As if Filipinos were not afraid enough of dying from COVID-19, a few days ago a factotum of the Quezon City government threatened those who would violate guidelines of the modified enhanced community quarantine that they would be subjected to “shoot-to-kill” orders.
As expected, the threat aired by “Task Force Disiplina” official Rannie Ludovica (“Mula bukas shoot to kill na ang lalabag sa MECQ”) was met with a tsunami of anger, dismay, and disdain. But Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte was apparently in a forgiving mood; she issued a statement saying that while she found Ludovica’s post “appalling” and “unacceptable,” she could accept it enough to excuse her official’s crass threat as a mere “misstep,” and that, after Ludovica apologized to her and took down his post, she would give the official a “second chance.” Thankfully, the Department of the Interior and Local Government was more resolute in chiding Ludovica. His threat was “improper and illegal,” it said, and Interior Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya advised the undisciplined Task Force Disiplina official “to desist from issuing similar statements in the future.”
Why are folks getting all hot under the collar in the wake of the factotum’s arrogant threat? Because, quite apart from the cloud of dread Filipinos live under during this pandemic, it has also been a season of violence and impunity in our midst. In the last few weeks alone, Manila chief inquest prosecutor Jovencio Senados was ambushed in his car while on his way to work; National Center for Mental Health chief Roland Cortez and his driver were gunned down; and Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office board secretary Wesley Barayuga was shot to death.
Perhaps as a reflection of how, given the threatening language of officials ranging from the President to Ludovica, the public has gotten inured to violence, the deaths of three officials occurring just a few days apart have failed to raise hackles. The police have yet to release adequate information on who could have ordered these killings and why.
Instead, as if coronavirus deaths and killings of officials were not enough of a concern, the Duterte administration and allies in Congress are pushing for the revival of the death penalty. The thousands of summary killings in the course of the war on drugs are still not enough, it seems, to satisfy the bloodlust of those in power.
Twelve bills seeking to revive the death penalty are currently pending in the House, with deliberations revving up after the President called for the passage of the measure in his State of the Nation Address. What makes the death penalty so urgent at this time, when rightfully the whole of government should be seeking ways to check the COVID-19 crisis?
This is not the first time that the House, at the urging of Malacañang, has pushed for the restoration of the death penalty. In 2017, it passed such a bill but the measure failed to gain traction in the Senate.
In their seeming rush to heed the President’s demand, legislators cannot even cite statistics or science-based findings to support the need for such a law.
Last Aug. 5, after five hours of what has been described as “tense interpellation,” sponsors of the death penalty bills, the justice department, and the chief public attorney failed to present clear data on the death penalty’s deterrent effect on crime. Likewise, the House bills, said a report, offer no such data.
For his part, Sen. Ronald dela Rosa could not conceal his glee at the possible revival of the death penalty. Dela Rosa has claimed that he ran with only one item in his platform: the reimposition of capital punishment. His electoral victory, he said, is indicative of public support for the measure. But the only “evidence” he could produce for its supposed efficacy was the statement of an imprisoned Chinese drug dealer who allegedly told him the country had become a favored destination for drugs because there was no death penalty in our books.
As death penalty opponents have countered, however, it is not so much fear of execution that deters criminals as the certainty of their arrest and conviction. Free Legal Assistance Group chair Chel Diokno shared with the House numbers from the Philippine National Police that show that “after the abolition of the death penalty, crime volume has actually been decreasing.” Also, the Supreme Court itself has cited a judicial error rate of 71.77 percent in death penalty cases. In a December 2016 Rappler report, Diokno pointed out that in the 2004 ruling People v. Mateo, “The court revealed for the first time that the staggering 71.77% of decisions handed down by Regional Trial Courts were wrong, which meant 7 in 10 on death row were wrongfully convicted.”
But are our lawmakers prepared to listen to facts and data over the prodding of a regime fixated on kill, kill, kill?
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