The psychology of GMA's pardon
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2007-09-25
It takes one to know one. It is not therefore surprising for Madame Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) to empathize with another bad ruler — her convicted predecessor, Joseph Estrada.

A good number of right thinking Filipinos are outraged over GMA’s haste in granting pardon to Joseph Estrada. The pardon is largely perceived as GMA's preemptive ploy to ward off any possible popular uprising that could eventually lead to her own ouster. It will be ironic if this happens because it will be like karma and poetic justice at work — the ousted now ousting the ousterer.

To right thinking Filipinos, the conviction of Estrada establishes a landmark in bringing a big fish to justice. Many of these right thinking Filipinos realize that we can only become a nation of God-fearing citizens when we are able to uncompromisingly mete out due penalties for those who fail to meet moral standards, even if this may sometimes mean facing a civil war.

To right thinking Filipinos, Estrada should be given free rein to reflect on how he chooses to accept his conviction, even if this may mean inspiring civil strife and disturbance in hopes of reversing his conviction and winning his freedom. But to pardon him now just because he could be a threat to peace and stability will negate the courageous victory achieved by people in the Sandiganbayan. It also sets a dangerous precedent of leniency for future convicted crooks who threaten to destabilize the government.

Pardoning Estrada reflects the rot in our Filipino psyche. Nothing exemplifies that rot better than Gloria Macapagal Arroyo whose entire public service career was nurtured by compromises and cause trading.

It is not surprising that during her troubled rule, the CBCP found itself in continuous turmoil in trying to fulfill its role as moral guardians of the flock. From the murder of unarmed political activists to the theft of elections all the way to the rampant operation of jueteng — the CBCP has had its hands full in policing this product of a Catholic educational institution.

I consulted a psychologist of the rich and famous of Metro Manila society who also happens to be a GMA watcher about how exactly to fathom the psychology of this present ruler. How does GMA formulate her moral judgments?

My psychologist friend referred me to study Harvard University's Lawrence Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development which I did.

Kohlberg theorized that there are six stages in man’s moral reasoning which becomes the basis for ethical behavior and these are:

1. Obedience and punishment orientation — This is the stage where the person recognizes that what is moral is what will not draw a punishment.

2. Self-interest orientation — The person is guided by self interest, what is good for her is the moral thing to do.

3. Interpersonal accord and conformity — Here the person typifies our traditional politician with their sense of morality founded on "I scratch your back and you scratch mine."

4. Authority and social-order maintaining orientation — At this stage, the person realizes that we are all part of a society and therefore must respect an authority and follow a norm for social order.

5. Social contract orientation — The person now recognizes the ideal of the greater good for the greater number and lives by the norms of democracy.

6. Universal ethical principles — The highest stage, the person now recognizes that moral behavior is pegged on universal ethical principles. Very few reach this stage.

Following Kohlberg's model, we can see where the problem of our leadership lies. Most of our leaders are stuck in the first three stages. In fact, some of them may not even be in stage one (behavior guided by what won't draw punishment) as they continue to commit what they know are high crimes (like plunder) and only use their genius for evading punishment.

In the case of GMA, I see the strong interplay of the first three stages — the fear of punishment, the powerful craving to serve self interest and the horse trading. Relate the personal circumstances of her misrule — scandals galore, the stealing of the 2004 elections, the over 800 activists murdered and so forth — and we have here one scared or paranoid person who may be anxious to set the stage for her own pardon when her time comes to face the bar of justice.

Joseph Estrada is in no position to mount anything near that May 1, 2001 assault on Malacañang Palace. He may draw sympathy but few will want to go out of their way to fight the authorities in order to free him.

All this talk of pardon in exchange for unity and reconciliation is all about GMA crying for her own forgiveness and setting the stage for a similar extension of leniency when it is her turn to account. In her heart, GMA knows that there is God's justice to face and the forces of karma to contend with.

For both Erap and GMA — let justice prevail!

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