Death penalty redux: Backlash of a failed criminal justice system

Atty. Dodo Dulay

Atty. Dodo Dulay

IT was just a decade ago that Congress passed the law (i.e. Republic Act 9346) prohibiting the imposition of the death penalty in the Philippines, and the country joined the 140 or so nations that have abolished capital punishment either by law or in practice.

Now, a little over six months into the Duterte presidency, the possibility of the death penalty being enforced again has never been as real as it is today. But that shouldn’t come as a surprise, with President Rodrigo Duterte being its most vocal advocate even on the campaign trail. Running on a platform of ending rampant crime during the previous administration, Duterte promised voters: “I will recommend to Congress the restoration of [the]death penalty…”

Many Filipinos seem to agree. A February 2016 Social Weather Station pre-election survey showed that this was an important advocacy for voters, with 59 percent of Filipinos saying they would vote for a candidate who was willing to bring back the death penalty for heinous crimes. Even after Duterte’s victory, a Facebook poll showed that 83 percent of respondents favor bringing back the death penalty while on Twitter, 67 percent of the respondents approved of its revival.

People have also taken to social media to express their approval. One Facebook user quipped: “Ito ay para sa mga taong hindi takot pumatay, mang-rape, mangholdap, magnakaw. (The death penalty is for people who are not afraid to kill, rape, rob and steal.) This will never be a problem unless you’re a criminal.” This echoes Duterte’s viewpoint on the death penalty. “I believe in retribution. Why? You should pay. When you kill someone, rape, you should die,” the President once said.

Duterte’s tough-on-crime stance has resonated with many Filipinos. In fact, Duterte’s approval rating has remained high notwithstanding his brutal crime crackdown which has already left more than 6,000 people dead, and deaths under investigation (DUI)–as extrajudicial killings (EJKs) are euphemistically called by the Philippine National Police (PNP)–breaching the 4,000-mark as of last month.

In an apparent endorsement of the death penalty (and its more ruthless sibling, EJKs), the latest SWS survey conducted from December 3 to 6, 2016 showed that 77 percent (up from 76 percent last quarter) of the respondents were satisfied with the performance of President Duterte.

Curiously, Duterte’s net satisfaction rating (+66) was higher in urban areas than in rural areas (+61). His net satisfaction was also highest among the youth aged 18 to 24 (+70) and among college graduates (+72).

The way we see it, public support for the death penalty (and the absence of popular outrage over drug killings and EJKs) reflects the frustration of Filipinos with a weak and corrupt criminal justice system that has seen crimes, both petty and heinous, go unpunished, and criminals go scot-free. This amidst the apparent crime wave during the Aquino administration.

In the last full year of the Aquino government, reported crimes increased by 46 percent in the first five months of the year with 1,161,188 crimes. For the so-called index or focus crimes such as murder, rape, robbery, etc., the number increased by some 300 percent from 2012 to 2014, shooting up to 492,772.

Unfortunately, as the number of crimes increased, crime solution efficiency has gone on a downward spiral to 36.5 percent in 2014 compared to the higher percentages of 89 to 90 percent almost 10 years ago.

Obviously, the less crimes are solved, the more crooks are emboldened since criminals know they can get away with almost anything and there will be no consequence to their actions. If there was 100 percent certainty that one would be caught for committing a crime, we’re sure few people would even try. But since many crimes, including heinous ones, do not result in an arrest and conviction–- thus, no certainty of punishment–there is no strong deterrent to future crime.

So how bad is it? If you ask the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC), a Hong Kong-based NGO, “the criminal justice system of the Philippines is rotten.”

According to the report, the failure begins with law enforcement to the investigation and prosecution of crimes, with the entire system marred by corruption and unscrupulous dealings. “To the ordinary person in the Philippines, neither the police nor the prosecution and courts inspire any confidence,” the ALRC report said.

Clearly, the return of capital punishment–or the threat of punishment by hanging, firing squad, lethal injection, etc.–-appears to many Filipinos, rightly or wrongly, as the solution to rising criminality. Why?

“As long as people’s frustrations are not addressed because of the weakness of our law enforcement, people will always find an easy answer in the death penalty,” explained Coalition Against Death Penalty (CADP) president Silvino Borres, SJ.

Ordinary Filipinos have clearly lost faith in the criminal justice system–which deteriorated so badly during the past administration, with criminals, for instance, transforming the national penitentiary into the headquarters of the country’s drug trade–that many people view the death penalty as the only alternative to dealing with rampant crime.

Unfortunately, the revival of the death penalty, if it comes to pass, will have little impact on crime rates, especially when criminals do not believe they will be caught or jailed for their actions in the first place.

However, until our countrymen see and believe that the first four pillars of the Philippine criminal justice system (i.e. law enforcement, prosecution, courts, and corrections/penal system) mete out punishment equally, fairly and swiftly, the death penalty will be seen by ordinary Filipinos as the most effective way of dispensing justice and protecting the innocent.


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  1. Well said Atty. Dulay, hardened criminals are still enjoying their illegal activities because they have the money to buy justice, mushrooming inside the prison and nobody is eliminated and Juan dela Cruz is the one who suffer. I love you column. Mabuhay ka.

  2. CADP President Silvino Borres ,what is solution then,to pray? Wronged people have been praying that their loved ones who been raped and murdered to get justice is not being answered sir,.