A community’s sense of justice is such an odd thing. In the Philippines there is currently a debate raging over capital punishment. The death penalty was reinstated approximately two years ago and since that time hundreds of people have been put on death row. The first prisoner to be executed in over a decade was scheduled to die at the beginning of January.
The newspapers are constantly quoting numbers of people who support the death penalty. Almost every Filipino I speak to is for it. The president is adamant about the need for this kind of “justice.” The lone group that seems to speak out against it is the Catholic Church.
For those who don’t know, the Philippines is an extremely catholic country. My co-workers – the ones who support capital punishment – always attend mass on Sundays and high holidays, and often on Wednesdays to boot! In the shopping mall at 6:00 PM everything stops for the evening prayer which is piped in over the intercom. Every person, all transactions. Catholic morality is evident in many of the county’s laws – no divorce or abortion for example. And yet people are marching in the street demanding blood. Even though the Philippines will use lethal injection, the streets are filled with people demanding that all death row inmates be hung or shot immediately.
The Supreme Court gave a temporary stay of execution because a bill to revoke the death penalty is in front of congress right now. The Supreme Court has received bomb threats over this move, “After all,” some say, “justice delayed is justice denied.”
Where does this sense of justice come from? I imagine that many of these people would want to put someone on death row for committing an abortion. Why will they adhere to one doctrine of pro-life as sanctioned by the church while they chide the church for supporting another? Even in their own terms of morality capital punishment is as wrong as abortion, yet they march in the street in favour of one and against the other.
And all of it is in the name of justice. What is justice? Those of us holding political views often categorised as ‘Left’ use the word often. The coalition for social justice. Justice for native land claims. We maintain ourselves and our ability to remain active by telling ourselves that what we are fighting for is right. So does everyone else. All of this could be very confusing to someone just trying to figure out what is right.
It has always been the duty of parents and society to teach right from wrong, and we hear it from pre-school on up. It is not right to hit someone, especially for no reason (and yet many of us were spanked occasionally). It is right to share (and yet we need to put our names on all our crayons). Two wrongs do not make a right.
If everyone learned from these generous words, no one should have to fight for social justice. But in the Philippines, as in many places in the world, the fight against capital punishment seems to be a losing battle. “How shameful! What a pity!” we can say from the comfort of our socially just, capital punishment-free country.
Socially just? We have our own contradictions: free speech unless you are in a school and the principal does not think your message is “appropriate,” the right to gather in public places unless it is a sidewalk outside of a fur store or meeting of important government leaders. Most of the time they do not cost someone his life, but sometimes they might.