On Redemption and Restitution

by Fernando Perfas

The Philippines’ former First Lady Imelda Marcos in Tacloban City, Philippines during the visit of Pope Francis in 2015. | Photo courtesy of Toronto Star

The concept of redemption is one of the most distinctive teachings of the Christian faith. It is based on the recognition that humans are fallible and at the same time discourages them from using shortcomings as excuse to repeat mistakes. Often associated with this act is a gesture of self-sacrifice through unselfish acts or deprivation as a form of paying back for an offense and obtaining forgiveness. This is called restitution in secular term or penance in religious term. Seeking redemption is much more than saying, “I’m sorry.” The whole notion of confession to a priest and receiving penance afterwards is based on the same principle. The practice is fundamentally sound from a psychological perspective, let alone its moral and spiritual significance. It provides an important avenue for recognizing and regaining our sense of humanity even in the face of a most atrocious crime.

The Lord Christ did not only teach it, He lived it for our sake in the most dramatic fashion. As the most populous Christian country in Asia, we are brought up to this tradition. Despite its Christian foundation, this important tradition remains chiefly a belief and seldom put to practice in the Philippines, especially by those who have committed major wrongs as pubic officials entrusted with power and authority by the people.

“What do you think would have happened if Imelda and the rest of the Marcos clan left politics after the fall of Ferdinand and instead dedicated their energy and immense resources into rebuilding the country and uplifting the poor through charitable works? Do you think most people would have forgiven them?”

What do you think would have happened if Imelda and the rest of the Marcos clan left politics after the fall of Ferdinand and instead dedicated their energy and immense resources into rebuilding the country and uplifting the poor through charitable works? Do you think most people would have forgiven them? There is no doubt in the minds of many Filipinos that Marcos, his clan, and his cronies owe unpardonable moral and material debt the country and its people. Unfortunately, none of them has made any meaningful effort to redeem himself and pay material and moral restitution by giving back to the country without hope of personal gain or profit. I can tell you though that most of them resorted to politics, a self-serving, vehicle to get the public to help them justify their actions or get validation through the ballots that they did not do any wrong.

If Imelda was true to her Christian faith, which on many occasions in the past she had publicly professed, seeking redemption would have been the normal course to take. Even if she did consider it, it would have been difficult for her and her family to do so for it would have been tantamount to an admission of guilt. So, instead, denial and finger-pointing, and finally resorting to politics were an easier recourse. It would have taken tremendous moral courage and compassion on her part to have taken the high road.

“For a country like us that prides itself as the only Christian country in Asia, it baffles me to see so many choose politics to hide their crimes and guilt, seeking political power and public approval to get a false sense of redemption.”

For a country like us that prides itself as the only Christian country in Asia, it baffles me to see so many choose politics to hide their crimes and guilt, seeking political power and public approval to get a false sense of redemption. When it comes to “sin” the true judge who sees it all, if one would only look at the devil straight in the eye, is one’s self, not the people who cannot see what is truly in one’s heart. I have yet to see a major politician who fell from grace sought redemption outside of politics by paying it back to the country and the people he had betrayed.

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