Reviving the death penalty in the Philippines: Does it matter?

Reviving the death penalty in the Philippines is akin to tossing a coin revealing the two sides impregnating an exhausting debate: one, advocating for its imposition as capital punishment to serve as a deterrent against the upsurge of heinous crimes; the other, professing a pro-life stand based on religious and humanitarian grounds. (READ: Philippines death penalty on heinous crimes—An ethical senescence)

While this issue can make or break a political career, it can also create tenacious advocacy of civil rights making it more complicated.

However, by conducting a “referendum” on this controversial issue, we would be able to maintain a more cohesive solution. That is, letting democracy and being a republican state work[1]. More significantly, doing so is promoting and maintaining social justice as embodied in the time-honored principles like vox populi vox Dei (The voice of the people is the voice of God) and Salus populi est suprema lex (The welfare of the people is the supreme law).

So far, there have been no concrete and accurate scientific studies showing that imposing death or executions among criminals positively contributed to reducing criminal cases, or at the very least, deterred people or would-be offenders from committing heinous crimes. Hence, death as capital punishment is not tantamount to crafting a “fear-factor” as the minds of individuals can be affected by impulses or by other psychosocial factors depending on the provoking circumstances.

Duterte to revive capital punishment

Reviving the death penalty in the Philippines.
Reviving the death penalty in the Philippines is one of President Duterte plans to watch out for.

Lately, the statement of no other than President Rodrigo Duterte apparently suggested reviving the death penalty in the Philippines for convicted individuals involved in illegal drugs, gun-for-hires and those individuals who committed heinous crimes such as robbery, kidnapping and carnapping and, as a result therein, have killed his or her victim notwithstanding the killing was made before, during, or as a mere supervening event in the perpetration thereof.

Duterte’s plan about reviving the death penalty in the Philippines neither creates nor ripens into a justiciable matter of controversy. But this cannot be taken for granted, unlike his predecessors who suspended[2] and abolished[3] the death penalty in the past.

Marcial “Baby” Ama: Death penalty in the annals of PH history

During both the Spanish and American periods[4] periods, the Philippines has adopted the imposition of death as its capital punishment. During the said era, one of the most famous offenders Marcial “Baby” Ama[5], a 16-year-old, was executed via electric chair on October 4, 1961. At that time, the law considered the legal age for men and women to be 16 and 14, respectively.

Ama’s case is one of the exceptional cases when death was imposed on juvenile and habitual delinquents. In 1976, a firing squad replaced electric chairs as the preferred method of executions.

However, after the deposed Marcos regime in 1986, then President Corazon Aquino had prohibited the death penalty in the Philippines making us the first Asian country to abolish the death penalty as capital punishment.

Subsequently, her successor then President Ramos revived the death penalty through lethal injection by enacting RA 7659[6]. Seven convicts were executed.

Presidents Estrada, Arroyo, and Noynoy Aquino upheld their stands against the revival of the death penalty in the Philippines.

No injustice, deprivation of human rights

The imposition of capital punishment in the early years can be well understood by taking into consideration the context of the legal maxim, dura lex sed lex (The law is harsh, but it is the law).

Similarly, when the past administrations decided to suspend and abolish the death penalty, it can be well understood by taking the issue under the mechanics of the procedural legal process before the implementation.

By looking at those views, there was certainly no injustice or deprivation of human rights when the death penalty was imposed. Yet still, advocates for human rights and folks who strongly opposed death as capital punishment have their rights to invoke their sentiments over this controversy. They will try exhausting all remedies by raising other issues favorable to the offenders such as inadequate legal representation or misrepresentation, wrongful execution of an innocent person, invoking international treaties[7], citing Pro Reo Doctrine[8], etc.

Does religion still matter?

Catholicism is the primary Christian denomination in the Philippines. When Sen. Tito Sotto attempted to repeal RA 9346 otherwise known as “An act prohibiting the imposition of  [the] death penalty in the Philippines…” through his proposed Senate Bill 2080 known as “An act imposing [the] death penalty in the Philippines” in 2014, the proposal was set aside.

Opinions of different faith-based organizations collide with different Biblical interpretations as the Bible provides for two conflicting views: the exceptional cases that God imposed the death penalty[9] and the biblical texts opposing the same[10].

Critics opine that the so-called “exceptional cases” are mere misinterpretations and unfounded. We don’t know why or how.

Conversely, others continue to espouse either the Retributive or Compensatory kind of justice. Remember that both the Bible[11] and the Hammurabi’s Code have provided for the famous line: “An eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth.” Likewise, this adage is sometimes referred to using the Latin term, lex talionis, or the law of talion (from the Latin talio means a retaliation authorized by law, in which the punishment corresponds in kind and the degree to the injury[12].) Surprisingly, President Duterte is an active member of one of the San Beda’s underground fraternities, the Lex Talionis. Hence, it is not improbable if President Duterte will adopt the law of retaliation.

Conclusion

Matthew asked God, “How many times will He forgive His brother?” God answered, “Up to seventy-seven times and not seven times[13].

Verily, it is only God who gave us life that we are only His instruments in spreading His love into this world. We are merely His followers and He is “The Maker.”

Justice is not one-sided. Justitia, the lady justice, is an allegorical personification of the moral force in the judicial system. It is a resemblance of weighing the consequences of both our decisions and our prior actions before making a decision. If we want to be treated fairly, let us not be unfair in giving others what is due to him. We are all entitled to live a life without fear and discrimination. With that, we should extend our thoughts and ideologies in consonance with the lives of other people around us. ▲

________________________

[1] Section 1. The Philippines is a democratic and republican State. Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.
[2] On March 2000, Estrada issued a de facto moratorium on executions in the face of church-led campaigns to abolish the death penalty and in observance of the Jubilee Year.
[3] Arroyo signed RA 9346—an Act prohibiting the imposition of the death penalty in the Philippines
[4] Death Penalty by Electric Chair
[5] Ama himself earned his sentence after leading one of the biggest jail riots in history which resulted in the deaths of nine inmates, one of them having been beheaded. The Supreme Court imposed the death penalty after finding him guilty for stabbing to death a man named Almario Bautista during the said riot.
[6] RA 7659: An Act to Impose the Death Penalty on Certain Heinous Crimes, Amending for that Purpose the Revised Penal Laws, as amended, Other Special Penal Laws, and for other purposes.
[7] Universal Declaration on Human Rights
[8] Whenever a penal law is to be construed or applied and the law admits of two interpretations – one lenient to the offender and one strict to the offender – that interpretation which is lenient or favorable to the offender will be adopted.
[9] Murder (Leviticus 24:17); Kidnapping for ransom (Exodus 21:16); Human Sacrifice (Leviticus 20:25); Rebellion (Deuteronomy 21:18-21) and Paganism (Exodus 21:22)
[10] Matthew 5:21-22; Matthew 5:38-39 and Luke 16:7
[11] Exodus 21:24
[12] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eye_for_an_eye
[13] Matthew 18:21-22

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *