IN a sense, the propagandists are right: the Duterte administration will “hit the ground running.” Despite the frail composition of the incoming Cabinet, President-elect Rodrigo Duterte is showing unquestionable resolve in at least two areas–one, in his proposed collaboration with the communists, and two, in his proposed reimposition of the death sentence. In both cases, the implementation appears to precede even his formal assumption of office.
The announced resumption of peace talks with the Communist Party/New People’s Army/National Democratic Front in Oslo, Norway follows, rather than precedes, the announced decision of the incoming President Duterte to name nominees of the CPP/NPA/NDF to his Cabinet, thereby launching a coalition government with the Left.
This is an inversion of the correct process. Ideally, the Cabinet appointments should have come only after a comprehensive peace agreement has been concluded between the government and the CPP/NPA/NDF.
This subject is more elaborately treated in a paper written by former National Security Adviser and Secretary of National Defense Norberto B. Gonzales (The Philippine Road Map to Communism), and appearing on the National Transformation Council Facebook page and the NTC Website.
Reviving the death sentence
With respect to the proposed reimposition of the death sentence, Duterte’s announced support for vigilantism has gained strong support from local executives and police chiefs, who have put up bounties on the head of notorious drug trafficking suspects. Duterte’s intended P1 billion bounty for the death of thousands of drug dealers has drawn an immediate response from 20 alleged drug lords, who are reported to have decided to raise a P1 billion kitty for the assassination of Duterte and the new Philippine National Police chief.
Duterte has drawn enthusiastic support from the incoming members of the new Congress who have abandoned their old sinking ship to board Duterte’s adopted flag carrier, the PDP-Laban, which used to have not more than a handful of members. They are eager to support the reimposition of the death sentence, which the 1987 Constitution has abolished, except for certain heinous crimes which Congress may define for “compelling reasons.”
The political butterflies are more than eager to pass the needed law, as though it were no more than a city ordinance.
At the Senate, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel 3rd, who expects to be crowned Senate President despite his being the only PDP member of the Senate, said the death penalty should be in place by October, four months after the first regular session of the 17th Congress opens on July 25. There was no mention of the need for extended debate, so it appears that the decision to reimpose the death sentence could precede the formal proposal for its reinstatement.
Except for Buhay Party-List Rep. Lito Atienza, three times Mayor of Manila and Cabinet member under the Arroyo administration, no incoming member of Congress has expressed any strong misgivings about the proposed reimposition, and the kneejerk reaction to it in the social media and various other places.
While fully supporting Duterte’s proposed war on crime, Atienza, a pillar of the national pro-life movement, has warned that reimposition of the death sentence would be the wrong solution to crime. His objection is grounded on high moral ground and a wealth of empirical evidence. At least 102 countries have abolished the capital sentence, and among those that still have it in their books, 38 have not carried it out in the last 10 years. This is a trend the world can hardly ignore.
I am fundamentally against the capital sentence, and this is not the first time I am compelled to weigh in.
In 1992, on the first year of my first term in the Senate, seven Senate bills sought to impose the appropriate penalties for certain heinous crimes. All except one proposed the death penalty as the maximum. This was consistent with Article III, Section 19 of the Constitution, which provides: “Excessive fine 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.”
When the seven bills were consolidated, the committee in charge chose to scale down the proposed penalty from death to reclusion perpetua. Sen. Jose Lina Jr., the committee chair, asked me to co-sponsor the committee report, and on Nov. 18, 1992, I delivered my sponsorship speech on the floor of the Senate. My speech, “The Death Penalty Will Not Solve Crime,” has since been reproduced in a number of publications, and appears in one of my books of Senate speeches, “Guarding the Public Trust.” I revisited it the other day, and found that none of the premises have changed.
Against UN accord
Now, as then, the reimposition of the capital sentence would violate or at least disavow a formal and solemn commitment of the Philippine government when it acceded to the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights and the Second Optional Protocol on Jan. 23, 1987, which provides: “No one within the jurisdiction of a (signatory) state shall be executed.” And no party to the agreement may do anything to prevent or delay the abolition of the capital sentence.
What are we now to say to the rest of the world, were we to turn around and do the exact opposite of what we had committed to do under the Covenant and its companion protocol?
Shall we simply say, “Sorry we did not know what we signed, and we have now changed our mind”? Or shall we say, “there is a general breakdown of law and order, and the restoration of the death penalty is the only way to solve crime”?
This was what we heard then, and this is what we are hearing again now. What, if any, has changed? Twenty-four years ago I said:
“Our citizens despair of protection not only from criminals but also from those who are supposed to protect them from criminals. Rightly or wrongly—fairly or unfairly—many among them have learned to believe that they are as much in danger from the police as they are from criminals. Rightly or wrongly—fairly or unfairly –they have come to believe that the justice system does not work; that nobody is ever arrested anywhere anymore; or if that criminals do get arrested, they are never tried; if tried, they are never convicted; if convicted, they are not made to suffer the remorse of living hell but given the privileges of honored guests in a pre-paid inn.
“That is the heart of the problem. If we miss that, then we miss everything. We end up trying to cure everything except the disease that needs to be cured, or trying to cure one disease with a cure meant for another. This is what the proposal to reimpose capital punishment means.
“Were the death penalty reinstated today, it would probably be met with cheers from among its proponents. For a while it would satisfy their cry for blood and raise their expectations about the government’s capability to combat crime. But it is the wrong solution and because it is the wrong solution to a serious social problem, it will do no such thing. In the end, it would simply frustrate and enrage the majority when they see that criminals still went unpunished and the increased penalty has not deterred crime.
Need for reforms
“The solution to the problem does not lie here. It lies somewhere else. It lies in reform. Reform the police and law-enforcement agencies. Reform the prosecution arm of the government. Reform the judiciary and the legal profession. Reform the prison system. Reform the social and political institutions. Reform the media and the educational system. Reform the society as a whole.
“Do all these and the state will not need to execute a single criminal to make justice and the law, and the people’s faith in them, live again. Look for the solution elsewhere, and the state will remain powerless to deal with crime, even if the government combined the harshest cruelties of the Mosaic Law, the Code of Hammurabi and King Nebuchadnezzar and decreed the execution of the entire village along with every condemned individual.”
St. Thomas Aquinas, the greatest philosopher of all time, grants that under certain conditions, the State, in the exercise of its right of self-defense, may execute a criminal.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church confirms the moral validity of this proposition when the death penalty is the only available means to protect the society from a grave threat to human life; although never when other means more respectful of human life are available to punish criminals and protect society from them. The advance of human civilization has rendered the killing of criminals by the state virtually unnecessary and non-existent.
The fallible state
There are grave practical reasons for this too. The State is not infallible, and should be able to correct its mistakes. But the death penalty is irrevocable, irreparable and irreversible once carried out; it can no longer be corrected even after it is shown to have been a mistake—-and there are many instances when the penalty was shown to have been a mistake.
But does it not at least deter crime?
This is the biggest and loudest argument behind the proposal. Many seem to believe, to use Arthur Koestler’s words, that legal murder by the state prevents the illegal murder by criminals, “just as the Persians believed that whipping the sea would calm the storm.”
This, however, is not supported by the evidence. Albert Pierrepoint, the last century’s most famous and longest employed executioner, said before he died that capital punishment never deterred anyone from committing a capital crime.
Criminals don’t learn
Koestler records, as does Camus, that at a time when England used to hang pickpockets, other pickpockets worked the crowd that watched the hanging. They usually chose the time when the strangled man was swinging above them to exercise their talents, because they knew that everybody’s eyes were fixed on the wretched creature at the scaffold. Of 250 pickpockets who were hanged, says Camus, 170 had previously attended one or two executions. In 1886, out of 167 condemned men who had gone through the Bristol prison, 164 had witnessed at least one execution.
Prior to the abolition of capital sentence by the 1987 Constitution, death convicts used to pack the national penitentiary to the brim, while awaiting execution. Among these hundreds, if not thousands, of death convicts, not more than a handful came from well-to-do families; almost all had wretched economic and social backgrounds. Did this mean that only the poor were capable of committing capital crimes?
By no means. But it means they had no means to hire good lawyers, or to bribe the police, the fiscals and the judges in order to escape arrest, prosecution or punishment. This situation has not changed at all. The poor still lie at the bottom of the criminal justice system. So a revival of the death sentence can only revive that same outrageous situation.
The death penalty will not solve crime. But if and when the state begins to kill again, it would be killing the poor and only the poor. So while the secretary of central economic planning tries to limit new births to a maximum of three children per family, and the new anti-life and anti-family members of the Senate try to railroad same-sex marriage and other means of population control, capital punishment could be used to drastically reduce the ranks of the poor on the other end. So if it doesn’t work to solve crime, it could probably be justified as an “anti-poverty measure.”