With President Duterte again making a push in his State of the Nation Address for the reinstatement of the death penalty, dutiful noises are being heard from his claque in Congress. The Senate looms as the battleground, the House of Representatives having earlier approved on third and final reading House Bill No. 4727, which seeks to impose capital punishment on drug convicts.
Certain new senators, apart from the President’s longtime allies in the chamber such as Manny Pacquiao, are expectedly taking an ovine stance in relation to his fresh push.
Imee Marcos, for example, now expresses openness to capital punishment after having worked for its abolition way back when she was a member of the House. But she displays a curious squeamishness at what she considers brutal methods like hanging — “Diyos ko, huwag… Sobrang lupit naman nun…” — as though the “lupit” of torture, killings and disappearances were not hallmarks of her father’s long martial rule, and as though state murder were not in fact an act of high brutality no matter what method is employed.
On the other hand, Bato “Shit happens” dela Rosa can’t be bothered by seeming niceties, gleefully proposing what he thinks drug dealers should have coming: “Deterrence talaga yan… Firing squad natin sa Luneta. Tingnan natin kung maghakot sila ng shabu dito sa ‘tin.”
Senate President Tito Sotto predicts heavy debates on the issue, including whether plunderers should be done in as well. But Sen. Grace Poe notes the chamber’s current configuration — the numbers, certainly, not the level of brilliance — and concedes that approval of a measure reinstating the death penalty just might make it. And thus would the Philippines move closer to regressing among the ranks of countries that impose capital punishment as state policy.
Meanwhile, the President’s mouthpiece, Salvador Panelo, says his principal would prefer using rope to cut costs. Panelo’s statement should not be construed as just another of the President’s macabre quips no matter the macabre content and delivery.
Shortly after his election in May 2016, after all, Mr. Duterte announced his desire to reimpose the death penalty and his plan to have Congress approve it soonest.
“I need it to combat drugs and to deter it,” he was reported as saying. “What I will do is urge Congress to restore (the) death penalty by hanging.”
“Deterrence” is the operative word among those backing the reimposition of capital punishment, such as Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who cites “ordinary human behavior” as his yardstick in measuring its supposed efficacy.
Yet the findings of scientists and researchers cannot be overstated: that deterrence is a myth that serves to devalue human life and sends the wrong message that killing in certain circumstances is permissible; that criminals are mainly concerned about whether they will be caught, not about what might happen to them after arrest.
And under the Philippines’ criminal justice system that remains beset by corruption, incompetence, inefficiency, lack of judges and prosecutors, huge case backlogs and steep legal fees, it is primarily the impoverished that are sentenced to die. 0
In the early 2000s, according to Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, 73.1 percent of convicts on death row belonged to the lowest- and lower-income classes.
The convicted rapist Leo Echegaray, who died by lethal injection in 1999 — the first in the Philippines to be thus executed — lived in the slums. His execution caused a stir in the Supreme Court, which, during the period 1993-2004, affirmed the death penalty in only 230 of 907 cases submitted to it by regional trial courts for review. More than half were downgraded to life imprisonment and 65 to acquittal.
Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, then the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, made it abundantly clear: “No judiciary, anywhere in the world, is so robust that it can guarantee that innocent life will not be taken, and there is an alarming body of evidence to indicate that even well-functioning legal systems have sentenced to death men and women who were subsequently proven innocent.”
But the President’s unrelenting push for the death penalty and his lieutenants’ unequivocal support for it should hardly be a surprise. The war on drugs, his administration’s brutal centerpiece program, shows no sign of flagging even in the face of local and international censure.
The number of those slain in suspicious circumstances continues to climb. If capital punishment is reinstated, viewing it as but a formal extension of the killings would not be such a stretch.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.