Law—and instrument of justice or vendetta?

Law—and instrument of justice or vendetta?

“A society of men is just only if it obeys You.” —St. Augustine

In the Philippines it is a known fact that people in power use the country’s legal system not only to advance various programs for the economy, social services etc. but also to get back at or harass political, personal or ideological enemies. This practice is not exclusive to one administration. The motive may not necessarily be rooted solely in vindictiveness. When administrations after the ouster of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos engaged his heirs to litigation after litigation, one commendable purpose was to recover the country’s lost assets and wealth after decades of Martial Law which saw both the economy and politico-social realities reduced to undeniable ruins. So far there have been limited successes but also disheartening fiascos, such as the dismissal of a number of cases. Which leads us to another factual observation.

The other reality we deal with in these islands is that having friendly or unfriendly relations with people in power can mean being at the receiving end of the blessings or wrath of the law. A lady senator, a Chief Justice and a male senator, for instance, in various instances had rubbed this government’s leader the wrong way; in consequence, they have reaped legal woes. The lady senator is incarcerated, the CJ removed from office and the male senator’s amnesty declared void “ab initio” (from the beginning). The phrase “void ab initio”, i.e., non-existing from the start, legally characterizing the CJ’s appointment and male senator’s amnesty, appears to be a clever legal way of circumventing a previous administration’s legal acts.

For theology seminarians, canon law students and priests the phrase is reminiscent of the Church’s declarations of nullity affecting certain marriages; they are also considered “void ab initio”. But we all know how such judgments are arrived at sans the least motive of vindictiveness but with the maximum consideration of persons’ highest good, including their salvation. In contrast, one would be hard put to prove that the “void ab initio” legal ploy in our country aims at persons’ highest good. People in power can always say the recourse aims at serving justice. But this claim rings hollow, to say the least. Why? One needs only to consider the fact that our judiciary, including the highest court of the land, has shown, in more than one instance, a partiality favoring power-or-influence-wielders in the present circumstances. As one ex-chief executive was wont to say, “Weather-weather lang yan (It depends on the time and circumstance).” In a word, what today’s power-holders consider legal may be rescinded by the next as violative of the law.

Meanwhile, a sine-qua-non of both democracy and a truly Christian society falls victim and is trampled underfoot—justice.

Why do we people of faith need to care? Because the law, as pope after pope have emphasized to us, is a servant of justice. Without justice no society, especially one that calls itself democratic, can stand. Or it stands on sand.

Isaiah has unkind words to those who forget the law’s mission to do justice: “Woe to those who make unfair laws and who, when writing them, write injustice in order to oppress the poor in judgment, and to do violence to the case of the humble of my people…” (Is 10:1-2). St. Ambrose, too, has this to say: “The rule of justice is plain: namely, that a good man ought not to swerve from the truth, nor inflict any unjust loss on anyone, nor act in any way deceitfully or fraudulently.”

This month being October, let me share what I call a “post-millennial prayer to Guardian Angels” whose feast we recently celebrated. Like our quest for justice they do not expire. We need their help too as we aspire and work for a truly just and peaceful Philippines.

“Angels of God, our guardians dear,
forgive us when at times we refuse to hear
your voices ringing in our ears,
when we instead listen only
to our fears.
In the face of evil
help us be and do good,
always resisting Satan as we should
in whatever shape or form
he is construed.
In Jesus’ Name let us follow you
with the certainty of pulling through.
As we walk towards life, truth and justice,
help us not to waver till we arrive at peace.
Amen.”