Will Death Penalty Law Stop Summary Killings?

Feb 6 2017 - The death penalty has always been a divisive issue in the Philippines, whether it is about restoring or outlawing the punishment.

Tita C. Valderama

Tita C. Valderama

Reviving the death sentence involves many side issues that are equally debatable, such as the nature of the crimes covered, the method of imposing it, and the strong objection of the church on moral and legal grounds.

In the current Congress, the likelihood that President Rodrigo Duterte will get his wish to have the death penalty restored in the statute books, given a “super majority” in the House of Representatives and a relatively supportive Senate.

The administration is pushing the restoration of the death penalty at a time when summary executions involving mostly drug suspects are happening on an almost a daily basis. Sometimes multiple deaths are recorded in a day.

With at least 6,000 drug-related deaths since July 1, that would mean an average of 28 deaths a day.

That is almost five times more than the number of daily executions that Duterte said he wanted to do once the death penalty is restored.

He said the death penalty did not work before because it was not effectively carried out.

“There was death penalty before but nothing happened. Return that to me and I will do it every day: five or six (criminals). That’s for real,” the 71-year-old Duterte said in a speech a few days before Christmas.

The Catholic Church and its allied organizations have strongly and consistently opposed the death sentence, calling it barbaric, inhuman and degrading. They have also raised the high possibility of innocent people being executed, given the weaknesses and corruption in the justice system in the Philippines.

The Church’s opposition to the extra-judicial killings is equally strong. It devoted homilies in last Sunday’s masses to a pastoral letter from Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).

Villegas said the government must first fix the flawed criminal justice system which, he said, is more feasible than re-imposing the death penalty.

“Cleanse the police ranks! Fix all the courts! Tighten (the security) at the [New] Bilibid [Prison] and other prisons. Death penalty is a lazy form of penalty instead of helping reform those who made mistakes,” said Villegas, the archbishop of Lingayen and Dagupan in Pangasinan.

The Philippines restored the death penalty in 1999 but abolished it in 2006 following fierce opposition from the Catholic Church, the religion of 80 percent of Filipinos.

I am against summary executions for the simple reason that crime suspects should first be given a chance to defend themselves in a court of law. But I am in favor of the death penalty, provided that our criminal justice system is first rid of corrupt lawyers and court officers who could end up killing the innocent and setting free the moneyed criminals.

Given the performance record of the police in the administration’s brutal war on drugs, and the corruption in the criminal system, it will take a long time and sincere efforts to make it comfortable to have a death penalty law that will punish only those who have committed grisly crimes like raping and killing a young girl, or drug trafficking.

As proposed at the House, the death penalty bill would cover more than 20 heinous crimes such as rape with homicide, kidnapping for ransom, arson with death, plunder, and drug-related crimes.

The death penalty still relevant given the daily average of 25 drug-related deaths under the administration?

If the re-imposition of the death penalty would stop these summary killings, only then can capital punishment be a less objectionable option.

This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

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