in Asian Church and Culture (ISACC)
On the surface, granting former President Joseph Estrada executive clemency may seem like an act of compassion. In reality, it is cheap grace.
A pardon is an act of grace. It is a concept borrowed by jurisprudence from the biblical idea of ‘unmerited favor,’ meaning that the offender is spared the penalty for ‘sin’ or breaking the law, not because of any merit in him nor of any circumstance that might lighten his case, but because the punishment has been paid for in his behalf by someone else – the Son of God himself. For God to forgive, his own son had to be sent to the cross.
The demands of justice had to be met before God could pardon our sins. Because he is just, he did not seek reconciliation by simply sweeping things under the rug. He did not issue a general amnesty and bury our guilt and grievances under a show of bonhomie. Instead, in his mercy he stripped himself of immunity, took upon himself our humanity, and suffered the full horror of what it means to die the death that we deserve. As the writer to the Hebrews put it, “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.”
Forgiveness is costly. It is premised on repentance, on acknowledgment of wrongdoing. Estrada goes scot-free without bowing to the court’s judgment that he is guilty. We do not expect from our leaders a ‘moral revolution’; only that those who profess to have seen the light should, like Zaccheus, show signs of true repentance by admitting wrong, asking for pardon and making the necessary restitution.
Likewise, we deplore the undue haste with which has pardoned Estrada, betraying a gross moral callousness over the seriousness of his crime. Hot on the heels of the revelation that the President is implicated in the ZTE scandal, the timing arouses suspicion.
Leaders set a moral benchmark for the nation. The President’s free-and-easy pardon, coming just a month after the Sandiganbayan declared him guilty of plunder, mocks our justice system and further erodes faith in the rule of law. It sends the signal that the powerful can commit a heinous crime and run free just because they can threaten mayhem on those who uneasily sit in power.
Justice and mercy go together. This is what the cross tells us. Without justice, compassion becomes collaboration. We call on our people to resist the drift towards indifference and moral corrosion and make our leaders accountable for the corruption of this nation.