Sula: Amnesty and grace

AT THE height of the public restiveness triggered by President Rodrigo Duterte's sudden voidance of the amnesty granted to Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, the cool and collected Justice Secretary Meynardo Guevarra was quoted comparing amnesty to grace.

He couldn't have been more correct: both means the same. In the conversation of Christians, which presumably Guevarra is, grace means that one gets what he doesn't deserve. Amnesty, from Guevarra's viewpoint, conveys the same.

Biblically, one can find assurance from Isaiah 1:18 wherein God proclaims His amnesty, first to the people of Israel, and subsequently to all Christians. It reads: "Come let us reason together. Though your sin may be as scarlet, they will be white as snow and though they be red as crimson they will be as wool."

The net effect of this divine proclamation is that anyone that accepts grace has a new, fresh clean slate, as if nothing really happened and, therefore, nothing can be remembered. This truth is further reinforced in other verses in Bible, in particular Jeremiah 33 wherein God says "your sins I remember no more."

Interestingly, both amnesty and amnesia appear to have the same root word in Greek which basically means to forget or to not remember.

In legal conversation, I understand, amnesty implies working backward to undo an offense committed by one by simply forgetting what wrong one has done as if he has done nothing. In this case, forgetting or not remembering is faithfully and deliberately willed. Since we, humans cannot do that like God does, we do it some other humanly possible way. And we have institutionally made that happen through a legal instrument called amnesty.

Unfortunately, by Guevarra's subsequent actions or his principal's, he doesn't walk the talk. It's something that boggles the mind, given this deep understanding of amnesty and grace. If God acts the way he does, every sinner who has accepted His grace, is, to use an infelicitous term, in deep muck.

Fortunately, that is not the case.

Even the Supreme Court, in its decision over Trillanes's petition, seems to have glossed over this truth. Amnesty, like grace, is final. You cannot walk back on it. You cannot reverse it. It is dependent not on the beneficiary's performance but on the giver's generosity. There is a word for it: integrity.

Even the framers of the 1987 Constitution must have understood the meaning of amnesty. In the Charter, there is a provision for the granting of amnesty by the President with the concurrence of Congress, but there is none for its revocation or withdrawal.

A lawyer friend of mine, once a legal adviser of the late Ninoy Aquino, used to say that what the law does not include, it excludes. Our Constitution is considered to be the highest law. And, obviously, what it says has been set aside in favor of political correctness. Sad but understandable in the context of what or who we deal with in the current dispensation.

Former UP law dean Pacifico Agabin was blunt about the core issue: voiding Trillanes's amnesty is unconstitutional.

And we go back to its definition to understand why, apart from the fact that the Constitution doesn't provide for its voidance.

This country would have been spared some troubles, including the harmful effects of inflation and Typhoon Ompong, had a real understanding of amnesty was shown by every well-meaning lawyer in government, instead of issuing legal gobbledygooks that only resulted in standing truth on its head.

We can be a much better nation if stupidity is given a shorter leash.


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