Saturday, 29 August 2015

Some Questions on Justice

Image courtesy of http://www.sacrecoeur-nsw.org.au/images/SCAImages/People/Social%20Justice/social-justice-300x284.gif
The “twisted ruling” of the Supreme Court, granting bail to Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile for a non-bailable case, and purportedly finding a constitutional basis to do so, showed once again how justice bends to the will of the powerful and the mighty.  One part of the story is the ability of the rich to engage better lawyers and build a stronger case (Lopez, 2009). Another part of the story is the potential for justices to exhibit partiality in exchange for a sum of money, or in order to side with the powers that be.

This brings me to an important question that I think every Boholano needs to answer – What do we mean by just?  When do we say that something is just?  How can we say that justice has been served?  I will not attempt to answer these questions here, but add some more, using recent events in Bohol as a basis for framing the questions.

  • Question 1:  Is the killing of supposedly “drug pushers” justified? 
Several people were killed last year in the province and their murders remain unsolved to this day. Radio news commentators talk about these victims as involved in the drug trade and their deaths caused by internal conflicts among people engaged in the same business. The general sentiment of the people who called the news anchors in one morning show was that the death of “drug pushers” was justified and that a trial was no longer necessary – expressing dissatisfaction of the state of our criminal justice system.

This seeming lack of care of lost lives prompted Boholano cultural icon Marianito Luspo to write a short play entitled “Sa Umaabot nga Kangitngit” (The Impending Darkness). The play talks about an old woman and her granddaughter discussing about the murders happening in the community, with the old woman saying that the murder of suspected drug traders are justified, until she knew that her son and daughter-in-law were one of the victims.

  • Question 2:  Is it just for a local government unit not to spend disaster risk reduction and management funds?


The Bol-anon United Sectors Working for the Advancement of Community Concerns, as part of the outputs of the Enhancing Citizen Engagement with Open Government Data project, found out that only 11.83% of the City Government of Tagbilaran’s 61.8 million annual budget on disaster risk reduction and management in 2014 was spent. Further, they also found out that the 41M budget (part of the total DRRM total budget) on mitigation was also unspent for the same year. 



BUSWACC argued that the amount could have been spent for trainings on disaster preparedness, assistance for those affected by recent earthquake and typhoon (e.g. Senyang), or for local-planning on disaster risk reduction and management.  The fund could even be used for vulnerability assessment, given that the vulnerability of the city to natural disasters is high.  The Department of Interior and Local Government requires that 70% of the funds should be spent on early warning systems and preparedness equipments. The fund can also be used to spend for trainings, information campaigns and even post-disaster livelihood assistance.   


What do these questions (and our answers to them) highlight?

First, that most of the things that happen in our lives, at the personal and communitarian levels, present opportunities to be just or unjust. A tricycle ride, a conversation with a friend, a stroll at the park, raise questions regarding justice. John Rawls, one of those academics influential in framing social justice as a contract, defines justice in the spirit of fairness.  Thus, questions like are we giving the tricycle driver a fare fair enough fits into this conversation, and whether a fare imposed on the basis of a law or regulation is an important question in this respect.  

Secondly, how we view situations and how we act on them indicates the merger of our own personal views and the wider aspirations of the society we live in.  Like the justices deciding on Enrile's petition to bail, our decisions are biased to what our interests are, but also conditioned by the pressures we see from entities external to us. Thus, fairness may not seem to matter to some people until they become a victim of unjust structures.

Finally, justice is not a noun, it is a verb. By saying this, what I mean is that our action or inaction creates just or unjust situations.  A person with the capacity to dissent but chooses not to despite the oppressive condition he is in is unjust.  A local government unit with funds to spend for the good but does otherwise is unjust. A government that uses power to silence complaints is also unjust.  It is how we act or react to the events that happen in our lives that determines how just or unjust we have become.        

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