Restoring the death penalty is a divisive and hotly-debated issue for many years anywhere in the world, but it always comes up when gruesome and brutal murders committed against the helpless make into the headlines.
Just last week, Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada raised the issue when the Manila Police presented to him 34-year-old pedicab driver Mark Avila who confessed to raping and killing a six-year-old girl in Pandacan on Jan. 19.
Avila said he was high on drugs when he raped the hapless girl, who was found dead without any underwear in a grassy portion of the old PNR station in Paco. Two days after the brutal crime, he was arrested when his identity was established based on a barangay closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage showing him tugging the girl before she was found dead.
House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and Fr. Melvin Castro, executive secretary of the CBCP Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, immediately shot down the proposal even before it is pushed in Congress.
The Catholic prelate reminded Estrada that “a life lost due to crime cannot be restored by ending the life of a criminal.” The Catholic Church advocates restorative justice, an approach to justice where offenders are encouraged to own up to the crime, apologize, compensate the victims, and become productive.
Estrada himself faced the death penalty when he was charged with plunder 13 years ago. But Congress repealed it and then President Gloria Arroyo signed Republic Act 9346, abolishing the death penalty and restoring life imprisonment as the capital punishment.
Just a few days after the Sandiganbayan convicted Estrada of plunder in 2007, Arroyo granted him executive clemency.
Proposals to restore the death penalty came out also when incidents of carjacking, kidnapping and homicide were on the rise a few years ago.
Year after year, proposals are filed in Congress for the imposition of death on certain crimes. Right now, one bill (HB 1213) seeks “the higher prescribed penalty, including death” on foreign nationals convicted of trafficking dangerous drugs.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd had said he was not in favor of the death penalty due to the possibility that under an imperfect justice system, the state may be executing the wrong person.
Indeed, the imposition of a death penalty must be balanced by a reliable judicial system.
Perhaps advocates of the death penalty should rethink their strategy. Why not highlight on imposing the death sentence on policemen, lawyers, prosecutors, judges and justices involved in cases of wrongful judgments?
With the death penalty in effect, it cannot be denied that there were charged offenders who were convicted on offenses committed by others.
Depriving a wrongfully-charged person of his liberty is as worse a crime as killing him slowly.
If those found erring in bringing to court a fall guy who ends up convicted for a crime he did not commit should face the judgment on the wrongfully-charged person.
This could perhaps make law enforcers and officers of the court to be cautious and judicious in their actions to make sure that nobody is held responsible for a crime committed by another person.
It should send strong signals that justice cannot be bought and put the innocent to death.
What about on government officials, including those in state-run corporations, who pocket millions of pesos in commissions or kickbacks from contracts and other shenanigans while in public office?
Stealing through any means from the public coffers is as good as depriving people of opportunities to benefit from services like education, health, and livelihood for which the stolen money could have been used.
The death sentence should instil fear in corrupt politicians and government officials and employees and probably force them to “moderate (their) greed.”
The Philippines adopted the death penalty in 1994 after years of heated debates in Congress.
Section 19, Article III (Bill of Rights) of the 1987 Constitution says: “excessive fines shall not be imposed, nor cruel, degrading or inhuman punishment inflicted. Neither shall death penalty be imposed, unless, for compelling reasons involving heinous crimes, the Congress hereafter provides for it. Any death penalty already imposed shall be reduced to reclusion perpetua.”
In mid-1987, a bill was submitted in the House of Representatives, seeking to reinstate the death penalty on 15 ‘heinous crimes’, including murder, rebellion and the import or sale of prohibited drugs.
In 1988, the military started lobbying for the imposition of the death penalty for crimes such as rebellion, murder and drug-trafficking.
The bill passed the House with 130 votes for restoration and 25 against it in spite of strong opposition largely from religious and human rights groups.
In the Senate, three similar bills were filed following a bloody coup in 1989, imposing death penalty for rebellion, sedition, subversion and insurrection.
When Fidel Ramos was elected president in 1992, he pushed Congress to pass a law restoring the capital punishment. On December 13, 1993, Ramos signed Republic Act 7659, imposing the death penalty on certain heinous crimes, including raping a minor, and drug-related offenses.
The law took effect in January 1994 but executions through lethal injection were carried out only during the term of his successor, Joseph Estrada, until he declared a moratorium in 1999 and granted executive clemency to 108 death-row convicts as he asked Congress to repeal the Death Penalty Law.