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Editorial

It’s not funny

/ 12:41 AM August 13, 2016

Should a country execute its own citizens in the name of fighting crime? That remains a profoundly contentious issue for people and nations worldwide. Involving as it does the life and death of human beings, the viability of law and order in society, and the struggle between the atavistic urge for revenge on one hand and the need to forge a humane response to heinous social violations on the other, it demands serious consideration.

One would expect a senator of the realm to be conscientious and thoughtful in discussing such a hot-button issue, especially a neophyte senator delivering his maiden privilege speech. Ideally, it would be an opportunity for him to show not only that he is fit to be counted in highly select company—only 24 persons get to be Philippine senators out of a population of 110 million—but also that, when it comes to a pressing subject such as capital punishment, he has invested enough thought, research and study to be able to speak sensibly, coherently, about it.

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But nothing of the sort was seen and heard when Sen. Manny Pacquiao took the Senate floor to bat for the reimposition of the death penalty for drug-related cases. Even with the low expectations that accompanied his promotion, so to speak, to the higher chamber of Congress, given his dismal record in the House of Representatives where he passed no law and instead achieved the dubious feat of becoming the No. 1 absentee congressman, the privilege speech he delivered was an utter letdown.

Voluminous studies are available on whether the death penalty is at all effective in deterring crime. Crafting public policy and law requires delving into these empirical data and how they relate to our particular condition—the glaring imperfections of the local justice system, for instance, which might pose the unacceptable risk of sending innocent people to their death under a regime of capital punishment imposed with haste and carelessness.

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Pacquiao could have taken the effort to underpin his argument with a semblance of intellectual rigor—numbers that could be validated, findings that could be scrutinized, which would then be helpful in coming up with public policy that is truly responsive to the current environment of drugs and criminality on which the Duterte administration has declared war. Instead, Pacquiao tried to justify his argument by citing the Bible. Recycling his performance in the House two years ago when he argued against the then reproductive health bill by plucking passages out of the Good Book, he recited verse after verse in defense of his main thesis that killing people who commit certain types of crimes is permissible in a Christian society. Or, as he declared, “Are we greater than God? Because God allows death penalty in every nation.”

The proposition, already ludicrously argued, became positively appalling when Sen. Vicente Sotto rose to “interpellate” Pacquiao.

Sotto, snickering and obviously merely humoring his junior colleague with questions not intended to extract any useful point or information, asked what type of execution for criminals the boxer was looking at—hanging, firing squad, electric chair, or lethal injection? Pacquiao said he preferred hanging or firing squad, and when Sotto inquired whether it was because these methods were less expensive to implement, he quipped: “Sisipain lang po yung upuan (We just need to kick the chair).”

The senior senator tittered, some in the Senate gallery laughed out loud, and the junior senator left the podium to do the sort of victory walk that stand-up comedians do when they land their punchlines. It was only after Sen. Francis Pangilinan chided Pacquiao and the gallery for their insensitivity that the boxer apologized.

President Duterte’s decision to hoist drugs and criminality as the centerpiece of his governance agenda, and with it his call for more draconian measures such as the reimposition of capital punishment and the lowering of the age of criminal liability from 15 to 9, deserves sober and informed consideration by the public. This is no time to make light of the proposed state execution of Filipino citizens in pursuit of a crime-free society. It’s not funny. Pacquiao wasted an opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the discussion.

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