Human Rights

Reinstating the Death Penalty a Violation of International Law

First of 2 parts

Jan 20 2018 (Manila Times) - AS a consequence of President Duterte’s war on drugs, there has been in the Philippines a move to reinstate death as capital punishment. On March 7, 2017, the House of Representatives approved the reimposition of the death penalty for drug-related crimes, among others, by a vote of 217 yeses and 54 no’s. The bill is pending in the Senate. As might be expected from the chamber that approves the ratification of international treaties, certain Senators have raised objections to the bill on the ground that it is violative of international law.

Danilo Ibayan

As noted by the late chairman of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, Purificacion Valera Quisumbing, in her briefing paper submitted to the European Parliament in Brussels in January 2007 , the Philippines abolished the death penalty under its 1987 Constitution and became the first Asian country to abolish the death penalty for all crimes. It also became the first Asian country to abolish it only to reintroduce it later on.

The latter distinction owes to the fact that “the constitutional abolition of the death penalty, which immediately took effect upon the ratification of this Constitution, does not prevent the legislature from reimposing it at some future time (Bernas, The Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines: A Commentary). The Constitution in Article III, Section 1 9(1) reads that effective upon its ratification, “The death penalty shall not be imposed unless for compelling reasons, including heinous crimes the Congress hereafter provides for it. Any death penalty already imposed shall be reduced to reclusion perpetua (life imprisonment).”

A series of serious crimes widely described as “heinous” occurred in 1993 during the administration of President Fidel V. Ramos. To arrest the rising criminality, the Death Penalty Law (Republic Act 7659) was signed in December 1993. It listed a total of 46 crimes punishable by death, 25 of which are death-mandatory and 21 are death-eligible. Republic Act 8177 mandated the death sentence be carried out by lethal injection. With the amendment of the Anti-Rape Law (RA 8533) and Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 (RA9165), capital offenses were raised to 52; of these, 30 of are death-mandatory and 22 are death-eligible.

In 1999, the administration of President Joseph Estrada put to death seven death row convicts. It was observed that “1999 was a bumper year for executions which were intended to abate criminality. Instead, using the same year as baseline, criminality increased by 15.3 per cent, the total in the previous year of 71,527 crimes rising to 82,538 in1999.” Giving in to appeals from groups, including the Roman Catholic Church, President Estrada issued a moratorium on executions in observance of the Vatican’s “Jubilee Year.” The practice of carrying out executions was re-initiated and carried over to the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

After a rise in drug trafficking and kidnappings that mainly victimized the Chinese-Filipino community, President Arroyo announced on December 5, 2003, the lifting of the de facto moratorium on executions “to sow fear into the hearts of criminals.” The resumption of executions was, however, halted with the reopening of the Lara and Licayan capital case. The Supreme Court vacated the decision of the lower court and ordered the admission of newly discovered evidence, including the testimonial evidence of two other co-accused in the same case, both of whom gave testimony exonerating Lara and Licayan from culpability. Since then successive administrations have been issuing reprieves on scheduled executions without actually issuing a moratorium.

The Commission on Human Rights vehemently objected to the reimposition of the death penalty. It cautioned against it and recommended reforms for a more effective enforcement of penal laws. It should also be mentioned that the European Union and the Roman Catholic Church, among others, waged an intensifying campaign against the death penalty.

On April 19, 2006 in a letter to the House of Representatives and the Senate, President Arroyo endorsed the immediate enactment of House Bill No. 4826 entitled “An Act Prohibiting the Imposition of the Death Penalty.” It was signed into law as Republic Act 9346 on June 24, 2006.

At this point, the Philippines might be said to be the first Asian country to abolish the death penalty for all crimes only to reimpose it on certain heinous crimes, and then only to prohibit it totally once again.
To those who have followed the twists and turns of the history of the death penalty in the Philippines, much of the arguments for and against the current move to reimpose capital punishment are not new. Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, in sponsoring the bill reimposing the death penalty, cited four “compelling” reasons: 1) The death penalty is a fitting response to increasing criminality and killings in the county; 2)The death penalty is a measure to restore respect for the laws of the land; 3) Death is a path to achieving justice; and 4) Reimposition of the death penalty is geared towards a genuine reform in the Philippines criminal justice system.

(To be continued tomorrow)

This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

 
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