Regional MPs call on Philippine counterparts to reject death penalty bill

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JAKARTA — Parliamentarians from across ASEAN today expressed alarm at what appears to be an attempt by the administration of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and its allies in the Philippine House of Representatives to railroad through Congress legislation to reintroduce the death penalty in the country.

Members of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) urged President Duterte and Philippine legislators to immediately desist in their pursuit of a reinstatement of the death penalty, calling on them to respect the Philippines’ international obligations and avoid undermining the country’s much-respected role as a regional leader on human rights protections.

“As citizens of ASEAN, we have looked to the Philippines as a regional leader in the global movement to abolish the death penalty since its decision to do so in 2006,” said APHR Chairperson Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament.

“Thus, it would be an incredible setback to our collective struggle if the Philippines were to take the dramatic step backward of reinstating the death penalty. The move would not only indicate a rejection of hard-fought progress, but would cause other ASEAN nations to question the Philippines’ commitment to the full gamut of international treaties it has signed.”

The Philippines formally abolished capital punishment in 2006 and ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), aiming at the worldwide abolition of the death penalty, in 2007.

“Since 2006, the Philippines’ move to abolish capital punishment has inspired other countries, including Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam, to restrict their use of the death penalty, which denotes positive regional progress in the move toward abolition. It would be a tragic blow to this regional leadership role to turn back now,” Santigo said.

On Tuesday, 29 November, the Philippine House Sub-Committee on Judicial Reform voted to approve House Bill No. 1, which would reinstate the death penalty in the Philippines for all heinous crimes. The bill will now proceed to the House Committee on Justice for further debate and approval. The bill’s proponents have indicated that they would like to see it passed by the House before the start of the Christmas recess on 16 December. 

Regional parliamentarians urged members of Congress in the Philippines to reject the bill. In addition to violating its international commitments, reinstating the death penalty in the Philippines is unnecessary, APHR said. Parliamentarians noted that there is an academic consensus worldwide, including in Asia, that the death penalty is not an effective means of combating crime.

“We remind Philippine officials that human rights were never a Western concept and that they are rooted in the anti-colonial struggles of developing countries,” said APHR Vice Chair Mu Sochua, a member of the Cambodian National Assembly.

“Human rights are universal, indivisible, inalienable, and inherent to all people, and states are duty-bound to protect them. We fully expect the Philippines to be a crucial partner as we work together towards a more civilized and just ASEAN.”

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