Moral Ascendancy

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“Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?”

These were the famous words of King Henry II of England that led to the martyrdom of his once good friend Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. The story of their friendship and fall-out is one of the most dramatic and famous since it involves the church and state. Thomas Becket rose to the position of Archbishop of Canterbury most probably because of his close association with the reigning sovereign- Heny II. Becket was very close to the king and was very instrumental in the implementation of the ambitions of the king. Thomas warned Henry against the idea of him becoming the Archbishop of Canterbury because it might end their relationship. Indeed, when Becket was elected to the position he changed his ways and his close association and friendship with the king ended. He took his position very seriously and opposed the king in defense of the church. Becket turned from friend to an irritating foe of Henry. In his rage Henry in front of his court and knights blurted out the famous statement. Other historians claim that what was actually said was: “What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?” Four of his knights interpreted this as a royal command to murder Thomas. And to appease their king they carried out the murder. They stormed the church where Thomas was praying and hacked him to death. Becket was later canonized as a saint of the Catholic Church and the site of his death became a popular place of pilgrimage.

If the situation occurred today, will Henry be charged with murder together with the four who carried out the actual killing? Will he incur criminal liability as a conspirator since his words initiated the crime? Although these may just be conjectures but instances such as this happen. The Supreme Court in an old case in discussing the concept of conspiracy said: “… as to any conspirator who was remote from the situs of aggression, he could be drawn within the enveloping ambit of the conspiracy if it be proved that through his moral ascendancy over the rest of the conspirators the latter were moved or impelled to carry out the conspiracy” (G.R. No. L-19069 People vs. Peralta et., al., October 29, 1968). Henry did not just have moral ascendancy over the knights, he was their King!

In politics, for the past days our country has witnessed drama on television and social media about the franchise of an embattled media giant. How ironic that the media organization responsible for producing and airing telenovelas that gripped the imagination and emotions of the Filipinos is now in the middle of one of the biggest telenovelas the country has ever witnessed. Without saying whether I am for or against the renewal of the franchise, I was just wondering about the motives of the congressmen who have peppered the media company with questions or issues during the hearing. Are they like the four knights who interpreted the statement of King Henry as a direct order to eliminate Becket? Is their zeal to block the franchise their way of pleasing their king in order to gain more favor from him? If so, then it might be that politics is recycling what we have previously thought mere relics of the past.

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