Burning coals

The popular phrase “hell has no fury like a woman scorned” conveys the concept that a woman who has been betrayed is more furious than anything that hell can conceive. This line immediately invites a host of elemental sentiments like hatred, fury and revenge. Probably more so of the latter as the disparaged woman could be concocting plans of getting even. In those instances, the score normally involves uncontrollable aggression, as flying plates or knives are quite expected from wives once they see their husbands with another woman.

Applying this phrase in modern times, and in a larger scale, a person scorned or hurt by another behaves viciously and irrationally. Improvising and implementing a plan to exact revenge can last for an eternity to those who nurture an insatiable grudge. Philippine politics are filled with these stories of revenge.

Angered during the 2016 presidential election by refusing to air his campaign ads, President Duterte has repeatedly blocked the renewal of media giant ABS-CBN’s franchise. While the network’s franchise expired last year, most observers believe that the President’s declarations, expressed all throughout his term and even amid a pandemic, serve nothing except to retaliate against the channel. His predecessor exacted revenge against his own enemies as well, but in a more subtle manner. Then President Noynoy Aquino steered the wheel of revenge when he “prompted” the impeachment of the late Chief Justice Renato Corona, supposedly beholden to former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. PNoy was reportedly infuriated by Corona when he led the Supreme Court in granting a temporary restraining order lifting the Departmen of Justice watch list order against Arroyo, among others. Aquino finally got his revenge as he managed to influence the Senate into impeaching the Chief Justice, principally on grounds of erroneous filing of Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN).

Decisions of scorned persons as those above-cited, whether motivated by vengeance or not, have far reaching consequences. In the process of carrying out his revenge against ABS-CBN, President Duterte practically limited the platforms where government can spread useful information to the general public during one of the longest lockdowns in the world during this pandemic. Because ABS-CBN has ceased operations, a considerable number of the Filipino people were left with little or no means of getting informed. No one can ever quantify the impact of the closure of this media network in the middle of a pandemic in terms of lives lost or jobs saved.

As for the SALN, I used to fill up these forms quite unintelligently as I considered them as one of those typical non-consequential submissions. As PNoy weaponized the SALN, or non-filing thereof, it has been used rather indiscriminately after Corona was removed from office. Despite the opinion of the Civil Service Commission that errors in these mandatory submissions could be corrected and do not constitute a grave offense, the SALN has so far been used for a purpose not originally intended. Former Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno was practically removed, not by way of impeachment but by quo warranto, due to similar grounds—the non-filing of the SALN. Justice Marvic Leonen faces a similar vengeful act, using the same weapon, as a consequence of his seeming opposition to the electoral protest filed by former Sen. Bongbong Marcos.

The scorn-revenge story in our political scene has taken on such a filthy color that it could pass as compost when viewed in light of the Duterte-de Lima conflict. The President has had his vengeful sights on Sen. Leila de Lima since the latter launched an inquiry on the former’s alleged involvement in death squads in Davao. When she led the Senate hearings on extra-judicial killings and Duterte’s war on drugs, de Lima had to be punished in the eyes of the scorned person. Trumped-up drug charges have justified the continued detention of a sitting senator. Not satisfied to the fact that de Lima has been in isolation for the past four years, President Duterte has gone as far as calling Senator de Lima “an immoral woman.” As a result of this vengeance process, critics of President Duterte have been silenced for the most part, a few UP activists included. In his inaugural speech, US President Joe Biden said, “If you do not agree with me, then so be it,” this is the essence of democracy. But because de Lima was “silenced” and detained, a significant degree of checks and balance was trimmed down, which has reverberated into a deafening stillness and fear among the public.

Any act of revenge is always an act of vindictiveness—cruel, unkind, nasty. The disappointment is more pronounced when retaliation is committed in the halls of government, as ethics standards and integrity are tainted by the ostensible abuse of power. We reckon that any wrongdoing ought to be corrected, but by the use of legitimate means. Yet when such measure of correction is embroiled in a motive of exacting vengeance from the ones in authority, it leads to debauchery and loses its lawful context. Stronger mechanisms for an effective implementation of standards of ethical conduct, integrity and good governance for public officials ought to be considered. Interestingly, a paper released in February 2001 by Howard Williams of Transparency International cited the minimum set of principles endorsed by most modern Civil Service Ethics laws. Quite the abomination of retaliation, fairness as a doctrine of good governance was cited in the paper where “Civil servants and public officials should make decisions and act in a fair and equitable manner, without bias or prejudice, taking into account only the merits of the matter, and respecting the rights of affected citizens.”

In human relations, when we feel that we are upset by somebody else’s actuation, how we respond speaks strongly about our character. More than the parameters of fairness, we should rely on the Biblical principle that someone far higher than any authority gets us covered in the face of our enemies, and in the presence of those who have wronged us. Romans 12: 17-21 resonates this tenet: “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” This is what my friend told me as man’s opposite spirit—doing the unexpected.

When we extend kindness instead of revenge to those who may have wronged us, we heap upon them feelings of shame that will be painful to their spirit, like coals of fire burning over their heads. Kindness and love shown to those who wronged us should convict them into changing their ways. When people betray or offend us, we have a choice to make: bless their lives through acts of love or curse them through acts of vengeance. Blessing the lives of our enemies is in fact a commandment as the Bible tells us in Matthew 5:44, “But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!”

Thus, whenever we find ourselves at concocting some poisonous liquid for our enemies, we should act in the opposite spirit. Best to show kindness and not vengeance! Burning coals on our enemy’s head is 100 percent more effective than releasing a komodo dragon to nip out his leg!

A former infantry and intelligence officer in the Army, Siegfred Mison showcased his servant leadership philosophy in organizations such as the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Malcolm Law Offices, Infogix Inc., University of the East, Bureau of Immigration, and Philippine Airlines. He is a graduate of West Point in New York, Ateneo Law School, and University of Southern California. A corporate lawyer by profession, he is an inspirational teacher and a Spirit-filled writer with a mission.

For questions and comments, please e-mail me at [email protected]

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