UPPER RIGHT HAND: Legalizing murder in the Philippines?

DAVAO CITY (Mindanews / 8 January) – President Rodrigo Duterte in his most recent State of the Nation Address has renewed his push for the re-imposition of death penalty as a punishment for drug trafficking and other heinous crimes since its repeal in 2006. This renewed call is supported by Congress through the various bills filed both in Senate and the House of Representatives.

This dangerous call foments the already existing culture of death proliferating in the Philippines, but this time, State-authored legally. The re-imposition of death penalty will mark the death of humanity in the Philippines.

Death penalty employs the most barbaric of means to kill human life. Methods include lethal injection, electrocution, lethal gas, firing squad, decapitation and hanging. While death penalty is still practiced in many countries, it is, however, being abolished in almost half of all the countries around the world.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a vital document that contributed to this growing abolition of death penalty around the globe. It puts forward the rights to life and liberty as not only a concern of the states but an international recognition of these fundamental rights as essential to human dignity. In the Philippines, our constitution itself lays out our fundamental rights as citizens. Primordial of these is the right to life and freedom from inhumane and degrading punishment.

Philippine history dating back from the Spanish colonization until 2006 is replete with repressive forms of death penalty. From its initial purpose of silencing the Filipino resistance to its being a deterrent to crimes, the Union of Peoples Lawyers in Mindanao strongly believes that death penalty has not really served its purpose and is a useless method to “solve” injustice in the country on account of the grounds cited below.

Death penalty is a violation of the right to life. The imposition of death penalty is anomalous because our own constitution itself affirms in Article III Section 1 that, “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.” The idea that the state will take the life of a person contravenes its purpose to protect life. In addition, by reinstating death penalty, we will also commit gross violation of our commitment to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on the abolition of death penalty, which the Philippines signed and ratified.

Death penalty denies due process of law. Mistakes happen all the time, and even the courts are not immune from committing these mistakes. The imposition of death as a punishment is always tainted with the possibility of mistake, doubt and arbitrariness. It is unjust because when the person’s life is taken away, that person is forever deprived of the opportunity to benefit from new evidence or new laws that may possibly affect the decision.

Death penalty does not deter crimes. The idea that death penalty should be imposed to instill fear to the people to eventually deter crime is a wrong and baseless assumption. Donohue in his 2016 research has established that “there is indeed no concrete statistical evidence that capital punishment lowers crime rates.” In fact, Hoyle and Hood in 2015 said that there are countries which have lower crime rates after the abolition of death penalty, like Canada. Deterrence as a reason to impose death penalty is problematic for its ineffectiveness to lower crime rates even with its imposition.

Death penalty is anti-poor. According to an article published in Manila Times in 2016, Jose Diokno was quoted stating that “seventy-three percent of the 1,121 inmates on death row before the death penalty was abolished in 2006 earned less than P10,000 a month.” This shows that the most vulnerable to the death penalty are the poor, because they have no voice, no money, no power and no resources to hire good lawyers to defend their case. No one should die on account of poverty.

Death penalty is incompatible with the unreliable justice system. The imposition of capital punishment puts innocent lives at risk. Wrongful death penalty convictions are a high possibility because those who do not have the capacity to defend themselves usually end up being convicted.

Death penalty as retribution is wrong. The idea of taking a life in response to a wrong committed is oftentimes viewed as a revenge, which is not justice. In killing the convicted person, it does not help the victim or the victim’s family in achieving justice. Why do we have to tell people that killing is wrong also by killing?

The statements above are just only a part of many other reasons that can be argued why death penalty should never be imposed. Death penalty does not solve any crime. It just complicates the problem even more. Death penalty should be abolished entirely and instead search for alternatives.

Judicial reform is a need. Instead, there should be a focus towards restorative justice. There must be a reframing of the understanding towards the idea that these criminals should not be seen as a virus in the society that must be killed but as a malfunctioning system that needs rehabilitation and reformation. Justice should be restorative and not destructive.

Law enforcement should also be strengthened through rights-based policing. Crime-fighting is more beneficial than executing individuals. Death penalty is a sad evidence that the state is not able to protect its citizens effectively through law enforcement, and this should not be the case. Increasing police visibility and decreasing corruption in the police force are proven to be more effective deterrents.

Address the root cause of the problems why crimes exist and not resort to quick-fix solutions. The government must be aggressive in promoting social services by eradicating unemployment, ill-health, poor to no access to education, and poverty, among others. If people have decent work, have something to eat and are able to send their children to school, there is no more reason for them to commit crimes. This is the principal obligation of the state, and not as a killing machine.

Death penalty is executed by the state, and we, as the sovereign Filipino people, are part of the state which makes us complicit in taking the lives of convicted individuals. We cannot in good conscience sleep with the thought that we are part of the machinery that kills people. We are not a nation of killers!



(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews.  Upper Right Hand is a revolving column of the Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM).  Atty. Romeo T. Cabarde, Jr. is a faculty of the Political Science Department and the Director of Ateneo Public Interest and Legal Advocacy Center of Ateneo de Davao University.)