Vengeance, not justice
There’s a pivotal scene in the 2007 Korean movie “Secret Sunshine” where the heroine, played by Cannes best actress awardee Jeon Do-yeon, visits the man convicted of kidnapping and then killing her young son.
Face-to-face with her son’s killer, and having been “born again” in the intervening months, the mother prepares to accept his apology and then forgive him for what he had done. Instead, the killer brushes off her approach, saying he knows he had long been “forgiven by God” ever since he, too, was “born again” behind bars.
The bereaved mother’s facade crumbles on hearing this. “God has forgiven you?” she asks. “How could he do that when I haven’t forgiven you yet?”
It is a wrenching scene, and one can almost identify with the lead’s mix of anger, madness and frustration as she vents her feelings on people around her. It may be possible to grant forgiveness even for a loss as grievous as she must live with. But certainly it isn’t easy.
The scene also explains why some folks believe the death penalty is necessary. Vengeance is a strong and corrosive emotion, especially if the crime has been directed at you personally or at someone you love. But not everyone can have the mental and emotional fortitude to exact revenge for a wrong done to us. Most of the time, we repose our hopes—or our need—on the state and the courts which will carry out the punishment in our name. And for many, this punishment can only take the form of taking a life.
“This is vindictiveness, not justice,” says Bishop Broderick Pabillo of the current “clamor” to restore the death penalty that was effectively rescinded during the Arroyo and Aquino administrations.
The House of Representatives recently voted overwhelmingly to bring back capital punishment largely, it is said, at the instigation of President Duterte. Just to ensure that the measure would pass in the House, the chamber’s leaders removed all grounds for imposing death save for capital crimes linked to the trade in illegal drugs.
But in the Senate, the measure is still being considered, and as Minority Leader Sen. Frank Drilon declared, it looks like the measure doesn’t have enough adherents to pass muster. But when asked if the numbers were certain, Sen. Francis Pangilinan said, “There is nothing firm in the Senate,” because anything could still happen to turn the vote either way.
For Sen. Risa Hontiveros, there is evidence aplenty that the death penalty is not that effective in deterring crime or ensuring justice.
“Other countries have already arrived at this conclusion,” said Hontiveros. “Iran executed around 800 people in 2015, with 100 for drug-related crimes, but Iranian authorities admit that the death penalty has done little to curb the incidence of crimes.”
Even more telling, Hontiveros added, is the comparison between Hong Kong, which does not apply the death penalty, and Singapore, which does. “But murder rates in [the two] countries are the same.” As for Bishop Ted Bacani, he noted that “much of the world has already rejected the death penalty.”
Pangilinan is even of the opinion that bringing back the death penalty is “taking the easy way out.”
“Our justice system is dysfunctional,” he pointed out, and while acknowledging the “impatience and frustration” of many folks at the peace and order situation, he said killing people in the face of a dysfunctional justice system would only make things worse.
Pangilinan railed against the hunger for “quick fixes,” saying the first steps to take to really fix the system would be to address the shortfalls in the number of judges and prosecutors, mainly by increasing their pay and improving work conditions. These could then improve the conviction rate, which is far below that of neighboring countries.
He quoted a former chief justice who once complained that Filipinos “want First World justice on a Third World system of justice.”
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