good of society because it is hopelessly corrupt and inefficient at some point of time in our political history, is  both naive and illusory.  The State cannot be made irrelevant because the very nature of man requires its existence.

          It is also becoming clear that the nature of international society requires a "world state" in some form or another.  As the Catholic Catechism states (par. 1911), "human interdependence is increasing and gradually spreading throughout the world.  The unity of the human family, embracing people who enjoy equal natural dignity, implies a universal common good.  This good calls for an organization of the community of nations able to 'provide for different needs of men; this will involve the sphere of social life to which belong questions of food, hygiene, education,...and certain situations arising here and there, as for example...alleviating the miseries of refugees dispersed throughout the world, and assisting migrants and their families."

          It is meritorious, therefore, for certain individuals who have culled their skills and talents of leadership at the national levels, such as former Presidents, Prime Ministers and cabinet members of national governments to want to devote their time after retiring from the leadership of their respective nations to such international organizations as the United Nations, the World Bank, the European Union and other international organizations.  We should be proud to see Filipinos increasingly becoming leaders of these international agencies.  They are contributing to the attainment of the "international common good."  For comments, my email address is