(This article was supposed to be appear in my column in the 2009 Holy Week edition of The Northern Dispatch. However, I did not submit it for one reason or another. I am publishing it here if only to celebrate Jesus' life as a victim of human rights violation and as a human rights advocate.)
Last Christmas, I wrote that Jesus Christ was a victim of the very thing he despised- flagrant profiteering. Christmas, which is supposed to be the observance of his birth, has become an occasion for crass commercialism. A reader sent a message to my website: “You made Jesus sound like a really ordinary human being and that makes him more interesting. I would like to read the bible to know more about the man you described him to be. ”
This inspired me to write more about Jesus as a man and to show the relevance of his life to present day concerns like human rights, activism and power. If it does not show yet, he is the historical figure I admire most.
He was indeed an ordinary man, but he also sought to be extraordinary. He communed with the dregs of society, lepers, and prostitutes among them, who were shunned by the society he lived in. He had a way with words. And he was also very political.
“Give unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God, the things that are God’s,” he told his followers. Many people, faithful Christians among them, think that this is an order to submit to authority. I have no quarrel with that, but I must qualify my assent. Jesus could not have been referring to absolute submission in all cases. The man, after all, spoke in riddles and in parables. He preached against oppression and injustice. And an oppressive government has no right to demand obedience. In other words, a submissive constituency does not belong to an oppressive Caesar. To surrender to a tyrant is to support tyranny. What does a tyrant deserve? If it has to be civil disobedience, it must be given to him/her.
Jesus was not a reactionary. Even if it was not fashionable to rock the boat, he rocked it because he had to. He made authorities tremble in fear. Here was a man of the masses who was eroding the public faith in them.. This sent the authorities into frenzied anger. He had to be silenced. They concocted a case against him. They tortured him. They summarily executed him. A typical response of a repressive State, if we consider the Philippine situation. He was a victim of human rights violation.
Filipino activists trying to be the change agent Jesus Christ was also earned the ire of the authorities. One by one, they are disappearing. In other cases, they are being murdered. Still, in other cases, they are being arrested on trumped-up charges. Their tragedies are indubitable proof of the Arroyo Regime’s unparalleled human rights record.
Jesus Christ himself was arrested and accused of a crime he did not commit. The judge found him innocent of any crime. “I find no fault in this man,” Pontius Pilate said. But he did not stop the executioners even if he had the power to do so. He washed his hands which was symbolic of his not wanting Jesus’ blood on his conscience. But with or without washed hands, he was as guilty as those who summarily executed Jesus.
Well, when Gloria Arroyo will wash her hands, that will be the day. Only people with conscience will do that. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Lady Macbeth driven by obsession for power, plotted the King’s murder and prevailed upon her husband to execute the plan. Mocked into proving his manhood, he did as she wished and he became queen while she, queen of Scotland. Nagged by guilty conscience, she began to wash her hands in frenzy to rinse out an illusory bloodstain. Eventually, she was driven to suicide, unable to make peace with her conscience.
Then in Shakespeare’s Scotland, the extreme was murder; now, in the Philippines, the extreme is a call to a Commissioner of the elections body with an order to alter figures in your favor. These days, the murder of a presidential opponent would raise international alarm and earn you antipathy votes translatable into votes for the opposition. La Gloria had the sense not to resort to that. But Lady Macbeth and La Gloria are morally related in the sense that they wanted power so much and did the most extreme to grab it. The similarity ends there, though. La Gloria still has to prove to the world that she has a guilty conscience by washing her hands.
Actually, she does not need to wash her hands. The Melo Commission brilliantly did it for her. The commission, created in 2006 to look into extrajudicial killings, implicated the military but cleared La Gloria of liability. Of course, the cleansing portion of the report was not surprising. What did you expect from a commission whose function was to investigate the crime of its creator? Maybe, we can say that she washed her hands by creating the commission that washed her hands. I have to admit that even as I propose the idea, I say that it sounds highly speculative or like what the courts would call “a claim not supported by a scintilla of evidence.”
And so it is that the more than 900 summary killings and close to 300 enforced disappearances are the crimes of Arroyo in the same manner that Pilate killed Jesus. Without dwelling on the legitimacy of her presidency, she is the Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces. All it takes for the killings to stop is for her to call an end to them. While military death squads exist, it only means she has not raised the alarm.
Jesus died in the most shameful way somebody guilty of a heinous crime could be executed at that time. Many activists today are dying in the most undignified way, some with their families left without a body to bury. And the disappeared are in torture headquarters suffering the most harrowing experiences ever known to the human species.
After the death of Jesus, more people were drawn to his teachings. The more Filipino activists die, the more the masses will be stirred to action against tyranny.
As Jesus’ blood watered the tree of Christianity, so will the activists’ blood water the tree of resistance.