Death penalty opposers gear up for tough fight

MANILA, Philippines – Anti-death penalty advocates are gearing up for a tough battle in Congress to thwart moves to pass the bill reimposing capital punishment.

The bill has been approved at the justice committee of the House of Representatives and is awaiting sponsorship in plenary. Congress will resume session on January 16.

President Rodrigo Duterte, who believes the capital punishment will help solve the drug menace in the country, had threatened to carry out five to six executions a day once the death penalty is restored.

Albay Representative Edcel Lagman, one of the fiercest critics of the bill, said the broad coalition of anti-death penalty advocates will sustain the campaign against the proposed reimposition of capital punishment “until the archaic proposal is finally consigned to the legislative dustbin.”

“The widening coalition of legislators, religious ministers both from the Catholic Church and other religious denominations, civil society and non-governmental organization networks, college students and youth opposing the revival of the death penalty has vowed to intensify its campaign inside and outside of Congress,” he said.

In a separate statement, Buhay partylist Rep. Lito Atienza said the President’s statement to put five to six convicts to death every day would sink the Philippines into “an unprecedented era of darkness and medieval savagery.”

“If the President had his way, our predominantly Catholic country could go down as the world’s new top executioner, ahead of non-Catholic countries such as China, Iran and Pakistan,” he said.

Atienza said bringing back the death penalty would be “anathema to our celebration of life.”

“We Filipinos celebrate life. In fact, we celebrate life so much that despite our usual troubles, we’ve been persistently rated among the happiest people in the world,” he said.

“We do not want to be brutalized by constant bloodshed. We Filipinos loathe killings, whether judicial or extrajudicial, as much as we detest violent crime,” he added.

The lawmaker said it was bad enough that a “virtual death penalty” is in place with the unabated summary executions of alleged drug suspects.

He pushed for reforms in the country’s criminal justice system, so that suspects could be tried and justice could be rendered to the victims.

“Our criminal justice system is like a very sick patient in need of immediate surgical treatment. If we are to save the patient, we have to cut off the rampant tumor of corruption. A band-aid solution such as the death penalty simply won’t work,” he said.

Quoting data of Amnesty International, Atienza said that at least 1,634 convicts were executed in 25 countries around the world in 2015.

Excluding China, only three countries – Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia – were responsible for nearly 90 percent of the executions.

Iran finished off 977 convicts by hanging in 2015, while Pakistan put 326 to death, also by hanging. Saudi Arabia executed 158 by beheading.

The number of executions in China is regarded a state secret. But separate estimates by AI and the Cornell Law School put the number of annual executions in China by lethal injection anywhere from as low as “more than 1,000” to as high as “at least 2,400.”

7 reasons vs ‘death’ bill, per Lagman

Rep. Lagman enumerated the following grounds against the restoration of the death penalty:

  1. It is not a solution to criminality and the drug menace. The prevention of heinous crimes involves a complex and multidimensional process relative to problems ranging from poverty and inequity to police corruption and brutality, inept and discriminatory prosecution and flawed judicial system. All of these negative factors contribute to the fallibility of human justice which ensnare to the gallows even the innocent. Consequently, punishment alone is not the solution to crimes.
  2. The only argument of the proponents for the revival of capital punishment is that the death penalty is a deterrent to the commission of alleged heinous crimes. Empirical studies both here and abroad document that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent to the commission of crimes. Even logic tells us that despite the fact that since the dawn of civilization the death penalty has been imposed on various offenses involving varied modes of execution, until now heinous crimes across the world are being committed mocking the extreme severity of penalty.
  3. The death penalty desecrates the right to life which is sacrosanct and inviolable, and is an affront to human dignity.
  4. The death penalty exacerbates the culture of violence and death, and its revival adds the State-sanctioned killings to the unabated extrajudicial killings.
  5. The death penalty further marginalizes and victimizes the poor who can neither retain competent counsel nor influence court processes.
  6. Capital punishment enforces punitive and retributive justice, instead of promoting the modern concept of penology on restorative justice which reforms the convict and prepares his reintegration into society.

The reimposition of the death penalty is a violation of the country’s commitment to abolish capital punishment and not to reimpose it pursuant to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Second Optional Protocol on the ICCPR of which the Philippines is a ratifying state party.

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