Death penalty-3: Toward the reinvention of criminal justice

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YEN MAKABENTA

AT the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit in Vientiane last year, President Duterte and his war on drugs drew the interest of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. How can you succeed in your drug war, Lee asked DU30, when you have banned the death penalty in the Philippines?

It was music to the ears of our President who, as we have come to know, is a big believer in the efficacy of capital punishment.

It’s an argument often raised by proponents of the re-imposition of the death penalty, that while the Philippines has banned the death penalty, almost all of Asia widely imposes it, continuing a continent-wide tradition that dates back centuries. And it is suggested that this may be one reason why some or many of our neighbors have progressed much faster than we have.

It’s absurd for Filipinos to feel disadvantaged for not being bloodthirsty or being more humane. To the contrary, we should be proud that enlightenment has visited our land much earlier.

Marching to the beat of history

This way, we are marching to the beat of history, because the contemporary global trend is toward prison policy reform and a more humane penal system. Those who seek to restore the death penalty are returning us to an atavistic policy of harsh punishment.

This is typified by DU30’s declaration that “criminals are not humanity,” as if they belong to another species. The statement will shock many Filipinos, but it also reflects realistically the frustrations of many of our people with a system of criminal justice that is cruel to prisoners, but hapless to stem the growth of crime. And yet, prison growth in the country is exponential, and our prisons are brutal, harsh and merciless. Most humiliating of all, our main national penitentiary, the New Bilibid Prisons, has been converted by drug convicts and drug lords into a facility for drug manufacture and trafficking, with the evident consent of our secretary of justice at one time, if the charges against her are true.

If HB 4727 is enacted into law, we will have a penal system that is clearly out of step with the world. Only 56 countries retain capital punishment today; 103 countries have completely abolished it for all crimes. Six have abolished it for ordinary crimes (while maintaining it for special circumstances such as war crimes). The United Nations General Assembly adopted in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014 non-binding resolutions calling for a global moratorium on executions, with a view to eventual abolition.

Investing in justice and prison reform

The shift in thinking has come about because of the realization by many nations that all the years of living the mantra of being “tough on crime” had led them to a dead end: a broken system of crowded prisons and ever-expanding prison budgets.

In an article for National Affairs (Number 27, Spring 2016), titled “Conservatives and Criminal Justice,” the political scientists David Dagan and Steven M. Teles reported that the change in the US came at around the turn of the millennium. There, conservative and liberal policymakers and ideologues arrived at a trans-partisan agreement on the need to reduce the level of incarceration in the country, make prison conditions more humane, and steer offenders back into productive lives.

Prison growth had been spurred by the fact that politicians benefited from being tough on crime. Voters were afraid and rewarded candidates with aggressive stances against crime – the harsher the better.

These conditions bred a movement for change in the priorities and policies on criminal justice. Prison growth and the attendant rise of the prison budget per criminal has fueled the urgency of reform.

One of the most successful prison reform programs was developed by Pew Charitable Trusts, which came up with a program called “Justice Reinvestment,” or JRI. It was adopted by many American state governments.

In this model, experts crunch the numbers on a state’s criminal justice system, and propose ways to shrink the prison population or at least avert growth. The solutions focused on low-level offenders, the “reinvestment” takes the form of steering money from incarceration into alternative interventions such as drug treatment and intensive probation. Financing came from Pew and federal grants.

“The goal of justice reinvestment,” the advocates of JRI have said, “is to redirect some portion of the billions America spends on prisons to rebuilding the human resources and physical infrastructure—the schools, health care facilities, parks and public spaces—and neighborhoods devastated by high levels of incarceration.”

JRI is not without its critics; but it is certainly a better approach than just letting the prison population swell or killing prisoners outright through the death penalty.

The severity of the problems sooner or later will usher in reform. And that I trust will eventually happen to our own criminal justice system.

Low official violence, more civilization

To cap my series of columns on the death penalty, I want to quote at length the words of Charles Krauthammer, the distinguished Washington Post columnist, in his reflections on capital punishment. He believed at first that “justice is the most powerful argument in favor of capital punishment,” but then after observation and study, he switched to opposition of the death penalty.

He wrote in a column in April 1992: “It is a mark of civilization to maintain order at the lowest level of official violence. One is not supposed to talk these days about higher and lower levels of civilization, but even political correctness would admit that the less a society has recourse to official violence the more civilized it is. We do not cut off the hand of thieves. We do not keelhaul miscreant sailors. We no longer have public floggings. Each abolition represents an advance of civilization. Abolition of the death penalty represents a further advance.”

The question then, ladies and gentlemen of the 17th Congress of the Philippines, is whether we Filipinos will advance or retreat.

yenmakabenta@yahoo.com

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5 Comments

  1. aladin g. villacorte on

    Arguments for –

    Some people deserve to die, and the State has the obligation to execute them. Now, who are they? I would reserve the death penalty for mass murderers, murderers of innocent victims, especially old people and children, rapist murderers, torture killers, and the like.

    Let me illustrate.  A drunk broke into my neighbor’s house, took their young daughter and tied her to the bed, repeatedly sexually abused her, took cell phone photos of her naked body and sent them to his friends. And then in order to eliminate the evidence, he doused her with gasoline and burnt her to death. I say – he deserves to die.

    And so ultimately we get to the question of why? Why should we punish? Not for the sake of deterrence, that would be using a person as a means to our own ends. That would be sending a message by killing a person. That’s immoral. . . We should kill for one reason and one reason only – they deserve it.  In one word: justice.

    Arguments against – 

    I’ve seen individuals who have lost a family member because of a crime. . .anger and desire for revenge poison their entire beings.  They’re so focus on what they’ve lost. . .that they completely miss the opportunity they’ve been given to learn about real love.  Instead they seem to believe hatred, yes, death penalty, will satisfy their thirst for vengeance and will somehow bring them healing.  So, with hardened hearts and stiff lips, they say, I’ll never forgive.

    And the sad thing is that in wishing to send someone to hell they end up sending themselves there as well.

  2. Death Penalty should be imposed to our society. Filipinos have no discipline at all.. Our education system in our country had no substance , stupid and idiot at all. It only favors who are rich and oligarch, Human Animals species of yellow trolls minions. That is very common to our society..The Human Animals species of yellow minions deprived the life of ordinary people.

  3. Driggs Matabaran on

    Death of a victim of rape and other heinous crimes must be paid by death of the criminal. It has to be simple as that. How come that those who oppose death penalty think they should give chance to the criminals while the criminals did not give chance for their victims to live?

  4. This administration is obsessed with DEATH. For me it seems to be it’s only accomplishment, after all the president already said in his own words to follow him to hell, so why am i not surprised……

  5. Dudley Sharp on

    Charles is great, but . . .

    Saint/Pope Pius V: “The just use of (executions), far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this (Fifth) Commandment which prohibits murder.” “The Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent” (1566)

    Immanuel Kant: “If an offender has committed murder, he must die. In this case, no possible substitute can satisfy justice. For there is no parallel between death and even the most miserable life, so that there is no equality of crime and retribution unless the perpetrator is judicially put to death.”. “A society that is not willing to demand a life of somebody who has taken somebody else’s life is simply immoral.”

    Pope Pius XII; “When it is a question of the execution of a man condemned to death it is then reserved to the public power to deprive the condemned of the benefit of life, in expiation of his fault, when already, by his fault, he has dispossessed himself of the right to live.” 9/14/52

    John Murray: “Nothing shows the moral bankruptcy of a people or of a generation more than disregard for the sanctity of human life.” “… it is this same atrophy of moral fiber that appears in the plea for the abolition of the death penalty.” “It is the sanctity of life that validates the death penalty for the crime of murder. It is the sense of this sanctity that constrains the demand for the infliction of this penalty. The deeper our regard for life the firmer will be our hold upon the penal sanction which the violation of that sanctity merit.” (Page 122 of Principles of Conduct).

    Plato: “Longer life is no boon to the sinner himself in such a case, and that his decease will bring a double blessing to his neighbors; it will be a lesson to them to keep themselves from wrong, and will rid society of an evil man. These are the reasons for which a legislator is bound to ordain the chastisement of death for such desperate villainies, and for them alone”

    John Locke: “A criminal who, having renounced reason… hath, by the unjust violence and slaughter he hath committed upon one, declared war against all mankind, and therefore may be destroyed as a lion or tyger, one of those wild savage beasts with whom men can have no society nor security.” And upon this is grounded the great law of Nature, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” Second Treatise of Civil Government.