Advocacies

The Death Penalty: Death of the Dignity of the Filipino

STATEMENT OF THE SILENT MAJORITY – CEBU
February 17, 2017

We, the members of The Silent Majority – Cebu (TSM-Cebu), oppose the return of the death penalty in the Philippines. The Duterte administration, not content with its inaction over the summary executions of suspected illegal drug personalities, would now like to legalize murder by State agents by attempting to revive the death penalty law in the country. We appeal to our legislators to block the passage of this barbaric law. Its passage is the death of the dignity of the Filipino, accuser and accused alike. Certainly, we are better than this.

In their Explanatory Note to House Bill No. 1, Hon. Fredenil H. Castro and other representatives, including our very own Cebuano congressman, Hon. Benhur L. Salimbangon of the Fourth Congressional District of Cebu, claim that “There is evidently a need to reinvigorate the war against criminality by reviving a proven deterrent coupled by its consistent, persistent, and determined implementation,” referring to the death penalty. In other words, proponents of the death penalty law claim that it will lower down crime rates. This is false. Data from all over the world consistently, persistently, and determinedly show that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent against crime.

  • A survey of the leading criminologists in the United States reveal that 88% of them are of the professional opinion that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent against crime.[1] It must be noted that these are their answers based on empirical research, not their views on capital punishment.
  • A comparative study of the crime rates in Singapore, where death penalty is imposed and is typically administered within a year and a half from the start of the trial, and Hong Kong, which abolished the death penalty in 1993, showed that there was no statistical significance between the two cities, the study concluding that the executions in Singapore had no differential impact.[2]
  • During the July 3, 2012 United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights panel on abolishing the death penalty, Mr. Cousin Zilala of Zimbabwe stated, to which Prosecutor-General of Burundi, Mr. Valentin Bagokurinda agreed, that even in situations of past mass atrocities in Africa, such as those committed in Rwanda, national leaders have publicly stated that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent.[3]
  • Even data from the Philippines itself clearly show that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent to crime. In fact, from 1999 to 2002, after Leo Echegary and six others were put to death through lethal injection, the incidence of index crimes rose by 8.8%.[4]

It is clear, therefore, that there is no basis at all for the claim that the death penalty is an effective deterrent against crime. For an administration which had made eradication of crime within six (6) months from assumption of office its campaign platform, it is unfortunate that a disproven deterrent against crime is being touted as a tool “to  reinvigorate the war against criminality”.

The death penalty is also an anti-poor law. A 2004 socio-economic survey of death row inmates conducted by the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) indicate that 59.6% of the 890 inmates surveyed was earning below the minimum wage at the time of the alleged commission of the crime, with 31.5% of the inmates reporting to have been in agriculture.[5] For an administration which has most of its support coming from the poorer sectors of Philippine society, bringing back a reprehensible, inhumane penalty which is inflicted disproportionately on those poorer sectors could not be anything but ungratefulness.

Because of the difficulties faced by our justice system, the chance of an innocent person finding himself on the death row is very high. The Supreme Court itself: “Statistics would disclose that within the eleven-year period since the re-imposition of the death penalty law in 1993 until June 2004, the trial courts have imposed capital punishment in approximately 1,493, out of which 907 cases have been passed upon in review by the Court.  xxx  In sum, the cases where the judgment of death has either been modified or vacated consist of an astounding 71.77% of the total of death penalty cases directly elevated before the Court on automatic review that translates to a total of six hundred fifty-one (651) out of nine hundred seven (907) appellants saved from lethal injection.” (People v. Mateo, G.R. No. 147678-87, July 7, 2004, citations omitted, emphasis supplied) For an administration which has been unable to put a stop to the summary killings of thousands of persons who had not been convicted in a court of law, passing a law which will allow the killing of persons convicted in a court of law will not assuage the suspicions that the administration is behind the summary executions in our streets and in the slums.

Furthermore, the Philippines is a signatory to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, which clearly states: “No one within the jurisdiction of a State Party to the present Protocol shall be executed.” (Art. 1(1)). For a small, militarily weak country which has territorial disputes with her more powerful neighbors, it is in the Philippines’ best interest that she abides with international obligations. For an administration which had not even made a strong statement to the People’s Republic of China regarding the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea ruling on China’s “nine-dash line” claim, the Duterte’s administration to forgo the Republic of the Philippines’ obligations under the Second Optional Protocol does not inspire much confidence.

The Duterte administration had, time and time again, insulted the dignity of the Filipino people by not putting up measures to stop the wave of killings that had happened since it assumed office. It should not finally kill that dignity of the Filipino, enshrined in no less than our Constitution, by legalizing murder by State agents, no matter how the process went through the defective Philippine justice system. The death penalty must remain stricken off our statute books: the death penalty is the death of the dignity of the Filipino.

[1] See M. Radelet & T. Lacock, “Do Executions Lower Homicide Rates? The Views of Leading Criminologists,” 99 Journal of Criminal Law & Crimonology 489, Northwestern University (2009), available online at http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/files/DeterrenceStudy2009.pdf

[2] See F. Zimring, J. Fagan & D. Johnson, “Executions, Deterrence and Homicide: A Tale of Two Cities”, Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 09-206, CELS 2009 4th Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies Paper (2009), available online at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/Delivery.cfm/SSRN_ID1465090_code244408.pdf?abstractid=1436993&mirid=1

[3] For a description of the proceedings, please see page 11 of the UN-OHCHR booklet, Moving Away from the Death Penalty: Lessons from National Experiences, available online at http://www.ohchr.org/Lists/MeetingsNY/Attachments/27/moving_away_from_death_penalty_web.pdf

[4] See JC Punongbayan & K. Mandrilla, “Why the death penalty is unnecessary, anti-poor, error-prone” online at http://www.rappler.com/thought-leaders/161072-death-penalty-unnecessary-anti-poor-error-prone.

[5] An online copy of the 2004 survey by FLAG could be found at http://pcij.org/blog/wp-docs/flag-survey-death-row.pdf

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