Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Justice under the klieg lights

Note: In all attempts to update this blog at least once a week, I am offering as a “sacrificial lamb” this piece on death penalty I entered into the Xpress Urself Literary competition by the Mamamayang Tutol sa Bitay (MTB), wherein the winners get to see their works published! The results are already out. And thankfully, this piece was among the selected essays which will be compiled in the anthology.

Not everyone is fond of the klieg lights. The klieg lights, it seems, don’t favor a lot of people, too, especially when these people are considered deviants in a society like ours, where norms are sacred and violators of which are considered immoral, unethical, and evil. When our system declares an individual guilty of deliberately defying these norms and sentences him to death, the offender is unwittingly thrust into the public spotlight, instantly becoming an icon of crime. And humans, as we are, we instantly carve their profiles in our consciousness, dangerously stereotyping them as the people who don’t deserve to enjoy the same privileges as the rest of the law-abiding citizens do.

Backtracking to Philippine history, nothing much is different. In fact, our earliest ancestors sought justice through what historians call “trial by ordeal”, where the accused are subjected to different trials to prove their innocence or guilt. For example, one method requires the accused offenders to be given lighted candles. The accused whose light runs out first is the guilty one. Another method orders the accused to dive into a river or lake with lances. The first one who surfaces is the guilty one. Strange but true. And the unconventional methods didn’t seem to bother our ancestors for their belief is rooted in the ideology that God sides with the innocent.

Justitia, the goddess of justice, stands as a tall and proud emblem of the justice system. On her left hand, she holds the scales signifying balance and fairness while on her right, she holds a sword, symbolizing the assurance that justice will always be the victor. To represent the impartiality of judgment, she wears a blindfold. This view of the justice system is so idealistic but under a dichotomous society of the rich and the powerful versus the poor and the oppressed, this is too good to be true.

It’s more than an illusion to think that justice stands by the good side of everything, for the stark reality is blatantly screaming at us that it stands by the side of whoever has the greater power over it. And when it does, it tramples upon the rights of the poor and the minorities in the society and makes them easy targets of injustice – precisely why death penalty should not be meted out as a punishment for any crime, not matter how grave it is. For the price of an innocent life is greater than the false satisfaction of retribution. What happened to their claim that everyone has the right to life? Has this basic right become a privilege, too, exclusive for the rich but elusive to the poor?

There is little reason to rejoice over the fact that our justice system is a far cry from our ancestors’ unconventional methods. Even with an improved method of trial, justice remains as blind, as deaf and as flawed as ever.

There are so many arguments against death penalty but let us get right into the core of it. Rather than clamor for the imposition of this inhuman punishment, why not lobby for the correction of the flawed justice system – the system that is slow, discriminatory, and corrupt?

They always say that we should teach these people a lesson. But Anon puts it best when he counters, "Does it make sense for the state to hire murderers to kill defenseless victims on death row, in order to prove that hiring murderers to kill defenseless victims is morally wrong?" No, it doesn’t make any sense at all. Nor is the state safer when it punishes a person through killing for it hasn’t been proven that death penalty effectively curbs the crime rates.

For once, let us be what we are – humans, with a heart and with a soul that feeds compassion for others. Humans who will give the others a chance to live life free from the guilt of their sins. For once, let us be the children of God -- forgiving, loving, and unselfish.

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