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Cruel and unusual

CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - March 5, 2021 - 12:00am

Back in the day, when I was involved in the construction of what is now known as Discovery Paradise in Busuanga, Palawan, one of my responsibilities and challenge was how to enforce house rules, discipline and punishment. It was a tricky balance given the fact that I had to deal with locals who knew each other intimately or were related to each other and were not accustomed to outsiders until our arrival. Some had gone to the “Big City” and that sort of thing but their only constant input from the outside world was primarily from AM radio. From a personal point of view, I found the burden of being the judge and jury rather unpleasant and was constantly on the receiving end of “tampo” or hurt feelings from those I had to discipline. It was necessary and I was convinced that my strictness was what kept the peace on an island with 80 or so men and only a handful of women. As my spiritual mentor back then, Mr Peping Bonifacio, told me: “It would be a greater sin not to correct them or to punish them as warranted.”

So I carried on that way until I read about how Jethro the father-in-law of Moses pointed out that it was not wise to spend all the time being judge & jury or addressing every detail or question brought to him by the Israelites. Jethro instructed Moses to split up the responsibilities and appoint leaders or judges based on a set number of 10 – 50 – 100 people etc. and let those individuals deal with day-to-day matters while Moses focused primarily on his service to GOD. I immediately called for a meeting and appointed a council of elders who would hear, discuss and pass judgment on any individual who violated rules on the island. It did not take long for the council to hear the case of  “Fernando the Bankero” or boatman who brought me to the airport and decided to get drunk for the next three days, leaving people stranded on the island. The council of elders acted swiftly and suspended the boatman for an entire week!

Upon my return, the council members proudly informed me of their swift action, and the suspension of the drunken sailor in their midst. I on the other hand groaned out loud, almost regretting the set-up I created. As they scratched their heads, bewildered, I praised them for their faithfulness to the rules, but I pointed out that suspending the man for seven days was also denying his wife and children money to buy food for an entire week, not to mention the humiliation it has caused him before his peers. The council of elders was formed in order to benefit from the knowledge, wisdom and experience of its members in addressing the reasons for a violation and how to discipline or punish in order to correct and not to display the degree of power the members have collectively. The harshness of the punishment was evidently an attempt to show me that they were capable of punishing their associate without pity or favor. Unfortunately there was also no wisdom, no compassion and it seemed almost vengeful. I eventually trimmed down the suspension of the bankero to three days and the council of elders were admittedly relieved with the correction.

I was reminded of this real life experience when I read about how former Ambassador to Brazil Marichu Mauro was recalled back to the Philippines, stripped of her title, dismissed from the service with the “accessory penalties of cancelation of eligibility, forfeiture of retirement benefits, perpetual disqualification from holding of public office and barred from taking future civil service examinations.” If I read correctly, even Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin described the President’s decision to throw the kitchen sink at Mauro as “harsh,” and that’s coming from someone who can cut people down by combining a few words and a razor blade stare.

Harsh hardly describes the intensity of punishments meted out to Mauro, whose act of maltreatment is nothing compared to what has been taken away from her many times over. Yes, she maltreated her household helper but to deny her every avenue for redemption, correction and livelihood, I can only describe as cruel and unusual punishment. Even a former lady Ambassador Victoria Bataclan was quoted in the Philippine STAR as posting on social media where she said: “Justice for Ambassador Ichu Mauro….! That was one grave abuse of discretion Mr. President, Mr. Secretary, for what certainly was not grave misconduct.”

In general, organizations and institutions have an established number of options or punishments relative to the degree of the offense and the willingness and truthfulness of the accused or charged. It’s a menu of options that can be used in combination on the lower or lighter end of offenses and becomes severe only in extreme cases. Unfortunately for those who are subjected to presumptive judgment by social media, the outcome is often to their disadvantage, and under a government or political environment where the cart is placed before the horse because the President or social media roared the loudest, whatever rights the accused are suppose to enjoy often end up in the trash bin. Yes, former Ambassador Marichu Mauro was unkind to her helper but does that justify completely and totally destroying her life by an act of extreme injustice? As the saying goes, you do not correct one mistake with another mistake. Unfortunately, it is more than a mistake; it is cruel and unusual punishment.

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E-mail: utalk2ctalk@gmail.com

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