Friday, September 21, 2018
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At Large

Dead in the water

If Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon is right, the move to bring back the death penalty is, so to speak, “dead in the water.” Though it has passed the House of Representatives, a foregone conclusion but imposed forcefully by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Drilon said the move is doomed to fail in the Senate.

This is because, said Drilon who was Senate president in the last administration, “at least” 13 senators are “likely to vote” against the passage of any bill reimposing the death penalty to wash up on the Senate floor. The 13 include the six minority senators and seven in the majority, he said.


But Senate Majority Leader Tito Sotto merely laughed off Drilon’s claim, saying that while his counterpart in the minority has the “right to dream,” by his and his colleagues’ estimate, the vote described by Drilon seems far-fetched. He acceded though that in the Senate, the vote can sometimes be unpredictable. Not for nothing has the chamber been described as a collection of political parties, with each senator voting according to his or her personal agenda, not always aligned with his or her party positions.

Drilon’s claim received some verbal love, however, with Buhay Rep. and House Senior Deputy Minority Leader Lito Atienza calling it “good news.” Said Atienza: “We’ve always maintained that the death penalty is useless in fighting crime—it does not serve any purpose that is not already being served by the punishment of long-term imprisonment.”

Opponents of the death penalty have pointed out that, given our terribly flawed criminal justice system, the death penalty has been and will be applied unevenly, with poor convicts bearing the brunt of the ultimate punishment that the state is allowed to carry out.

Other critics of the Duterte administration also point out that in fact the “death penalty” is already in force, what with thousands of suspected users and pushers executed by either police elements or, as the police claim, assassins fielded by drug syndicates who go after potential witnesses.

Will the reimposition of the death penalty, a draconian measure which the majority of the world’s governments have already rejected, make any headway in the “war” on drugs?

It could conceivably bring an end to the killing spree, since police and justice officials would no longer have an “excuse” to carry out or turn an indifferent eye on the virtual executions of drug suspects. Victims are often “visited” by masked individuals at their homes and, because they supposedly attempted to escape or fight back, are shot and killed and left on the street. Sometimes, bodies are simply dumped in conspicuous corners, often covered with duct tape or concealed in trash bags, although lately the killers have apparently grown tired of “packaging” the cadavers, which are now left out in the open.

But to execute drug dealers, they have to be first put through the labyrinth of arrest, arraignment, and trial. This is a process that the police and authorities have shown little patience with, and the road to conviction and imprisonment is often fraught with legal obstacles and influence-peddling in behalf of the wealthy “narcos.” Which makes me wonder why the Dutertites are so hell-bent on bringing the death penalty back to life.

I remember my first and only “brush” with the death penalty, during the televised execution in 1972 of three men convicted of the gang rape of actress Maggie dela Riva.

I was a preteen then, but I remember being riveted by the proceedings, and fascinated by the wall-to-wall coverage of the rowdy media members who jostled with one another to get a closer look at the condemned men.


My biggest impression of that day was how hot it was, and how oppressive the atmosphere seemed inside the penitentiary, where the execution took place. Despite the unruly behavior of everyone, there floated above everything else a sense of sadness and waste, and an acrid taste in my mouth as I beheld the almost gleeful coverage of the men’s execution. It was a circus, and I doubt if even Dela Riva found some comfort from it.


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TAGS: dead in the water, death penalty, House of Representatives, Senate, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez
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