Making a Deal with the Devil: The Faustian Bargain


[Photo source:]

By Andrew Lim

When ancient man figured out that living in groups, specially large ones was more advantageous, he quickly learned how to make a deal- get something by giving up another.

The deal could be between two entities: a modus vivendi, or internally, with one’s conscience.

In German legend, Faust was an intellectual who made a deal with the devil: in exchange for his soul, he gets unlimited knowledge and pleasure.

Sometimes, I think the Filipino version of Faust is the foolish Catholic: I will do as I please during my time on earth (which includes committing evil in the pursuit of good), but ask for forgiveness at the end, because everyone is forgiven anyway.

It would be a lot of fun if we could develop an algorithm- if it was possible -that could compute how humans calibrate their interests and its valuation but let’s try it here.

In contemporary Philippine politics, forces in play can be understood by studying the types of deals they enter into. What follows is my analysis/opinions of the various players and the bargains they have made. Throw in yours.

I would not be surprised if President Duterte made a similar list in his mind pre-inauguration to keep these volatile forces in check and squarely in his camp.

Philippine Left (legal and underground) – Duterte dangled Cabinet jobs and a ceasefire and the Left bit. This effectively froze the most organized ideological grouping in the country. The new democratic space enticed them, as well as the opportunity to push Marxist agenda, and a chance to rest and regroup. But it could also be due to the opportunities for intelligence gathering – just think of how much intel those cabinet members and their staff can collect while on official duty.

VACC, diehard Duterte supporters– The ferocity of personalities like Uson and Jimenez is riveting. My view is that their advocacies are a way of quenching an unquenchable thirst for vengeance, since the pursuit for justice for the murders of their loved ones did not end well. In the same way abused children have a strong tendency to become abusers themselves if not treated, victims of violence can become unhinged, unaware they have turned into monsters themselves.

Father and son Pimentel– a brand name for integrity and anti-dictatorship in the Marcos era, but their moist eyes for federalization make them look the other way. Most likely, they believe this is the only chance federalization will ever get. Very interesting to probe this further, considering both are highly intelligent persons. How do they make the moral trade-offs, specially with regards to the Marcos burial?

Marcos, Arroyo blocs – Pretty straightforward motivations. Freedom from the arc of history that may be long but bends towards justice; wealth preservation, a chance to revise history.

Senators Sotto, Pacquiao, Gordon, Cayetano and other lawmakers– cafeteria Christians, I call them. Sotto is a stalwart of Couples for Christ, Pacquiao is a tabula rasa for any preacher. They pick and choose whatever doctrine suits them while blatantly ignoring others.

Business sector– For them, business continuity is the most important thing in the world; only when this is threatened can you expect resistance.

Those who voted for Duterte – It is the tragedy of the Philippines that a huge chunk of its population are woefully informed and ignorant. Ignorance leads to exploitation, poor information leads to poor decisions.

It was as if people were told last May 2016: “I will lead you to heaven but you have to hold my hand, pointy fingers and all, and come down with me to the dungeon.” And 16 million said yes.

Those who gave up their freedoms for a little more bread soon find out that they lose both, since they could not complain anymore about the lack of food as well. Ask the countries under the former Warsaw Pact alliance.

Fr Joel Tabora S.J. , president of Ateneo de Davao is a man you may characterize as having an intuitive feel for the eternal, and how it contrasts with the ephemeral. Formerly a staunch supporter of Duterte, he now believes, “… it is better to battle evil on the side of God, rather on the side of the evil one.”

In no uncertain terms:

If I must choose between going to hell with President Duterte in pursuit of the war on drugs in the Philippines or going to heaven with Abp. Soc Villegas because neither he nor any of the Catholic Bishops of the Philippines “find pleasure in the death of anyone who dies” (cf. Ezekiel 18:32), I choose going to heaven with the CBCP, even if their company and their language is neither as colorful nor as entertaining as that of the President.

In another blog post:

We are called to do good, and avoid evil. Not to do evil to do good. We are called to protect life, not kill it. There is no politician who is God, and no party discipline that silences conscience.

There are parallels with the US – amongst conservatives, Republicans and newly converted Trump supporters: we will look past the pussy grabbing, the racism, the conflicts of interest, the outright lies – if Trump delivers on the economy, or pushes back on culture issues like abortion, cuts back taxes, makes America feel safe. The difference is that what drives this is not ignorance or poor information, but desperation – e.g. the huge swaths of American industrial heartland gutted by automation and cheaper labor overseas.

When a man makes a deal, the character of that person and/or the intensity of his desperation reveals before your eyes.

37 Responses to “Making a Deal with the Devil: The Faustian Bargain”
  1. josephivo says:

    “When ancient man figured out that living in groups, specially large ones was more advantageous”

    Yesterday I watched a documentary on warrior chimpanzees. Over the years they had 2 types of leaders, the machos, the strongest males fighting their way to the top, and the politicians, forging strong coalitions with other males to topple the alpha-male in group. This living in groups is older than man, so are politics.

    • Vicara says:

      Our current Chimp-in-Chief is both kinds–the alpha male who worked his way skillfully (if murderously) to the top; and the politician-datu who makes alliances with anyone and everyone.

      • andrewlim8 says:

        It is amusing to note that in the current brouhaha over that episode of “Madam Secretary”, the name of the Phil president is “Datu Andrada”.

        I think it is a consensus that the country is really tribalistic, still even after 2000+ yrs since Christ.

  2. karlgarcia says:

    The VACC is complaining about the Death penalty bill that has passed.
    True they are surviviors of the victims of heinous crimes, so they ask why a watetered down version has been passed.

    They should not worry because they have Paquiao in the senate who will preach that even Jesus has to go through death penalty and the death penalty is so in the bible.


    This peace talks promised by Duterte was nice during the campaign period.

    But, it resulted to more KFRs by the Abus, more infiltration and infestation of ISIS, and consolidation of the NPAs.

    His backup plan. Going around military camps, attending all functions like PMA ceremonies.
    As long as their is an illusion of support, he can sleep at night.(I mean at daytime)

  3. NHerrera says:


    In the classic Faustian Bargain as you stated, Faust bargained for bountiful knowledge and pleasures during his earthly life in exchange for going to hell (or selling his soul to the devil).

    I believe you covered a good percentage of the groups which made a pact either directly or impliedly with the Duterte Administration — Philippine Left, VACC and diehard Duterte supporters, Father and son Pimentel, Marcos, Arroyo blocs, the cafeteria Christians of Senators Sotto et al, Business sector, and those who voted for Duterte.

    I believe that the groups in the list with the exception of the voters which I will describe in the next paragraph are getting something in different forms for a little inconvenience in the end — not a classic Faustian Bargain. The Marcoses and the Macapagals, the Businessmen, the Left, the Sottos will only be little inconvenienced even if Duterte is forced out of office. Okay, a little stain in their reputation — but what is that in politics, especially of the PH kind.

    Now the group which is really in a Faustian Bargain, although most didn’t appreciate it at that time are the 16M voters who are mostly poor. They offered or sold their precious votes for the chance of getting the various change they thought they will get. In exchange they NOW KNOW that the illegal drug war victimized most of their poor kind. This is truly a Faustian Bargain.

    • NHerrera says:

      If I may amplify what I posted above. I focused on the Faustian Bargain of the 16M mostly poor voters. But I want to add that the other groups had some sort of bargain too. But it is in the nature of an unwritten political transaction — you do this for me and I do this for you. In effect it is not a pact with the devil or a Faustian Bargain. It is more like Pact between Devils.

  4. chemrock says:

    “Sometimes, I think the Filipino version of Faust is the foolish Catholic: I will do as I please during my time on earth (which includes committing evil in the pursuit of good), but ask for forgiveness at the end, because everyone is forgiven anyway.”

    I have been a free thinker for major part of my life, but inclined towards Buddhist thoughts. I am a Catholic now and your quote is one of those anomalies that disturbed me in my pre-Catholic life. I believe there is much more to it, there is something deeper, and I am trying to understand the deeper philosophical rationale. I think being a Catholic does not mean one cannot still prescribe to certain Buddhist thoughts. In fact there is a school of thought that believe Jesus had spend time in Western India where he certainly was immersed in Buddhist ways.

    In Buddhist fashion, everything is explained away under karmic rules. So can we say the present political and human rights situation in Philippines is the peoples’ collective karma? It sure is hell of an easy way out to explain things at individual lives. But it does not seem within the realms of plausibility for a philosophical rational to apply at national levels. Then again you mentioned the 16m who sold their souls. Perhaps there is some karmic algorithm that collates each and every choice and action of everyone that the universe factorise and here we are living with the consequences.

    • sonny says:

      Chemrock, I’ve not practiced Buddhism but in my younger years I’ve reflected on karma and reincarnation as the parallels of original sin and its consequences in Christianity. That there is reasonable logic in what I understood within rewards and punishment as consequences of acts of good and evil, this is what I understand about Buddhism and justice. As a Catholic I subscribe to the theology of Original Sin, hence my belief in the Ten Commandments and the Moral Theology as enunciated by the teachings of the Catholic Church. Yet, because of the reasonable logic of Buddhist Karma, I have to remind myself always to be on guard and be alert to the differences between the Buddhist “code” and Catholic teachings on the roots of good and evil. I will refer this question to this article relating to this theme. Your thoughts will be well appreciated. God Bless.

      “… karma is a perpetual cosmic system in which consequences of all actions follow as effects. Unlike the Christian notion of a perpetual Hell or eternal life in Heaven, in Hinduism, such celestial stays in svarga (heaven) and naraka (hell), respectively, are always temporary, in proportion to accumulated karma.”

      • karlgarcia says:

        How come karma in the Philipinesis some sort of punishment or some sort of badluck because of past sins? Buti nga nakarma ka, ang bilis ng karma,etc.

  5. josephivo says:

    For me it feels that for many it is business as usual, jumping on the train that has all the goodies. Only for Cayetano it is you said, he sold his soul to the devil, all his non-verbal’s are so clear, his rationalizations so exaggerated.

    I admit that my sample of neighbors, taxi drivers and casual encounters is too small to make any conclusion, but in this post-truth era everyone can shoot opinions. So my feeling I that for a lot of voters it has to do with mirror neurons. Most humans have a lot of them, they fire when we see others doing something and they even create similar feelings as their analogue real neurons. When we see an action creating pain (happiness or whatever), the mirror neurons fire the same action and create the same feeling. There is however a big variation in the number of mirror neurons between people as there is a big variation in pain resistance. I you have a little threshold for pain a good functioning mirror neurons, you will really feel pain seeing someone else’s. My observation is that Filipinos have a lot of this mirror neurons. So a lot of voters share the feelings of the president when they see him, and they like these new feelings of toughness, aggression, fearlessness, godlike superiority. These became their own deep feelings too, producing dopamine and the like, as getting addicted. Their support runs deep, emotional, unquestionable, real.

    • That is less of politics, that is more like the feeling people get when their soccer team wins. For this kind of identification, there has to be the feeling that the person is a bit like oneself.

      Many poor Filipinas loved Imelda’s Cinderella story, felt pretty with her inspite of everything.

      Lots of simple Filipinos who feel strong (maybe for the first time ever) with their Duterte?People just a little bit more educated than them have been putting one over them always, even if it is when they go to the bank or government office and are randomly harrassed.

      • When Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict, the German tabloid Bild Zeitung brought the headline “Wir sind Papst” => “We are Pope”.

        Imagine Pacquiao, the masa would be thinking “We are President”, for real now!

    • The mirror neurons are firing for power and stardom, things completely absent in the lives of commoners, but are not firing for the deaths of brothers, sisters, friends, neighbors and innocents, something that touches everyone but apparently does not register. Perhaps they have had their fill of suffering already and don’t need to get in touch with it via the mirror neurons. Rather interesting . . .

      • josephivo says:

        Positive reinforcement is 10 times stronger than a negative one. Also the addiction started before the killings. And even for some the killings give a positive feeling, vermin being exterminated.

    • karlgarcia says:

      Cayetano’s exaggerated rationalizations will be needed in all his justifications of EJK to the UN, to AI, to all human rights bodies.
      Let us see if he is more decisive than Yasay or he will flip flop every now and then.

  6. edgar lores says:

    I would add FVR to the list. He wanted to pay for his sins during martial law and wanted to stay relevant. He was critical of PNoy and relished the role of playing kingmaker. In this, he succeeded but in his continuing judgmental disability, he chose the wrong candidate to crown as king.

  7. edgar lores says:

    1. It strikes me that the reason crime now flourishes is that there is no punishment. No fitting punishment, that is.

    1.1. In the Faustian bargain, one gains one’s worldly desires in exchange for one’s soul, which the Devil will immediately take possession of after emitting one’s last breath. The future punishment the Devil imposes is eternal damnation.

    1.2. In the surreal bargaining table in our country, one gains the riches and the position one desires and if one gets these, one does not lose but rather gains a degree of immunity from punishment. The degree of immunity is in direct proportion to the magnitude of the riches and the height of the position one attains.

    1.3. Power promises impunity and absolute power promises absolute immunity.

    1.4. This is as far as earthly punishment or, rather, reward goes. But in the Christian cosmology, the threat of non-earthly punishment has been diminished, if not totally erased, from modern man’s consciousness. The Devil may be real but he has become a godfather, and hell is no longer an imagined realm and even less a physical one. So death has lost its sting, and hell its terror.

    1.5. Even the Buddhist concept of rebirth is an enticement rather than a discouragement. One life is too short, and there are many exhilarating rides in the circus. Not to mention the unfulfilled items on our bucket lists.

    2. If the fear of jail and eternal punishment no longer deter men from crime and its forbidden but succulent fruits, what then can be done?

    2.1. Especially in our society where participation in crime – being in league with the Devil — is encouraged. If you denounce crime or sit on the fence, you become an outsider. And it is likely that you will be accused of being the criminal!
    2.2. I am almost persuaded to advocate a return to biblical justice. ”And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.” Congress would be a hall of one-armed bandits.

    2.3. There are still many bars to wrongdoing. External influences would include parental, spousal, and peer disapproval. There is the fear of one’s children being shamed. And there is the law and international censure.

    2.4. In the deficiency of external controls, it seems the greater bar is this internal thing called conscience. Supposedly everyone has one but the size ranges from microscopic to elephantine. Very few men develop a significant sized conscience much less an elephantine one. Mine is about the size of a lovable quokka. The majority of politicians possess microscopic ones, and that means conscience is largely absent.

    3. Conscience is generally innate but it can be developed. How?

    3.1. I would say through empathy and projection. If one can imagine the loss of potential and the grief of survivors in the death of a loved one, even a drug addict, then one would refrain from killing. And if one can imagine the happiness of the poor with having sufficient food on their tables for three daily meals, then one would refrain from stealing from the public purse.

    • NHerrera says:

      Yes, that sounds realistic enough in the PH setting — the greater the goodies or riches from the pact with less than the devil himself, the more he enjoys earthly immunity and if he is the “foolish” Catholic which many of the Filipinos are, he still gains HEAVEN in the end through Purgatory if he confesses his sins on his deathbed, which may be assumed to be contrite enough with his foolish or crazy conscience AIDING him: because the prospect of HELL prods him to be contrite as hell.

  8. NHerrera says:

    Off topic

    The nice thing about TSH is that any thing we discuss here is not a single story — we look at the different stories or angles if you will on any topic. This is especially true of the Filipino story and many blog topics have been posted here and commented on the Filipino and its story.

    If you have about 19 minutes to spare you may find it worthwhile to see the video of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a talented Nigerian novelist-writer, tell the TED Talks audience about “The danger of a single story” about a country or people. We know this general concept of course in TSH but it is refreshing to hear her speak on the subject.

    • edgar lores says:

      NHerrera, thanks for the video. She’s funny and witty — and a truth sayer. (I have read “Half of a Yellow Sun” but not “Americanah.”)

      We are seeing the power of the narrative in our lives — for good or bad. I think The power of stories must be coupled with the power of our intuition, critical thinking, and discernment.

      • NHerrera says:

        Agree: a mind filtering and analyzing mechanism — through critical thinking, etc. — is needed. Ideally, it should be automatic to each of us. The exact mechanism is of course personal to each of us and probably honed through the years from parental advices- conversations, observations, education, readings. If only the youth can decrease their FBing and cultivate this personal habit as a hobby. Useful too in one’s gainful work.

        Re Chimamanda Adichie I am impressed a novel of this talented writer did not escape you.

  9. Oldmaninla says:

    Filipino way equals the combination of three cultures, plus American authoritarian way
    namely Malay Muslim plus Chinese plus Spanish,
    and we accepted that US political democracy in the Philippines for 70 plus years…did it succeed?

    Malay Muslim and Chinese way of life were with us for centuries long before the Spanish came in 1521. Spanish way of life was imposed to us for about 350 years, 1550 – 1898.
    US authoritarian for 48 years, 1898 – 1946.
    US democracy way style for 71 years.

    Will Philippine democracy succeed? How?

    Filipino diaspora is ongoing………..

    • Oldmaninla says:

      Filipino diaspora is the cream of talents flowing out from the Philippines soil, currently counted as 12 million Filipinos all over the world. Out of 100 million Filipino population inside the country, 12 million are outside in major cities around the world. This Filipino overseas population dynamics is unique in modern history……….and is still increasing.

      • karlgarcia says:

        When you left in the seventies(?) is it because of Martial law,the economic situation, The Philippine style democracy,none of the above, or all of the above?

        • Oldmaninla says:

          I think, the Filipino diaspora bottom line is not ideology but better pay and opportunity for better life for the next generation in progressive host countries. Sadly, in general, I see, the Filipino national patriotism is not a big factor to stay in the country because the economic opportunities are centered among the groups of Chinese, Spanish and large US economic business network groups plus corruption is a standard practice. I think when the new Filipino middle class progressively increases only then, possibly diaspora will decrease, otherwise Filipino talents diaspora will continue………good or bad ?

          • karlgarcia says:

            I have well to do relatives and friends who opted to leave, but generally it is for greener pastures.

            Universities must prepare for jobs of the future and partnering of the British Council and CHED is a good start, there should be more of these partnerships.

            Threats that the BPOs will face from Mexico is not just me sounding like a broken record,but this might happen if we do not shift to other countries and use our presence globally by offering BPO to non US clients.

            And Automation must not scare us, I said the jobs of the future maybe different but there will still be jobs, it is a matter of phasing out courses with zero jobs to offer.

            • sonny says:

              Neph, venturing out a guess:

              on Mexicans taking over BPO-like jobs as in the Philippines: it won’t happen soon, there is not enough Mexicans available to do as Filipinos can. This is from both BPO-entrepreneur and BPO-worker side. Filipinos’ have more of can-do and will-do attitude than Mexicans, IMO.

              • sonny says:

                It seems like oldmaninLA pegged it right: somehow the layers of Malay-Muslim-Spanish-American-neoFilipino did the trick! 🙂

              • karlgarcia says:

                My concern are the deportees who leaved in the US for more than 20 years.
                They know the US more than Filipinos.
                If they reach 2 million they can easily erase our 1 million strong BPO sector.

  10. edgar lores says:

    I just saw the picture accompanying the article, and it gave me goosebumps.

    Surely, a reaction of horror. But a sign of guilt as well?

    The devil’s fingers and nails are talons — and we are caught in death’s grip.

  11. NHerrera says:

    Off topic

    Is this a case of a habit difficult to control? This time it is Benham Rise.—dnd

    MANILA – China may be casting a covetous eye on Benham Rise, over which the Philippines has undisputed claim in the United Nations, with a possible agenda: scouting for sites to park its submarines, the Department of National Defense (DND) hinted Thursday. In fact, one Chinese survey ship figured in an accident.

    Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana made the revelation on China’s forays in the Benham Rise area at a threat assessment forum in Camp Aguinaldo on Thursday. According to him, Chinese ships have been spotted in the area located in Northeastern Luzon. Lorenzana said satellite photos and incident reports provided the basis for his alert.

  12. karlgarcia says:

    If you made a deal with the devil, the airport personnel should be the first to know, or else prepare for a tongue lashing.

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