Naked discipline

AT the start of my Army career, I was already conscious about preserving the legacy that my father Salvador built in his 36 years of illustrious service in the military. I painstakingly took efforts to carry the onus, especially on the matter of discipline, lest I tarnish this heritage. The officers and soldiers I met always associated discipline with the Mison brand in the uniformed service. After all, my father once prohibited all soldiers from drinking alcohol in the entire Basilan province when he was the provincial commander in the seventies.

It was a solid form of regulation that tested the level of restraint, and obedience, of these uniformed men. Over time, on top of that fear of disappointing my father and destroying his name in the Army, I took to leadership and management principles anchored on biblical doctrines as my way of doing things right. These standards serve as a lamp illuminating each path that I had to take, as if they are interlaced with the goals that I had to reach. In the legal profession, of which I am a member for quite some time now, I encountered a handful of judges and practitioners who share the same principled discipline.

Of all the magistrates I met, one judge stood out. In the late nineties, he and I were faculty members at the College of Law of the University of the East. Now an esteemed Justice in the Supreme Court, Japar Dimaampao is a beacon for all those who are in the judiciary. Though he wanted to pursue agriculture as a degree, he ended up taking accounting then law studies, at the encouragement of his father. What is admirable about Justice Japar is that ever since he donned the black robe, his integrity remains beyond reproach. In his office is a large frame with an inscription of 2:255 of the Holy Quran, which states, among others, “To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. Who could possibly intercede with Him without His permission? He fully knows what is ahead of them and what is behind them, but no one can grasp any of His knowledge—except what He wills to reveal. His Seat encompasses the heavens and the earth, and the preservation of both does not tire Him. For He is the Most High, the Greatest.”

In the Bible, Psalms 24:1-2 offers a similar theme: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him. For he laid the earth’s foundation on the seas and built it on the ocean depths.”

For Justice Japar, his faithful reliance on the power and presence of an Almighty God makes him practically incorruptible. “God always watches over me,” he says. He’s not afraid to decide cases on the merits, despite threats or unholy financial offers. Justice Japar fearlessly renders judgments, ever conscious that God knows everything he does—“You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord.” (Psalms 139:3-4). Whether a Christian or a Muslim, a disciplined believer enjoys his Creator in many ways the undisciplined person cannot. His naked discipline has freed him from all things ungodly, and from all things senseless.

If only magistrates and public servants alike have this “God watching over me” attitude, judicial decisions can truly be fair and just. It is this consciousness that leads man to godliness, and, as one pastor puts it: “From right believing comes right living.” Justice Japar’s unyielding belief in an eternal authority propels him to do what is right, and to live right. It is the same awareness that summons such a form of discipline that he steers clear of anything that may hinder him from the direction of godliness. More than “fleeing” from any fraudulent or vile influences, it is imperative to “run to” God and “stay at” His presence in order to gain wisdom and observe restraint. Judges need not merely flee from sin or temptation, but they need to seek God and dwell in His Word.

During the 46th Philippine National Prayer Breakfast in November 2021, Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo emphasized that “God is watching us every day of our lives to see what we do with what He’s given us.”

For magistrates like Justice Japar, discipline to remain free from external influences entails a conscious decision. They have to intentionally invite the Holy Spirit to help them decide to do what’s best over what’s easiest. True, this self-control can be hard to acquire. But as the Bible tells us, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11).

Even athletes place themselves through years of arduous work and training to clinch that gold medal. The Greek word for “discipline” is gymnadzo, from which we derive “gymnasium.” It came from a word meaning “naked” because Greek athletes would strip off their clothing so they won’t be hindered from their goal of winning their game. Plainly speaking, in our training for godliness, we have to strip ourselves off of certain hindrances—which include money over principle, depravity over righteousness, and yes, even an extended time pouring through tattle-tales over social media!

Discipline warrants some form of difficulty and denial. I could only surmise that my father, back during his stint as Provincial Commander, focused on the goal of leading highly disciplined soldiers in combat, thus denying himself of amity and unnecessary “pakikisama” when he banned his soldiers from drinking alcohol.

Part of our goal should be fairly clear: “godliness” which, in Greek, has the nuance of “reverence for God,” growing in conformity with Him. Discipline or self-control, among many other “naked” principles, bears relevant implications in terms of developing a godly speech, godly thought life, and godly actions. Justice Japar exemplifies this principle unmistakably. My selfless inclination also tells me that there are many others out there just like him. Finding judges and practitioners who use godliness as a discipline, as believers do, is much easier than finding a needle in a haystack.

A former infantry and intelligence officer in the Army, Siegfred Mison showcased his servant leadership philosophy in organizations such as the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Malcolm Law Offices, Infogix Inc., University of the East, Bureau of Immigration, and Philippine Airlines. He is a graduate of West Point in New York, Ateneo Law School, and University of Southern California. A corporate lawyer by profession, he is an inspirational teacher and a Spirit-filled writer with a mission.

For questions and comments, please e-mail me at sbmison@gmail.com.