In spite of the hundreds of articles, memes, news, sound-bites and programs on the issue, mostly in the social media and the media networks, I have hesitated to write anything in reference to extra-judicial killing (EJK) since it became quite a buzz six months ago. Then there are the many discourses, chats and arguments that go on among friends, relatives, classmates and colleagues daily. In fact, this article will just be another tiny drop or whiff in the present downpour of protests and criticisms in the midst of the equally loud and rousing wind of support for the current drive of the Philippine government against drugs and criminality. Besides, this is not my fight at all.
One persistent massive moral voice calling for the investigation and end of hundreds of supposed EJK cases versus one defiant triumphant cheer hailing the end of decades of depravity and corruption bred by malevolent syndicates which have preyed on the helpless masses with the connivance of powerful tentacles in the seats of power – this to me is the real picture seen above the melee we see in our midst. The former, teased by the other as the “bleeding hearts”; while the latter, condemned by the other as “apathetic people in the face of the slaughter”. Somewhere behind this noisy division lies the truth.
As a corollary, what seems like a seemingly exclusive political issue (conveniently painted a bright religious color by clerics calling for students to march the streets in protest) has spawned a national debate on whether to bring back the death penalty or not. Will the death penalty put an end to EJKs or will it only conveniently convert them into JKs? Problem solved? Maybe not.
If that is not adding further to the brewing social, legal and political chaos, a typhoon never visited the Philippines! And driving rains and rushing floods have neither touched these islands! And that this country is still the Paradise its citizens see it and dream it to be. Why?
On one side, we see the spate of crimes perpetrated by people high on drugs and the now televised and “youtubized” (and, therefore, “social-media-ized”) truth that the National Bilibid Penitentiary, with the apparent connivance of people high in government had become the very center of operations in the drug trade. Which means, every drug-related crime (whether rape, robbery, hold-up, massacre, theft, murder, bribery, smuggling, etc.) comes as a result of a well-organized business (a drug cartel) enabled and freely capable of making billions of money through political and legal machinations (what we call narco-politics). The masters (drug lords) are feeding the dogs (corrupt politicians) in order to keep the sheep (the people) under control — either the master feeding the sheep directly to the dogs or the dogs freely sating themselves for the master does not really care. Drug dealers only sell and make money. The politicians and their enforcers do the killing through drugs or guns – and get paid handsomely.
To whom will the sheep turn to in this case? Remember what Jesus said about the bad shepherd who pretends to care for the flock but is a thief and a murderer in reality — a wolf in disguise? The sheep will long for a good shepherd. What does the good shepherd do when the wolf attacks the flock? Did King David get his lyre and sing a psalm to the wolf? Did he run away, leaving the flock, and called his brothers to help him? We all know the answer. If he could kill a giant with one stone, what chances does a wolf have?
We all know David became king of Israel. Yes, he was a sinful man like the rest of us. He was a warrior and killed many enemies. So, why do we dare sing his psalms so solemnly in the religious assemblies as if he never killed a lion or so many Philistines? Why do artists continue to pay homage to his courage and his deeds if he were such a despicable person?
David was the scourge of God against His enemies. They were not David’s enemies. David killed them not only because his nation was at war but because a nation was being destroyed from without and from within. No one believed God would make their country great and strong. Until David came along.
So, where do we see the law working in the life of David and the nation Israel? How do we use it to justify killing enemies in a state of war? In his case, the word of God was His law. He saw the pride of Goliath and he felt insulted for his God. No one can defy God and His people and live. His brothers laughed at him. But David had faith in the promise and word of God – his law and his justification for doing something about a great problem. His courage proved his faith in God’s power to fulfill His plans for a nation.
Today, where do we see the law working in the government and our leaders? How can we justify killing drug-crazed criminals and potential criminals in a state of war declared against drugs and drug dealers? In our case, we look to uphold the “rule of law”. And this is where all things crumble into chaotic dust, whether we are talking of human or divine law. Why? A plain citizen, a lawyer or a senator will invoke the Constitution. A father, a professor or a student will refer to the Civil Code. A broadcaster, a judge or a diplomat will cite jurisprudence. And Christians, Muslims and others point to the conflicting laws of their religions. The law is like the wind – there it is, here it is, look underneath — that is the law!
Any person can make a law and proceed to apply it. Rich people are good at it. They can build subdivisions and hire people to control who enters and who can live there. They can buy lands and do whatever they want to do as long as they pay government to protect them. Their understanding of the law is distorted by their understanding of power and where it emanates from.
When the Greeks and Romans defined the law, it was meant to apply in such a way that the freedom of one person was not to be diminished by the freedom of another. If you want to smoke, do it where you will not in any way deprive my freedom to breathe totally smoke-free air. Your smoke limits my freedom even while the sign says your freedom to smoke is also limited. Likewise, the law was meant to apply so that the suffering of one person caused by another was bound to be recompensed in equal measure. Both of these concepts are actually biblical – that is, a law coming from God. An eye for an eye, in its crudest or most fundamental form. You steal my milking cow, you replace it with a cow and the milk it would have produced during the time it was taken away. You kill a person, you stay in prison according to the judge’s sentence.
Yes, we have taken liberty at giving value to human life and human suffering in the process of defining the law. And that is why we have the Senate, the Congress and the Supreme Court. One makes the law, the other interprets. The Executive branch implements or pushes the law. And so, EJK has become the burning issue of this government and society. Senate and Congressional hearings probe into its nastiest and bloodiest details in order to exorcise what evil they may hide in order for government to prevent it and to be able to rule well. Yet, it seems the very lawmakers and law-interpreters cannot figure out what the law-pushers have done to eliminate the lawbreakers. Yes, all of this is because of lawbreakers – and they can also be found in all three spheres of government, and everywhere. Meanwhile, the people remain as divided as their government.
So, where is God in all of this? Who knows? The pope says he does. The televangelist says he does. The senator says she does. The writer says she does. Do you? With everyone pointing to God, we forget that He looks patiently, waiting for people to finally listen to His voice, not to the media or their own voices within.
Exactly how do we find God’s word or voice that we might hear Him clearly? Go back to David. Before he became king, he was a shepherd. He spent a lot of time observing sheep and the surrounding fields. He knew the habits of his flock as well as of wolves, bears and lions. He saw the waters in the streams and heard their melodious sound rushing over rocks and leaping in the air. He played his lyre and sang his psalms to celebrate the greatness of God’s creation. His whole young life was a listening to God and His ways, His laws and His judgments.
To kill a lion was a necessary work of a shepherd. Later on, to kill his enemies was a necessary work of a king. And to rule well, he needed to be a “man after God’s own heart”. He not only knew God’s law, he also knew His compassion. Yes, he failed many times for he had many enemies and many weaknesses. Unfortunately, his son would eventually cause the division of Israel. All part of the global trials that go on even now, almost every country splitting apart because people could not or would not heed the voice of God. David and his son Solomon, who both started with responsive hearts and spirits to God’s calling, were often diverted from grace because of the wealth and power they possessed. Yet, all the while, the prophets of God remained faithful to their work, declaring the wisdom and counsel of God – His law, not just written on paper but in the heart, delivered by the living Spirit of God.
There is EJK because we have pegged the law on paper and not in the spirit of the law. Or more precisely, the law of the Spirit. There is EJK, without doubt, because the written law has been overstepped or violated by enforcers of the law. But what do you do with lawbreakers who totally disregard the law, whether written or not? Criminals who respect no ruler or God? An enforcer may decide or interpret the law as this: Since the lawbreaker not only violates the law but uses the law to cover up his crime (what we will call “intra-judicial crime” or IJC), I will also apply a divine law (a preemptive eye-for-an-eye) in order to prevent the suffering or death of one or many victims of lawbreakers. It is the Robin-Hood or Dirty-Harry formula we have simplified as EJK. What the written law cannot or will not accomplish, the EJ-enforcer will decide to enforce.
I watched Paramount’s “Shooter” (click below to watch on YouTube) again and was amazed at how it came close to mirroring what is happening in the Philippines. Mark Wahlberg plays an expert sniper betrayed by his handlers and left to almost die in what turns out to be an illegal mission. Out of his voluntary secluded retirement, he was again duped into helping to prevent the “assassination” of the US president and ended up being framed for the assassination of the visiting Archbishop of Ethiopia. Wounded and hounded by the “law”, he took extreme measures to get back at his enemies, up to the highest one – a corrupt and scheming senator (a common given in fiction and reality). It was practically a case of both sides doing EJKs. The dialogues, especially at the end, provide us ammunition to either reinforce or dilute whatever reasons are given for supporting or protesting EJKs.
Wahlberg as Bob Lee Swagger may as well be the Philippines itself being tormented by corrupt officials and drug dealers and forced to take “extra measures” to address the mighty problem. That moment the Attorney General expresses his dismay at the helplessness of the law to convict perpetrators of IJCs, we also sink in despair. Until he reminds Swagger of the Wild West solution, saying in effect, “There is always EJK.”
This is not to justify EJK but to explain what is happening and what options governments have to solve the unstoppable rise of crime and corruption. Confucius and his disciples once met a woman whose sons and husband had been killed by tigers where she lived, and wondered why she never moved. She told them there were no wicked leaders in her land. The wise teachher said, “Children, wicked leaders are to be feared more than tigers!” But philosophers only discern, theorize and teach. It takes a Diego Silang or a William Wallace to be so aroused as to feed the depraved leaders to the tigers!
For better or for worse, governments are there to rule and instill order. When they fail, people despair and resort to other means they believe were given to them by God’s word and law of Creation to attain their freedom and welfare.
Blessed is the land whose rulers and people realize this truth. There is no perfect government or perfect human law. There is only the perfect God Who plants His perfect law in our hearts through His Spirit. And, like King David, only those who listen to the Spirit can attain perfect understanding of God’s mind and thereby rule righteously. His ways are unfathomable, whether in the ordinary death of a person or in times when human wickedness becomes unconscionable.
The Philippines may not be Paradise; but a day or two at her rustic countryside or pristine beaches where “life-giving breezes sweep the strand” comes close to realizing eternal bliss. (Filipinos now bundled up in the wintry regions know this.) It may not be the Promised Land of milk and honey; but it is a land with the heavenly promise of being the herald of the coming reign of truth and righteousness. (Filipinos gospel preachers living and working in almost all countries of the world know this.)
When Moses had led the Hebrews out of Egypt, they were caught between Pharaoh’s army and the Red Sea. He cried, “Have no fear! Stand by, and witness the deliverance that the Lord will work for you today. . . The Lord will battle for you; you hold your peace!” (Exodus 14:13) Moses did not wish to fight the Egyptians. They brought the war to him and Israel. It was God’s battle; and those who go against Him cannot stand. When Pharaoh killed innocent firstborn sons in order to kill Moses, the battle lines had been drawn between God and Pharaoh. God’s revenge? The death of every firstborn son of Egypt and the destruction of Pharaoh’s army. Who killed more people: Moses, Pharaoh or God?
Today, God’s enemies grow in number. He still does battle for His people all over the world. Satan will bring the battle right at your doorstep. Are you able to fight him? Who will you call to fight for you? Do you really know God’s law and how it applies? Or do you only know the laws of humans?
Next time you cry out against EJKs, think of the numerous victims of IJCs and other crimes committed by lawbreakers. Does your heart also bleed for them? Does the ruler carry the sword of divine retribution in vain? Or do you withhold that power from God and His chosen servants? Which do you hold higher: human law or divine law? Are you knowledgeable enough in either kind to be a proper judge of other people’s deeds, now and henceforth? If not, leave the judgment to those who are tasked to resolve the pressing issues, whether human or not.
In the end, even the lawmakers, judges and rulers will be judged by the Supreme Judge in Heaven. Until then, hold your peace. The battle is not yours!
(Video grab used in the photo above is from Paramount Pictures’ “Shooter” movie.)