The Philippine government will renege on its obligation under an international treaty, which aims to abolish death penalty, if a proposed legislation seeking to reinstate capital punishment in the country is passed.
This was learned during the first public hearing of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights on various proposals to reintroduce the death penalty for heinous and drug-related crimes.
The Philippines, according to Senate President Pro-Tempore Franklin Drilon, could even face isolation from the international community for failing to fulfill its obligations under international law.
Drilon asked Senior Deputy State Prosecutor Richard Anthony Fadullon if the Justice department is aware of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which the Philippines is a state party.
He cited the ratification of the 2nd optional protocol to the ICCPR, which prohibits the implementation of death sentences and requires state parties to abolish the death penalty.
“Under our Constitution, our country adopts the generally accepted principles of the international law as part of the law of the land,” Drilon noted.
Fadullon, who represented Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd, said the government respects international treaties it has entered into but the position of the Department of Justice (DOJ) favoring the reinstatement of the death penalty is anchored on the current situation of the country.
Drilon asked Fadullon if the DOJ already has a plan on how the government would argue out of the legally-binding treaty that the President has ratified and which the Senate has concurred with.
Fadullon said he is not in a position to say if there are ways by which the country could get out of the particular international commitment at present.
Drilon said Congress could pass the proposal to reimpose the death penalty but such move will be considered a violation of the international treaty obligation of the country and it would have consequences.
“Violation of international obligation that can be the basis for withdrawing the benefits. But more important, we will be isolated from the international community, because we cannot even be trusted to honor our treaty obligation,” he added.
The Philippines also cannot opt out of the treaty since the ICCPR and the Second Optional Protocol does not contain a provision on withdrawal or denunciation or opting out, according to Sen. Leila de Lima.
De Lima also cited Article 56 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties to which the Philippines subscribes and states, “Treaties which do not have provisions on withdrawal or denunciation cannot be denounced or be withdrawn from.”
“That’s a binding and firm ratification, something that we cannot opt out and we have to live with that commitment. It is better for us not to waste time to further deliberate on the propriety of the pending bills calling for the reimposition of death penalty,” she said.
But Ferdinand Topacio of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) argued that while it is correct that treaties entered into by the country and ratified by the Senate form part of the laws of the land, the level of an international treaty is that of a statute and therefore it cannot go against the fundamental law of the land–the Constitution.
He noted that although it is law, an international treaty is at the level of a statute and any death penalty law to be reimposed by Congress would be deemed to be an implicit repeal of that particular provision of the international treaty.
The VACC is one of many organizations pushing for the reinstatement of the death penalty.
The group, in a position paper submitted to the Senate committee, disputed the claims by those against the imposition of capital punishment that there have been no new arguments against the death penalty.
On claims that the proposal is anti-poor, the VACC said the problem lies in certainties of investigations, prosecutions and judgments of cases by the courts.
The claim that the death penalty has no deterrent effect is a sweeping argument, according to the VACC.
Even in the martial law years, the group said, the country saw a decline in drug trafficking because of the capital punishment when drug lord Lim Seng was publicly executed by musketry in 1972.
The VACC added that the argument that death penalty does not dispense real justice reflects the ignorance of some sectors on the plight of the victims of heinous crimes and their struggle for rightful retribution.
“The victims of heinous crimes can attest that their conscience is silenced, their pain subdued, their hearts comforted, their minds calmed if justice is served through the imposition of the death penalty,” it said.
Justice committee chairman Sen. Richard Gordon said the hands of Congress are tied where the death penalty is concerned because of obligation of the country to international treaties.
He added that the committee wants to hear the position of the Justice secretary on the matter to find out if there is a way for the country to withdraw from its international obligation.
Gordon moved to suspend the hearing until the DOJ comes up with its position.