Eye for an eye

12:34 AM August 04, 2017

The Biblical saying (yes, it was a Biblical saying) of an eye for an eye was natural. It was natural for that time, and it covered millennia and remains natural for today’s time though serious efforts are in place to reverse it. There are now about 55% of the countries in the world that have abolished the death penalty, the equivalent of an eye for an eye in heinous crimes. Many, however, still retain it. And some, like the Philippines, want to re-impose it.

I am not writing about the death penalty, I am writing about the continuing practice of eye for an eye. It is not evil. It cannot be. Or else, it would not have been a worldwide practice, or be mentioned in the Bible as an application of justice. I accept that for Christians, Jesus did promote a radical contrast when He said forgive and love one’s enemies, to offer the other cheek when slapped. That exhortation has slowly seeped in after two thousand years, in law and in practice, but not without difficulty. And, as mentioned earlier, almost half of the world does not offer the other cheek but extract the equivalent of a crime.


There have been to my recollection three incidents where high-profile personalities suspected to be drug lords have been killed in a very controversial manner. It is not controversial in an eye for an eye situation if they were really guilty of plying the drug trade and must have been responsible for many deaths themselves plus many more lives destroyed. But, of course, in a country of laws, suspects are apprehended, prosecuted, and hopefully convicted and imprisoned.

A country of laws has to be effective in making fair laws, in strictly enforcing them, and in penalizing lawbreakers. In doing so, citizens can understand what it means to be a country of laws. But if the same country, despite having the laws, would be remiss in enforcing them or swiftly convicting those who violate them, people will understand the eye for an eye principle more. And will accept it when applied to wrongdoers of crimes that strike fear in the hearts of many.


There are by now a few million families that have been directly affected with a drug user member, and more millions who are indirectly affected because they are friends or relatives of drug addicts. If the President is more or less accurate in his pronounced estimates that there may be four million drug users in the country, that means 20% of families are directly affected. I would venture to say that these families could have wished that those responsible for corrupting their family members to the drug addiction would disappear or die with such horror as they are inflicting on drug addicts and their families. That is eye for an eye, a natural reaction.

It should not shock those who are vehemently against extrajudicial killings that the President is still rewarded with a high trust and approval rating. It simply shows that the country of laws has not been felt to be such, not by the majority of the people. It is no secret that Filipinos do not feel a strong sense of justice in the land. Sad but true. It is like elections where no one loses, only cheated. Losing parties in a litigation often claim the same thing – they were cheated, the judge was bought, the justice system favored someone, especially the rich and connected.

The suffering of the families, relatives, and friends of drug addicts, and eventually the fear of these addicts once they reach the stage of paranoia and violent behavior, cause the widespread tolerance, even acquiescence, of extra-judicial killing. It is difficult to prove that they were extrajudicial killings in the first place, but even so. Because on the ground, the community where the victims belonged to knew what the victims were doing, how they lived their lives and had caused concern among innocent neighbors. Yes, most unfortunately, innocent lives have been taken also, but crimes have claimed innocent lives all the time. In other words, no one likes it but everyone lives with it.

I like a country of laws. Extra-judicial and vigilante killings are scary but less scary that a country of laws where justice is skewed to favor the rich, powerful and connected. They say there are about 7,000 of these unexplained killings, but a flawed justice system the whole population. The innocent are forced to choose between two evils, and the evil that hurts less of them will be tolerated and, sometimes, celebrated. Rather than condemning those who accept or tolerate the extra-judicial killings, those who understand the eventual price society has to pay for retaining the eye for an eye principle may as well focus their energies to actively raising the bar of justice.

Because fear is a powerful driver, and the greater fear is the more powerful driver. Choosing between two evils is choosing between two fears. The fear of drugs, the criminals who sell them, the corrupt politicians and policemen who protect them, and the drug addicts who become crazed and violent, this fear can be greater than people who take the law into their own hands. Gosh, our children even idolize super heroes who do not work within the ambit of laws, who simply go by their judgment of right or wrong.

It is not enough to bash President Duterte. He is but one man, already 72 years old and, by his own admission, even sickly. He is only responding effectively to the fear he has long smelled in many Filipinos, he tells them he will protect them and save them – and most believe him. Instead, take away the fears of the people in ways that may not have a steep price to pay somewhere down the line. Make a country of laws become one in felt reality and not in paper. Stand up for this cause against all odds, and many wrongs will simply fade away.

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TAGS: Bible, death penalty, eye for an eye, Glimpses, Jose Ma. Montelibano
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