Let there be justice with mercy

opinion September 16, 2016 01:00

By Pornpimol Kanchanalak

Special to The Nation

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He has been in prison for more than a year. Two weeks ago, he lost the sight in his right eye. When he was finally taken to a state hospital two days’ later, he was told the blindness would be permanent. The doctor informed him it was too late to do anyth

He was told he had a blockage, aka Central Retinal Artery Occlusion (CRAO). The cause of CRAO is a clot or embolus forming in the neck artery from the heart. The clot blocks blood flow to the retina and hence the damage. The underlying causes of CRAO are high blood pressure, cardiac valvular disease, or diabetes. All of these diseases he has. Years ago he underwent angioplasty and has been on medication to prevent further clotting of the artery. Apparently, the medication failed to stop the retinal clot.
Left with no treatment options, he was sent back to the prison with a high dose of blood-thinning medication. He now walks with a cane.  He’s afraid of falling down. If that happens, God forbid, the bleeding will not stop easily. His world was not only cut in half vision-wise, it got a lot dimmer, literally and figuratively. Worse, something he had been trying with all his might to hold onto in order to survive in the hellish environment, is slipping from his grip. He has served only one year out of 18. His appeal was denied. He is 65 years old. He suddenly realised that the dark road he has been travelling for the last 400 out of 6,570 days is a circle. It is taking him nowhere except downwards into a pitch-black and airless pit.
His crime was being an executive at Krung Thai Bank at the wrong time when it approved the wrong loan. He is not the first, nor will he be the last. As a government-owned bank, Krung Thai has been utilised by politicians in power as their off-budget spending source.
On August 26, 2015, when the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Political Office Holders handed down the verdict on the Krung Thai case, the political officeholder central to the case didn’t even show up. In fact, he had been AWOL (absent without official leave) throughout the trial. In his absence, 25 people were sentenced to terms of between 12 and 18 years in prison. Their combined age exceeds 1,500 years.
Considering the egregious nature of the crime and the amount of money involved, a good many people cheered the verdict. Finally, politicians were sent a message that they could no longer get away with murder. A schadendfreude and eureka moment for the common man.
But on a different level, human suffering is not confined to the 25 individuals who were imprisoned.  Their families and loved ones will have to travel this treacherous road with them, for no the fault of their own. Visiting the subhuman terrain of the prison makes one realise why they put people in jail as a punishment in the first place. Taken away from a person is not just their freedom but also their dignity, the very two attributes that make life worth living, all in the name and for the sake of justice.
Pope John Paul II once said while people appealed to the idea of justice, experience showed that other negative forces had gained the upper hand, such as spite, hatred and even cruelty. He repeatedly said human justice was “fragile and imperfect”, and therefore must be exercised with the support of mercy.
The relationship of justice and mercy dates back to antiquity. One of the deepest thinkers on justice and mercy was Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). He defined justice as the cardinal virtue whose aim was the common good. However, Aquinas acknowledged that there were occasions where the faults and flaws that brought justice into play did not have their origins in unjust motives or conditions, but were caused by ill-fated circumstances that perhaps were beyond human control. That was when he said mercy must enter the scene. Aquinas called mercy the greatest of all virtues: “Justice without virtue is cruel. But mercy without justice is the mother of dissolution.”
The question of the relationship between justice and mercy marked the development of Western civilisation from the outset. With the Christian proclamation, justice and mercy stopped being alternatives. They became virtues that are not only interconnected but also indispensible to each other. In their symbiotic relationship, consideration of human dignity consideration becomes the crucial compass.
Isn’t it about time we Thais pondered this age-old question of justice and mercy? If the query seems too philosophical and dull, think these specific questions – what if you were in the same shoes and walked the same miles as the man described above. Think of other 24 lives caught up in this crisis, one of which has already ceased. Think, what if it happened to you, or to your loved ones. Think, what if you had to pay with your freedom for the sin of others. Think of the isolation, the pain, the fear and the tears you cannot shed but must fight back until they rot your soul. Think of the time when you begin to believe you would be better off dead than alive.
Maybe by doing that, we will realise that it is perhaps time for mercy to enter the scene.