The Manila Times
NO HOLDS BARRED
Rep. Edcel C. Lagman’s
Weekly Thursday Column
THE recent withdrawal of Senators Panfilo Lacson and Emmanuel Pacquiao of their support for the reimposition of the death penalty further dooms the revival of capital punishment in the 18th Congress.
In abandoning his Senate Bill No. 27 seeking to restore death penalty for heinous crimes, Lacson said it is “better to spare the life of a criminal than to wrongly execute an innocent person.” For his part, Pacquiao stated that the “country’s judicial system should first be fixed” before considering the restoration of the death penalty.
The revival of capital punishment is among the priority measures of President Rodrigo Duterte. In fact, pro-Duterte legislators filed House Bill No. 001 for the restoration of the death penalty. Seven bills on the reimposition were filed in the previous 17th Congress in the House of Representatives. These bills were consolidated as House Bill No. 4727 whose approval was railroaded, but did not hurdle the Senate where eight identical bills were also pending.
Twelve bills were reintroduced in the House this 18th Congress for the revival of capital punishment, all of which are languishing in the committee on justice because of steadfast and vigilant opposition of anti-death penalty advocates. No light is seen at the end of the tunnel for similar bills in the Senate.
In the 2020 State of the Nation Address of President Duterte, his forceful campaign for the reimposition of the death penalty did not elicit any spontaneous positive response from legislators and the audience, to his obvious dismay.
The death penalty has undergone eight stages in our country. Our ancestors imposed the death penalty for various crimes by different modes of execution; during the Spanish colonial period among the victims of capital punishment were national hero Jose Rizal and the three cleric-patriots Fathers Mariano Gomez, Jose Burgos and Jacinto Zamora; the American colonial administration continued the imposition of capital punishment; the Japanese occupation retained the death penalty and among those executed was Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos for refusing to join the puppet government; the post-war Philippine Republic maintained the death penalty for 41 years.
The 1987 Constitution abolished the death penalty for all crimes but the Congress was empowered to reinstitute it for “compelling reasons involving heinous crimes”; the abolition lasted for six years as capital punishment was reimposed in 1993 under R.A. 7659, entitled “An Act to Impose the Death Penalty on Certain Heinous Crimes”; and 13 years later, the death penalty was abolished in 2006, has remained so until now, under R.A. 9346, entitled “An Act Prohibiting the Imposition of the Death Penalty”, which I principally authored. Since its abolition 15 years ago, the agitation for its revival continues.
There are twelve overriding reasons against the death penalty’s reimposition:
It desecrates the right to life, which is sacrosanct and inviolable, and is an affront to human dignity. Pope Francis instructs that the “inviolability of life extends to the criminal”.
Empirical data document that through the years capital punishment has not been an effective deterrent to crime. The death penalty is as old as civilization but the commission of heinous crimes continues to mock capital punishment.
It exacerbates the culture of violence and its revival adds State-sanctioned executions to the unabated extrajudicial killings.
It cannot be prioritized over the long-delayed reforms in our flawed police, prosecutorial and judicial systems, which make genuine justice illusory.
The death penalty further marginalizes and victimizes the poor who can neither retain competent counsel nor influence court processes.
It enforces punitive and retributive justice over restorative justice which aims to reform the convict and prepare his reintegration into society. Vengeance is never justice.
Its revival utterly fails to consider that human justice is fallible and the innocent can be executed. The data that many death convictions by the trial courts are anyway reversed by the Supreme Court does not justify the reimposition of the death penalty because this myopic view overlooks the irreparable damage and trauma to the convict and his family while awaiting his final sentence. Moreover, this contention does not consider the possible wrongful convictions affirmed by the high court.
The 1987 Constitution abolished the death penalty, although the Congress is allowed to reimpose it for compelling reasons on heinous crimes. The elements of compelling reasons and heinous crimes must concur. The fact that a crime is heinous is not compelling per se for the restoration of capital punishment.
However, as a State Party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Second Optional Protocol on the ICCPR, after the ratification of the Constitution, the Philippines is committed to abolish the death penalty and not to reimpose it. These treaty obligations, pursuant to accepted principles of international law, form part of Philippine law, primarily the Constitution. International conventions and jurisprudence provide that a country cannot assert its domestic law or Constitution to negate or violate its treaty obligations.
There are serious economic repercussions if the Philippines reimposes the death penalty as we would lose free tariff privileges on our exports to European Union countries which require adherence to human rights.
With its revival, the Philippines would lose moral ascendancy in negotiating for the lifting of the death sentences on OFWs numbering almost a hundred worldwide; and
The irreversible trend is the diminishing number of countries imposing the death penalty. Out of 195 countries documented by the UN, 107 have abolished it for all crimes, 27 have abolished it de facto, where no one has been executed for the last decade or more, and seven abolished it de jure except for war crimes. Fifty-four are retentionists but only four countries – China, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia – account for 90% of executions.
The death penalty must remain abolished in full respect of the sanctity of human life and as a veritable recognition of the fallibility of human justice. Another repressive Duterte initiative deserves the gallows.