Monday, June 9, 2014

Looking Through Christian Eyes: the Pork Barrel Scandal

As the criminal menagerie of the PDAF scandal continues to grow, I worry that in the end the guilty parties will get what will amount to a get-out-of-jail card from the Aquino government. There are several reasons why I fear that this will happen, not the least being Filipinos’ historically ultra-Christian take on hoodlums in high places.

When I make the point that Filipinos can sometimes be too Christian for their own good, I refer to Filipinos’ exceptional appropriation of Christian teachings, particularly the teaching where Jesus implores us to forgive our enemies. What other explanation can there be for Filipinos who watch the wheels of justice sputter and die out with nary a word of protest when maximum legal deference is granted to a big name politico-criminal? From Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos to Joseph Estrada to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to Ping Lacson, transgressing Filipino leaders have more than once benefited undeservedly from the people’s pardon. When it came time to put away these criminals, the people turned the other cheek---to use the language of Christian doctrine---and let the thieves escape in the night.

What Filipinos’ Christian beliefs lack in the way of justice and impunity they make up for in religiously creative thinking. The Christian appeal to turn the other cheek when someone has done you wrong is an essential sacrifice that is wrought upon humans. But what Christianity omits is the price that is paid in the here-and-now for turning the other cheek.

The urgent need to prosecute and punish pork barrel wrongdoers is seething with the people’s anger. Complementing their anger is the Philippine government’s will to action, the will to do what is right in putting away the hoodlums in the senate and elsewhere. The administration of Noynoy Aquino owes it to the Filipino people to pursue these criminals to the full extent of the law. But a question that has to be asked is will the administration raise the scales of justice to a whole new level of honor and integrity? Or will it succumb to the illegitimate perspectives of powerful political incumbents who are the self-appointed guardians of the nation’s blood and treasure?

I can foresee a scenario that would ultimately lead to the exoneration of the PDAF politico-criminals. I can foresee this dire scenario because it has already been played out repeatedly going back to the Marcoses’ circumvention of justice over the course of recent Philippine history since their removal from power in 1986. I can foresee the wheels of justice being floated in suspended motion at the end of day, thereby allowing the criminals to get away with it yet again.

The pattern similarities between cases of crimes in high places in the Philippines are striking: from the Marcoses to Joseph Estrada to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to Ping Lacson to the PDAF ring, it is more than clear enough that the general sequence in all of them follows as such: allegations of corruption emerge, leading to a major investigation; the investigation is ridden with legal technicalities and waylaid by stalling tactics by the accused; the investigation leads either to conviction of accused or exoneration due to lack of proof; in the case of conviction, the convicted serve nothing more than a nominal sentence, usually house confinement or thereabouts; ultimately the convicted gain pardon or release from jail.

Here’s an example of what could happen: Juan Ponce Enrile has made it his calling to dodge justice in his corner of the criminal world. For a long time Enrile has, through accentuated persuasion and coercion, molded a portrait of himself as being guiltless of any egregious misconduct. In the Filipino spirit of Christian clemency and respect for the elderly, the wily old Enrile will probably never see a day in jail even if the worst of the pork barrel scam hits him head on. His advanced age will preclude incarceration and the forgiving Filipino people will absolve like the good Christians they feel that they are.

As the Filipino people’s anticipation of punitive justice hangs in the balance, I want to take one last moment to reckon that the people will not let the PDAF perpetrators off the hook. All conscientious Filipinos not only have to commit to joining forces against the disgraceful tendency among public servants to take the money and run---they have to persevere in doing so whatever they think the Bible tells them.


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