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CHICAGO – The Philippines has a government that is based on its Constitution, statutes and traditions. But from time to time, it also addresses problems by using faith-based teachings, like those found in the Bible.

In the U.S., many presidents use the Bible as inspiration in leading their country despite the separation of church and state.

President Lincoln, one of the greatest U.S. presidents, expressed his appreciation of the Bible when he said: “In regard for this Great Book, I have this to say: It is the best gift God has given to man. All the good Savior gave to the world was communicated through this Book.” 

Even President Aquino, in laying the groundwork for his opposition to  the passage of the Freedom of Information Act , invoked the Bible when he said, “The same spirit hews closely to our position on the issue of right of reply. As (the Bible) says, the truth will set you free. If two sides of a story are reported, if the details of every news are accurate and the freedom of all Filipinos to form their own opinion is valued, then any journalist has nothing to worry about, isn’t it?” 

I will not argue with the view of Aquino on the need for journalists to play fair, but it seems his opposition to the measure that would compel transparency in the name of good governance, fell flat on its face. As promoter of “tuwid na daan” (straight path), Aquino should be reminded that a journalist cannot compel a news source to speak up when he/she is hiding from journalists or is exercising his/her right to remain silent.

Doubtlessly, the Bible has been a rich source of information and has become an inspiration to many leaders in coming up with informed decisions. The Good Book also becomes handy if justifications of official acts are not found in legal statutes.

The popular use of the Bible as basis of official acts only proves one thing – moral law takes precedence over man-made law.

This has some bearing with a recent decision of the Office of the Ombudsman in the Philippines, which granted immunity to businesswoman Ruby Tuason so she could become a state witness in the pork barrel scandal.

Ms. Tuason was granted immunity after undertaking to testify on her knowledge of the cases involving the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and produce documents on the details of the alleged scam.

Aside from her cooperation, she has to return P40 million (nearly US$1 million) she had pocketed from the scam as a precondition for the grant of immunity. 

If I were the Ombudsman, I would revoke the decision to grant full immunity to Ms. Tuason. Why? Getting back the same amount of money stolen from the government would send a wrong message that crime does pay.

I suggest that Philippine Congress raise the amount of money Ms. Tuason or any thief who stole government funds should return before government prosecutors entertain pleas for the grant of full immunity.

In fixing the amount to be returned, Congress could use the Bible as its guide. According to the Bible (Luke 19: 8-10), Jesus granted salvation to Zacchaeus, the tax collector, after Zacchaeus gave “half of my possession to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

If Ms. Tuason stole from the government P40 million, she should pay back the government four times that amount. That would be P160 million (nearly US$4 million). This could also be the formula the Bureau of Internal Revenue and other tax-collection agencies, like the Bureau of Customs, could use in computing the penalties of cheating taxpayers. The government should order the tax cheats to pay four times the amount of what they owe. Hello, Manny Pacquiao, are you reading this?

Requiring a repentant thief to pay an amount same as that of the stolen money would not cut it. It is tantamount to tolerating thievery.

Requiring state witnesses to return many times of the amount they stole would deter others from committing the same crime.

If Congress is serious in stamping out corruption in the government, it should pass a Zacchaeus law that orders the thief to return the stolen sum by paying back four times the original amount.