WHY IS restitution an essential part of justice?
Let’s say a gang of thieves—a well-connected syndicate, not a petty bunch—breaks into your home one night. They terrorize you out of your slumber, commandeer all your money and possessions, do unspeakable things to you and your kids. Their leader, a particularly vicious man, goes about methodically to strip you of your belongings and in fact, your basic human dignity—by beating you, torturing your loved ones and treating you like an animal. When you get the chance to do so, you make sufficient noise to call for help and rouse the neighbors, and the criminals flee. You pursue them with a slew of cases, but one by one, on account of the money they had stolen from you, the lowlifes are able to afford smart lawyers who know the system well enough to keep them out of jail.
Years pass, the crimes go unpunished, you keep the faith—but nearly everyone else around you begins to waver. Worse, even your younger kin, those who didn’t know firsthand about the ordeal you went through, have now bought into the story that pursuing justice is, if not a waste of time, a big bother, a distraction. Why this consuming need for justice and restitution so long after the crimes? It’s time to let go and “move on,” they tell you.
Would you? Wouldn’t you feel outraged at the sheer travesty of the idea—of walking away from an indelible instance of atrocity and oppression committed against you and your family simply because the knaves that had once made your life hell have the means to wait it out, while you have to contend with fragile wills, fragile resources and even more fragile memory on your end to pursue your cause for justice? You live every day with the wreckage that horrific event has wrought on your life—and your view of the world.
But then you hear the urgings by those around you—some well-meaning, no doubt—that insisting on punishment, despite the steep odds presented by your powerful adversaries and the years that have gone by, will only further scar you, divide your family, keep you chained to the past. Let others judge your oppressors, they say. You need to “move on.”
That, in essence, is what you often hear nowadays from Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as he attempts to rehabilitate his family’s name and bloody legacy by running for vice president. For all the well-documented brutality and heinousness of his late father’s rule—the numbers, the stories, the facts are there, and partisan opinions about them don’t change the cold truth in any way—he refuses to apologize for, nor even acknowledge, the ills of martial law. He has repeatedly trivialized the suffering of the tens of thousands of Filipinos who died, or were maimed, by Ferdinand Marcos’ iron fist, denying the reality of sustained and systematic human-rights abuses during his father’s regime. And with the ill-gotten billions he and his family have inherited, they have waged a cunning, sophisticated campaign to revise history altogether—to minimize the misdeeds of the Marcos era, recast it as a “golden age” and portray themselves, in the richest of ironies, as the ones oppressed.
Leaving the Marcoses unpunished is the mother lode of the virulent strain of impunity that has since afflicted the country. Every crook in government now thinks that if the biggest crooks of them all could get away with it, so could they. The template is fool-proof so far: Wait just a few years, and they’d be the toast of the town again.
Amos Wilson writes: “Justice requires not only the ceasing and desisting of injustice but also requires either punishment or reparation for injuries and damages inflicted for prior wrongdoing. The essence of justice is the redistribution of gains earned through the perpetration of injustice. If restitution is not made and reparations not instituted to compensate for prior injustices, those injustices are in effect rewarded. And the benefits such rewards conferred on the perpetrators of injustice will continue to ‘draw interest,’ to be reinvested, and to be passed on to their children, who will use their inherited advantages to continue to exploit the children of the victims of the injustices of their ancestors. Consequently, injustice and inequality will be maintained across the generations as will their deleterious social, economic and political outcomes.”
Look at how the Marcoses have reinvested their hoard—nothing less than a new history for the Philippines, and an imminent return to the great heights from which, not so long ago, they had pissed and spat on the nation. “Move on?” But why?