Since President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign trail, he has been highly vocal about his support for the re-imposition of the death penalty and bringing his “tough stance” against criminality to the national scene. Although there has been a temporary stop on the war on drugs to tackle “corruption in the police force,” talks on bringing back the death penalty are ongoing at a fast pace, with the bill for its return reaching House plenary last February 1.
One major contributor to the seemingly inevitable passage of the bill is that it has the full backing of House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and the president, who previously mentioned that “death penalty to me is the retribution.” However, as of press time, some 25 lawmakers have expressed their intention to oppose the death penalty in the coming proceedings.
After the second reading, the “Death Penalty Bill” or House Bill 4727 moves forward for further debates regarding its technicality and objective to impose death penalty against heinous crimes. The legislators push for the bill to be approved in May this year.
To date, legislators remain undecided about which methods will be used to enact capital punishment. Alvarez has expressed the need to focus on more cost-efficient measures to reduce government expenses. He emphasized that lawmakers “should not argue if death by hanging, firing squad or lethal injection was better, all of them will end up dead anyway.”
On and off
The Philippine government has continually been moving back-and-forth with regard to its stance on the use of death penalty. In 1987, the Philippines outlawed death penalty under the newly-ratified Constitution and was the first in Asia to do so. However, the succeeding administration of former President Fidel Ramos reinstated death penalty as an anti-crime initiative. The measure stayed in place until the administration of then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, when it was once again abolished.
As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Philippines is bound to mandate its government to observe fundamental human rights. The country has also signed the ICCPR’s Second Optional Protocol, which explicitly forbids the state to perform executions on all persons within its sovereignty.
According to the Second Optional Protocol, any signatory may opt to reinstate death penalty only if it availed reservations upon signing. When the Philippines signed the ICCPR and its Second Optional Protocol on December 19, 1966 and September 20, 2006, respectively, it did not claim this exception or any reservations, making the country, by virtue of international law, forbidden to reinstate death penalty.
“Ignite for Rights”
Last February 2, 2017, Alyansang Tapat sa Lasallista and Amnesty International (AI) held a talk on the concerns of petitioning against the reestablishment of the death penalty and the current
status on extrajudicial killings.
Guest Speaker Armando Palangan of AI initiated the conversational talk, concentrating on the insights provided by the students. One of the main concerns raised during the discussion was the government’s current methods of dealing with the issue.
“There is obviously injustice because only the poor are killed, while the wealthy are being protected due to them being connections and assets of the police. How will we know if the authorities’ judgment is just if their actions [are] proven to be otherwise?” expressed Nicole Rey (II, AB-CAM).
According to AI, there have been over 7,080 fatalities since the government commenced its “war on drugs” in July last year, a few weeks after the new administration was inaugurated. AI emphasized that there is no exact definition for extrajudicial killings. “This fact may explain why [the government] has many excuses for it,” commented Palangan.
Lasallians take a stand
In a survey conducted by the University Student Government (USG) Legislative Assembly, 64.4 percent indicated that they were against the death penalty, 24.5 percent were in favor, and 11.1 percent preferred to be neutral on the issue. The survey had a total of 486 respondents. “[There’s] no proof that death penalty actually lowers crime rate. Also, we have a selective and unreliable justice system. Surely, the implementation of this will mostly affect those in the marginalized [sector] of the society,” says Chris* (IV, BS-CIV). It can be noted that since the conception of the war on drugs and criminality, many of the victims have been the poor and economically disadvantaged.
As cited by AI, police officers on operations and unknown armed individuals regularly target poor neighborhoods, where there have been reports of people with alleged connection to drugs. When it comes to the implementation of the death penalty, the same pattern of action and thinking from the police force may be expected.
For others who are against the death penalty, capital punishment will not amount to anything positive considering that the country’s justice system is still “very weak”and“inefficient.” Others have cited that it involves a multitude of moral issues, and that the death penalty was never an effective deterrent to crime in the first place.
Jason* (III, AB-POM), however, believes that the criminals should be “taught a lesson” through the death penalty. “Those who are under the influence of drugs, these people are not human. Imagine, raping a young kid, murdering innocent people who are just minding their business—they get killed or raped. It’s about time we teach these people a lesson,” he elaborates.
The same argument has received backlash from multiple humanitarian organizations like AI, citing the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). According to Article 3 of the UDHR, “everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person.” An alternative frequently proposed to the death penalty is the investment on rehabilitation programs.
Others in favor of the death penalty claimed that it can be an effective deterrent for crime, would incite “fear” among the criminals, and would help lessen the “overpopulated prisons.” Some are only in favor of it as long as the criteria involves heinous crimes, and only if it will be implemented in a legally binding process. Meanwhile, some students preferred to remain neutral because they consider the death penalty to have both positive and negative effects.For Tanya* (III, BS-ISS), the death penalty can bring about positive change on the grounds that it will “synthesize order through chaos.”
However, it will be followed out of fear, rather than respect, and there will be great social instability. On the other hand, she disagrees with it because “it disregards the writ of habeas corpus and, therefore, may warrant illegal detainment and persecution.”
The USG, on the other hand, recently released a manifesto last January 31, citing their complete indignation against the death penalty. “We call on the government to fix the justice system. We call on the government to provide rehabilitation to its people, regardless of status. We call on the government to protect its citizens from the dangers of a faulty system,” the manifesto reads.
*Names with asterisks (*) are pseudonyms.