THE House of Representatives, through the subcommittee on judicial reforms of the committee on justice, continued last November 22 its hearings on the restoration of the death penalty for certain heinous crimes. The subcommittee is chaired by Rep. Vicente Veloso, a former Commissioner of the National Labor Relations Commission and a former justice of the Court of Appeals.
As expected, there were diametrically opposing views on the issue, coming from the legislators and the invited resource persons. Rep. EdcelLagman opposes the restoration of the death penalty. On the other hand, House Deputy Speaker Fredenil Castro supports its re-imposition.
What is the death penalty?
The term “death penalty” refers to the “execution of an offender sentenced to death after conviction by a court of law of a criminal offense. Capital punishment should be distinguished from extrajudicial executions carried out without due process of law. The term death penalty is sometimes used interchangeably with capital punishment, though imposition of the penalty is not always followed by execution (even when it is upheld on appeal), because of the possibility of commutation to life imprisonment. (Encyclopedia Britannica)”
Black’s Law Dictionary defines it as the “supreme penalty exacted as a punishment for murder and other capital crimes. The death penalty has been held not to be, under all circumstances, cruel and unusual punishment within the prohibitions of the Constitution.”
Article 70 of the Revised Penal Code (Act No. 3815, 1932) refers to death as the most severe penalty, among 12 penalties. Article 71 of the same Code indicated death as the highest penalty in its Scale No. 1.
Abolition of the death penalty
Republic Act 7659, approved on December 13, 1993, imposed the death penalty on certain heinous crimes and amended the revised penal laws and other related special laws. The crimes punishable with death under this Act are “heinous for being grievous, odious and hateful offenses and which, by reason of their inherent or manifest wickedness, viciousness, atrocity and perversity are repugnant and outrageous to the common standards and norms of decency and morality in a just, civilized and ordered society.”
In fact, Congress itself admitted that, “Congress, in the justice, public order and the rule of law, and the need to rationalize and harmonize the penal sanctions for heinous crimes, finds compelling reasons to impose the death penalty for said crimes.” Among the crimes that were considered heinous were murder, kidnapping, rape, plunder, and those involving illegal drugs.
However, RA 9346, An Act Prohibiting the Imposition Of Death Penalty in the Philippines, enacted on June 24, 2006, abolished the imposition of the death penalty in the Philippines.
“SECTION 1. The imposition of the penalty of death is hereby prohibited. Accordingly, Republic Act No. Eight Thousand One Hundred Seventy-Seven (R.A. No. 8177), otherwise known as the Act Designating Death by Lethal Injection, is hereby repealed. Republic Act No. Seven Thousand Six Hundred Fifty-Nine (R.A. No. 7659), otherwise known as the Death Penalty Law, and all other laws, executive orders and decrees, insofar as they impose the death penalty are hereby repealed or amended accordingly.”
According to news reports, between 1946 and 1965, 35 people were executed, mainly convicted of particularly savage crimes marked by “senseless depravity” or “extreme criminal perversity.” Between 1999 and 2000, seven inmates were put to death.
In 2006, the sentences of 1,230 death row inmates were commuted to life imprisonment, in what Amnesty International believes to be the “largest ever commutation of death sentences.”
Arguments for the reimposition of the death penalty
1. To save the Philippines from becoming a “narco-state”
The possibility that the Philippines could eventually become a “narco-state” is a major reason for the need to reimpose the death penalty.
In 2012, the United Nations said the Philippines had the highest rate of methamphetamine use in East Asia. Likewise, according to a US State Department report, 2.1 percent of Filipinos aged 16 to 64 used the drug, which is known locally as “shabu.” Two and 1/10 percent of 110 million Filipinos is roughly 2.31 million. In a report made in 2009, Pacific Strategies & Assessments identified the Philippines as, “not only a transshipment point, but also a key producer of synthetic drugs for all of Asia.” As of 2013, the illegal drug trade in the Philippines amounted to $8.4 billion.
Shall we allow such a drug menace to continue and engulf our beloved country? If we want to save the next generation, our children’s children, from the drug menace, then the death penalty should be imposed. Indeed, drastic times require drastic measures–death for all drug offenders! Of course, this should be applied only after a proper observance of due process and rule of law.
2. Even the Bible supports the death penalty
The Bible supports the concept of equal retaliation. This concept is derived from the Law of Moses found in the Old Testament, which states in part, “an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth.” The Law of Moses is likewise known as the Mosaic Law, the ancient law of the Hebrews, contained in the Pentateuch and traditionally believed to have been revealed by God to Moses.
Capital punishment finds justification in the biblicalpassage “Whosoever sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed(Genesis 9:6, ESV).” This is further bolstered by several verses from the book of Exodus.
Exodus 21:12 – “Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death.”
Exodus 21:16 – “Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death.
Exodus 21:23-25 – “But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”
Thus, if one person kills another person (except in instances of self-defense and situations of imminent danger), then the former deserves to die.
Capital punishment is likewise condoned in Islamic Law, as expressed in the Quran. The Quran prescribes the death penalty for several hadd (fixed) crimes.
3. It is human nature to fear death
Every human, without exception, is subject to death, and this reality is frightening to many. Thus, criminals, no matter how fearless they are, would tend to fear death itself. People fear death because they are not ready to leave what they love most in life.
All the material possessions that they have accumulated and the fame (or even infamy) that they have established, they don’t want all of that to be erased or destroyed. The fear of death is the fear that one day everything they have built up, everything they have worked hard for, will be taken away from them.
In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon wrote: “The living are conscious that death will come to them, but the dead are not conscious of anything, and they no longer have a reward, because there is no memory of them.
Their love and their hate and their envy are now ended.” He added: “Whatever comes to your hand to do with all your power, do it because there is no work, or thought, or knowledge, or wisdom in the place of the dead to which you are going(Ecclesiastes 9:5,6,10).”
Pending House bills
Several House Bills pertinent to the reimposition of the death penalty on certain heinous crimes are now pending in Congress. The most prominent of these is House Bill 0001 filed by a group of legislators led by the Speaker of the House. The bill has more or less the same provisions as the repealed Republic Act 7659, or the Death Penalty Law.
Accordingly, the death penalty is proposed to be reimposedfor heinous crimes, which are grievous, odious and
hateful offenses. I think the crimes as enumerated in the proposed bill should be revisited and reviewed to include only those crimes that fit the criteria for being heinous. Capital punishment should be meted only for heinous crimes such as murder, kidnapping, plunder, and illegal drugs-related.
Furthermore, the mode of execution should be limited to lethal injection and/or the gas chamber. The use of the firing squad, and particularly of hanging, are considered primitive modes of execution and may not cause instantaneous death. As such, these two modes are abhorred and considered “inhuman,” even for convicted criminals.
Some contentious issues
Anti-death penalty advocates insist that reimposing the death penalty is a violation of Optional Protocol No. 2, of which the Philippines is a signatory. This refers to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Aiming at the Abolition of the Death Penalty, which was adopted and proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 44/128 on December 15, 1989.
Further, they allege that the proposed House bills are unconstitutional. They even claim that international treaties are supreme over our local laws.For lack of material space, I will be addressing these issues in my subsequent column.
“Death is the most terrible of all things; for it is the end,” says the Greek philosopher Aristotle.
Whether you are in favor of or against the restoration of the death penalty, these are just my insights. Again, quoting Aristotle, “it is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”