President Aquino’s disclosure to a Filipino audience in Boston last week that he had wanted to exact revenge on President Marcos for the assassination of his father, former senator Benigno Aquino Jr., did not surprise most Filipinos.
It significantly confirmed, from the horse’s mouth, what Fr. Jaime Bulatao, S.J., had diagnosed in his psychological evaluation of Aquino while he was a 19-year-old student at the Ateneo de Manila University.
In the bruited report of the Jesuit psychologist, he noted about the patient:
“The patient is ambitious . . . He wants the power one day not so much to help others, but to be able to heap a measure of revenge on the people who had imprisoned his father, troubled his family, and who made his life a ‘living hell.’
“Despite the deeply rooted desire for revenge, the main complaint of the patient is depression and melancholia…”
Fast forward to May 2010, and the ambitious young man is elected to the highest office of the land. He gains the power to fulfill his fantasies. And today, he has now had four years to do it.
Aquino’s disclosure in Boston and Bulatao’s report reinforce the belief of many that his cruel and barbarous treatment of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and his autocratic removal by impeachment of former Chief Justice Renato Corona—were acts of vindictiveness for the roles they played in the nullification of the stock distribution option (SDO) of Hacienda Luisita and the subsequent Supreme Court ruling that the hacienda’s 6,000 hectares of land must be turned over to the farmer beneficiaries.
Like mother, like son
Given the psychological profile (intent) of our 15th president and the means (Malacañang’s panoply of powers), it’s not farfetched to wonder whether Aquino’s presidency, like his mother’s , is being disfigured in policy and performance by the obsession with revenge.
Many Filipinos believe that this is the case.
Surprisingly, many thoughtful foreign observers and diplomats have also given credence to the corrosive effect of vengeful desires on the conduct of the first Aquino presidency, and are keenly watching whether the second will be more of the same.
The US diplomat, historian and former consul General of the US embassy in Manila, Lewis Gleeck Jr., in his informative and incisive book, President Aquino: Sainthood Postponed, has opined that Cory’s policy of revenge deformed her presidency and caused it to fail.
Gleeck wrote: “A government cannot perform adequately if its basic raison d’etre is revenge. I am not so Christian as to believe that such sentiment is never justified, but revenge, as a basis of government, covers up flaws in both the policies and performance of government. Hatred can deform thinking that anything that the dethroned Monster has done must be seen to be Evil, and its opposite good. This was the rationale of Palace policies for the entire six-plus years of the Aquino government.”
As with the mother, so we must now fear with the son.
The striking thing about the Aquinos is that they turned our public life into the theater for their campaign of retribution.
Forms vengeance can take
The desire for revenge per se can obsess anyone, but it is the forms that vengeance can take that need to be carefully watched and studied.
One scholar who has thoroughly researched and studied the subject is Professor Donald Shriver Jr., president emeritus of the Union Theological Seminary, and past president of the Society of Christian Ethics.
In his book, An Ethic for Enemies, Forgiveness in politics, Professor Shriver surveys the forms and actions that vengeance can take, when a wrong-sufferer tries to exact revenge on a wrongdoer.
Shriver identified seven forms of just or unjust vengeance. These are, and I quote heavily from his book for my exposition:
Terror—terror is the response of amoral, autocratic powers to actions of others that they oppose. The motto of terrorism is, “For damage to one of our eyes, we put out all the eyes we wish.” The gate opens here to measureless revenge.
2. Vindictiveness—It is a first cousin to terror. Its motto is, “Two eyes for one, or a few more for good measure.” Within slight hailing distance of some restraint, the vindictive nod, at least, to the idea of proportion.
3. Retaliation—Retaliation can be defined as response in kind, “eye for eye, tooth for tooth, and no more.” The word carries this literal meaning, and its synonym should probably be “retribution.”
A special difficulty with this concept in practice is the elusiveness of exact retribution, especially when the original offenders are absent, dead, or otherwise inaccessible.
4. Punishment—Punishment applies to a wide array of social disciplines, some of which only remotely fit the offense. The motto of the punisher is, “for your hurt, we hurt in return, but necessarily in kind. Above all, we must reassert the standards which you have defied; our punishment must not defy them either.”
The latter point is the claim urged by those who believe that no society should institutionalize capital punishment.
5. Restitution, or restorative justice, has as for its motto, “Restore what was lost.”
But empirical finitude and tragedy haunt both retaliatory and restorative justice here.
Often “it” is gone forever, so that cries for justice have only the recourses already described.
6. Protest—Protest is the barest of responses in the spectrum and is the recourse of those who have no other motto than “Let us live with the loss, but let us at least name its injustice out loud.”
There are wrongs that no human court can properly punish or rectify. But to leave that fact unremarked is to abandon the cause of justice itself.
7. Passivity—Passivity , like terror, belongs to this moral-political spectrum only as a boundary.
Terrorist power and its passive objects have anomie in common—that is, lawlessness.
Terror is the “anomie of the powerful.” Passivity is “the anomie of the powerless.”
No future without forgiveness
Shriver concludes his book with this wise and prudent counsel: “Each of these forms has implications for a society’s norms for the just use of power in its institutions.”
Societies must seek a “balance between compassionate and retributive impulses.” Once they are committed to such balance, “individuals and societies can turn their attention to the question of what forms of retribution, and which forms of forgiveness, afford the opportunity of an existence that encompasses both justice and love.”
In South Africa, Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu cut through all the handwringing, declared “There is no future without forgiveness,” and then created the Truth Commission.