CHR rallies students against death bill

Philippine Daily Inquirer | With reports from Julie M. Aurelio, Delfin T. Mallari Jr.

Opposition to the restoration of the death penalty has intensified, with the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) calling on universities and colleges across the country to speak up and allow their students to mobilize against the Duterte administration’s plan.

The House committee on justice passed the death penalty bill last week, setting off strident protests from the Catholic Church and human rights groups.

Speaking at a forum held at the University of the Philippines Diliman on Dec. 2, Human Rights Commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit said opponents of the death penalty bill should join forces “because time is running out.”

“We know people in Congress are dead set in resurrecting the death penalty,” Dumpit said.

More networks

“We should work more in terms of networks and try to get the youth more involved by looking at universities, colleges and schools against the death penalty. The youth is the vessel for us to spread the message that we have to affirm the right to life,” she said.

Dumpit announced the formation of a new global network called Universities Against the Death Penalty, an initiative of the University of Oslo that was introduced at the 6th World Congress Against the Death Penalty held in the Norwegian capital in June.

The network’s website said membership meant a statement of support for the abolition of the death penalty worldwide, and member-universities did not have to commit to specific responsibilities.

“Network membership is first and foremost about applying the considerable moral and intellectual weight and voice of the universities,” it said.

37 universities enlisted

So far 37 universities mostly from Europe have enlisted.

The network said 106 countries had abolished the death penalty but many held on to the possibility of using the death penalty.

It said seven countries had regularly executed 10 or more citizens every year for the past decade: China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Yemen and the United States.

“Universities have produced the research that overwhelmingly shows there is no scientific ground for claiming that death penalty has a greater effect on homicides than long prison sentences,” the network said.

“They have also evaluated the broad range of serious collateral damage that springs from the criminal justice institution constructed for the purpose of the state killing. It is time to take seriously the results of this massive research,” it added.

The Philippines abolished the death penalty in 2006, but the Duterte administration has made its restoration a key component of its campaign against crime and illegal drugs.

Sunset provision

The bill that cleared the House justice committee last week prescribes death for heinous crimes, including rape with murder and kidnapping for ransom.

To soften opposition to the bill, House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez said he would introduce a sunset provision that would end its effectivity when Mr. Duterte steps down in 2022.

“I will introduce the sunset provision. I believe that it will be a win-win solution,” Suarez said by phone on Sunday.

“With the expected improvement of the general peace and order all over the country at the end of President Duterte’s term, I believe there would be no more need for the death penalty,” he said.

Mr. Duterte’s allies in the House said they hoped to pass the bill before Christmas.

The Catholic Church is  leading the opposition to the restoration of capital punishment, with churches in Manila reading on Sunday a prayer against Mr. Duterte’s plan.

“There is in our land a cry for vengeance and a move to fill up death rows and kill offenders but disguised as a call for justice,” read the prayer issued by Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle.

“Let true and lasting justice spring forth,” he added.

The prayer called for help to work against the death penalty.

Bishops also oppose a separate plan in Congress to reduce the minimum age for criminal liability to nine from 12. 

They fear both the reduction in liability age and expanded use of capital punishment could escalate violence related to the Duterte administration’s brutal war on drugs.

Nearly 6,000 people have been killed by police and unknown assailants since Mr. Duterte launched his war on drugs after taking office on June 30. 

Alternative solution

Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, earlier issued a statement strongly criticizing the rising death toll in the war on drugs, saying the government must respect the dignity of life and human rights.

On Monday, Villegas followed up, urging the government to reform the criminal justice system instead of reinstating the death penalty.

“We are not protesting without a solution. We are protesting with an alternative. Reform the criminal justice system,” he said at a “Rally for Life” in San Carlos City, Pangasinan province.

Fullness of life

Villegas said the Church was not condoning criminal offenses and not ignoring the pain of victims of crimes.

“The solution is not killing criminals. Our alternative is fullness of life for the guilty and the innocent. Fullness of life for the poor and the rich. Fullness of life for sinners and saints,” he said.

Villegas said reviving capital punishment would not be enough to deter heinous crimes.

“If there’s the death penalty but the police can be bribed, the rich can pay and get away with it,” he said.

“If there’s the death penalty but the fiscal can be paid off, those who cannot pay will be the only ones who will be charged,” he said.

The CHR, the constitutional human rights watchdog, has also insisted that death penalty has not been shown to deter crime,  and pointed out that aside from violating the fundamental human right to life, the state will also violate its commitment in 2006 to an international treaty that abolishes capital punishment.

“Those who favor the death penalty in reality really want something done about crime, us included. It’s a yearning for justice,” Dumpit said.

“We don’t want any crime to go unpunished. What is a deterrent is a functional, unbiased, efficient justice system that guarantees certainty of punishment for perpetrators through due process and rule of law, together with broad public confidence. We want to work toward this goal,” she said.

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