The crucifixion of Jesus Christ has an immediate relevance to present-day Philippines — the war on drugs, criminality, terrorism, and killings.
Why was Jesus crucified? He was heretical and unconventional. He spread revolutionary teachings. He upended the establishment.
Today, Jesus would have been branded a terrorist, a communist. Note that basic communist beliefs are no different from Christ’s words, except that doctrinaire communism does not believe in God.
More importantly, Jesus was for the poor, the downtrodden, and the outcast, including the criminals. Yes, including the criminals.
Jesus was crucified together with two thieves. Being a thief does not necessarily mean being condemned to hell. Being a thief does not necessarily mean being evil. Remember Victor Hugo’s Jean Valjean — the epitome of sublime goodness despite his criminal record for stealing bread to feed starving children.
Other sources believe that the two unnamed men who died with Jesus were rebels. Perhaps, the two unnamed men were both rebels and thieves. Rebellion and thievery (or banditry) do not contradict each other.
From the viewpoint of the establishment, the government has the power to force the rich to pay taxes to fund the needs of the poor. It is not thievery, but it happens through the power of coercion nevertheless. But when rebels impose their “revolutionary taxes,” authorities brand them as criminals.
Under Rodrigo Duterte’s regime, criminals including the rebels and especially the drug users deserve to die. “Shoot them,” Duterte orders the police and the military.
I recall a conversation decades ago with former rebel priest Edicio de la Torre regarding the orientation of the human rights movement after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship. The restoration of liberal democracy curbed the arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, or killing of Left activists. To be sure, human rights violations continued, but they were no longer as widespread and as brazen as what happened during the dictatorship.
This led some human rights groups to shift their attention from political rights to economic rights. The human rights advocates thought that the major decline in the number of political prisoners and the drop in human rights violations, together with the economic hardship that the dictatorship inflicted particularly on the poor, necessitated the change of focus.
But not only the Left activists but also society in general have shown a narrow or limited appreciation of political human rights. What we have belittled is the human rights of criminals. Since time immemorial, government, liberal or authoritarian, has violated the human rights of suspected or convicted criminals. Sadly, the violation of the rights of criminals is common and is accepted by society. Given this historical perspective, society has not actively resisted Duterte’s policy of having the drug users killed.
One question we ask is whether rebels and drug users should be treated as criminals. They are not innate criminals. Rebellion is a political, not a criminal, offense.
In other societies, drug use is decriminalized.
By criminalizing drug use, society worsens the situation of drug users, as they are thrown into the dirty and violent underworld. By decriminalizing drug use, we save the lives of otherwise innocent drug users.
The second question is: Regardless of who is criminal, shouldn’t he be treated with mercy and dignity? Shouldn’t his rights be respected? Torturing a criminal is wrong. Murdering a criminal is wrong. They constitute criminal acts.
The Church has taken the lead in protecting the human rights of rebels and criminals, following Christ’s words and actions.
We return to Jesus’ crucifixion. One of the two criminals crucified alongside Jesus said: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Jesus died together with two criminals, one penitent and the other unrepentant. Jesus died for the salvation of all sinners, including criminals.
And His Resurrection symbolizes that ultimately we will pass through the valley of death. That we will overcome the present horror and that we will ultimately attain justice.
Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III coordinates the Action for Economic Reforms.