Are we on God's side?
(A speech delivered September 13, 2013 by retired Chief Justice Reynato Puno on the pork barrel scam)
Corruption is a perennial problem plaguing our government. Year in and year out, surveys on good governance put us among the top countries afflicted with the virus of corruption. Stories of corruption both in the public and private sectors form part of the regular reading menu of Filipinos. They hardly shock the conscience of the people.
In the last several days, however, the people appear to have broken out of their shell of indifference on government corruption. They released their righteous rage against corruption first thru the social media, then hundreds of thousands marched at Luneta, then at EDSA.
The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back is the PDAF or Pork Barrel Scandal that exposed corruption in the highest level of government at its ugliest. The Senate Blue Ribbon hearing yesterday gave us a good glimpse of the root and branch of the PDAF Scandal.
The following facts appear to be irrefutable. At least P10B of the people’s money have been irretrievably lost thru corruption by some of our legislators. I used the phrase “at least” for the simple reason that the P10B loss only represents the losses from the use of 11 bogus NGOs of Janet Napoles.
The COA has yet to investigate and release its findings on some 70 more NGOs used as illicit conduits to steal the people’s money. Also, the COA investigation has not yet covered the misuse of the PDAF of our lawmakers for the years 2012 to 2013.
More importantly, the COA has yet to reveal its findings on how the Social Fund and the Special Purpose Fund, which include the Malampaya Fund, the PAGCOR Fund and the PCSO Fund, have been abused by our government officials.
The totality of these Social and Special Purpose Funds runs to trillions of pesos, hence, in comparison, the P10B we lost in the Napoles NGO’s will appear to be just petty cash. It is also beyond doubt that the people lost billions, if not trillions of their money because some of those whom they elected and trusted to be the stewards of their money were the very ones who robbed them of their money, thru acts of commission and omission. It is also crystal clear that some private persons and institutions are involved in the criminal conspiracy to steal the people’s money.
What shell-shocked the nation is that while billions of the people’s money are being pocketed by some legislators, Congress cannot appropriate enough money to give our students a decent education; Congress cannot appropriate enough money to treat the sick in hospitals; Congress cannot appropriate enough money for the military to buy enough ammunition to safeguard the security of our people.
Given the latitude and longitude of our culture of corruption, we must be undergoing a moral eclipse in our country, a moral eclipse whose darkness has been used as a cover by the governors to inflict injustice against the governed, a moral eclipse whose shadows have been used by the wicked to oppress the weak, a moral eclipse whose silhouettes have been used by the strong to deny the poor their inviolable right to dignity, the poor who are the beloved of God.
In a battle where the people are being oppressed by their rulers, where the poor appear hopeless, where the power of the few is pitted against the powerlessness of the many, where is God’s side? To ask the question where is God’s side is to answer the question. Micah 6: 6-8 tells what side to take in this battle of unequals and I quote:
"He has told O mortal
what is good; and what
does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, to love
kindness and to walk
humbly with God."
Our Lord, Jesus Christ, reiterated this duty to do justice for the oppressed and to fight for the poor in Luke 4: 18-19 and I quote:
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
"He has sent me to proclaim freedom of the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor."
Jesus did not walk with those in high tide of power but He walked with the unwashed and the unwanted. Time and again, the prophets and Jesus warned the rulers of their time that political power driven by selfishness corrupts just as He warned the wealthy that economic power driven by covetousness corrupts.
But what does God’s justice require us to do where the rulers oppress the ruled, where law is used as instruments of lawlessness against the people, especially the poor? Does God’s justice tell us to be neutral observers? Does God’s justice tell us to be unbiased? Is there any difference between God’s justice and human justice?
There is a world of difference between God’s justice and human justice. When there is a need to vindicate the vulnerable, when there is a necessity to lift the down-trodden, God’s justice is biased in favor of the marginalized.
God’s justice is different from human justice whose essence is impartiality to everyone, rich and poor alike. This kind of impartiality of human justice is symbolized by the blindfolded lady who holds a balanced scale of justice. The blindfold and the balanced scale signify that in human justice, the powerful and the powerless are treated alike even if they are unalike.
God’s justice is different. We do not have a God who is blindfolded. We have a God who sees all.We have a God who knows all. Where power is abused, our God favors the powerless, where the rich abuse the poor, our God favors the poor. Dr. Cris Marshall very well explained this dichotomy between God’s justice and human justice:
"We come now to one of the most important insights of biblical teaching on justice: it requires different priorities in different settings. In some circumstances, justice requires a disinterested impartiality, a repudiation of all favoritism. In other circumstances, however, it demands an unequivocal partiality, a definite bias towards the interests of certain parties over those of others. God’s justice is both impartial and partial, biased and unbiased, equal and unequal, depending on the issues at stake."
While impartiality is essential in the Bible to the administration of procedural and retributive justice, a quite different emphasis emerges with respect to social justice (which deals with the way, wealth, social resources, and political power are distributed in society). Here a definite partiality is to be exhibited. A special concern or bias is to be shown for the welfare of four groups in particular – widows, orphans, resident aliens (or immigrants), and the poor.
He concludes with the powerful statement:
"Partiality for such groups (sometimes other parties are also included, such as prisoners, the sick, and the broken-hearted) is commended x xx by the nature of God’s justice, for “the Lord maintains the cause of the needy, and executes justice for the poor” (Psalm 140: 12; compare with Proverbs 14: 31, 22: 2).
(Biblical Justice, pp. 38-40)
Secondly, when we ask where is God’s side in the people’s fight for justice, we are assuming a God who is not on the safety of the sideline, we are assuming an active, not a laidback God.
God’s justice therefore demands that we do no stand still,that we take the side of the oppressed. God’s justice requires us to engage those who oppress God’s people in God’s way.
God’s way of engagement is infinite. Let us get angry with the powers that oppress God’s people but let not our anger lead to rage that runs riot. Let us get angry with those who violate the rights of the poor but let us be wary of the violent way.
Jesus Christ was confronted by the worst oppression of the powerless by the powerful we can ever imagine. During His time, the oppression of the marginalized came from the wealthy elite, and the oppression was made irremediable by the tolerance of the Roman government.
The intolerable oppression gave birth to the movement of the Zealots who espoused the deployment of violence to vindicate the vulnerable. For all their seduction, Jesus never joined the Zealots for He saw no virtue in violence. He knew that the first law of violence is its vicious continuity for violence begets violence. Jesus knew that there are no victors in violence but only victims, for violence will ultimately claim and consume even the victors.
In other words, let us not forget that God’s justice is not retribution justice but restorative justice. To quote a theologian:
"the fundamental goal of the biblical judicial system is to restore what has been damaged by the offense. Restoration is required at several levels – restoration of the victim to wholeness, restoration of the offender to a right standing in the community, and restoration of the wider society to peace, and freedom from fear and sin..."
"Punishments are often prescribed for particular offenses in biblical legislation. But punishment is a means to an end, not an end in itself...Justice is satisfied by repentance, restoration, and renewal."
Let us also remember that in fighting for justice, God's way, we will often find ourselves in the minority. Consequently, it is a fight where all Christians have to be conscripted. Each Christian is called upon to devote his time, talent, and treasure in this fight to release God’s people from the shackles of injustice wrought on them by modern day Pharaohs.
In this struggle, a Christian has no right to be useless, a Christian has no privilege to be idle. Christians will be doing battles with the Goliaths of injustices but let us take comfort in the thought that in God’s hands, the speck, the small, the insignificant, the slingshot can make the big difference. In the book “The Mustard Seed Conspiracy,” the author Tom Sine reminds us:
"Jesus let us in on an astonishing secret. God has chosen to change the world through the lowly, the unassuming and the imperceptible… That has always been God’s strategy – changing the world through the conspiracy of the insignificant."
Let me conclude by reiterating that in fighting for the redemption of God’s people who are oppressed, we are on God’s side. We are on the side of a God who is a God of rescue, a God of power, a God of the impossible. Let us remember that our God does not call us to do anything without empowering us thru the Holy Spirit. Our call is to be available to a God who is able. I leave you the assurance of 1 Peter 3: 12-14:
"For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
and his care are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.
"Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not be afraid of anyone and do not worry."
(1 Peter 3: 12-14)
Yes, let us rise, march forward and be not be afraid.