THE nominally Catholic and superficially Christian “majority” in the House of Representatives would like to have us in their debt by not railroading the bill imposing the death penalty this Christmas. A member of the House says they already have the “numbers,” but they did not want to offend the faith community by ramming it through while Christendom celebrates the birth of Christ and sings of love, joy and peace. At Christmas God chose to be born as man in Jesus Christ, in order to redeem mankind from sin, and the House wants to be seen as respecting the religious belief of over 86 million Filipinos and over one billion Catholics around the world.
“This is a nation and government of Catholics,” the member said, even though President Rodrigo Duterte curses God and the Pope casually and has no illusions about being called a Catholic, and godless communists are now deeply entrenched inside the Cabinet. We Filipinos love Christmas, even if many in the West no longer celebrate it. In formerly Marian France, the congressman pointed out, the Council of State has declared that the crèches de Noel may be set up in public places only for cultural, artistic or festive purposes, but never to proselytize or to communicate “the recognition of a particular system of worship or religious preference.”
In the US, Bing Crosby’s White Christmas is only rarely heard, and the big shopping establishments still carry the lights and the colors but no longer the label of Christmas. Thus, President-elect Donald Trump caused a sensation when he greeted his fellow Americans a very “Merry Christmas!” So, thanks to the House, we won’t have the death penalty for Christmas. But once it is over, our congressmen believe they should be free to railroad the death bill, as President Rodrigo Duterte would like them to.
Respect for Christian belief
By then, their “respect” for Christian belief and sensibilities ceases and disappears inside the drainage. Although they think it unsporting for the state or Congress to authorize the taking of human life during the season, it seems quite all right to do so afterwards. The trouble, though, is that there may be some serious Catholics who believe that Christmas begins only on Christmas Day and continues throughout the year after all the parties are over and the gifts have been unwrapped.
The sticky issue here is human life–the most precious of all gifts from God. Christmas raises human life to its highest level as God becomes man so that man could become the alter ego of God. But human life does not become more precious at Christmas, and less so afterward. Its value is constant. If it is wrong to kill at Christmas, it is wrong to kill at any other time. Even without God becoming man, the creation narrative tells us that human life is the only gift that created its own recipient; man began to exist only after God decided to create him in his own image and likeness.
Without the gift of life, man would not have existed; this makes life the most pre-eminent and precious of all gifts. Coming directly from the hand of God, no power on earth has the right to snuff it out. God alone has the right to take the life of anyone who has forfeited it. Yet God spared Cain who killed his brother Abel; and in the case of the woman caught in adultery, for which the old law prescribed stoning unto death, Christ admonished the crowd, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” And turning to her, he said, “Has no one condemned you?” “No one,” she said. “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more,” he said.
Sacred and inviolate
This means no mere human may lay his hands on another who has committed a heinous crime. Human life is, and ought to be, sacred and inviolate, everywhere and always. No hunting season permits the state to hunt men and women as a hunter hunts wild game for sports or food. The idea of the state killing a man, as a matter of law or right, belonged to a primitive and distant age when very little distinguished men from wild beasts, vengeance from justice; long before human reason, purified by love, cast aside the rule of lex talionis–an eye for an eye–to a forgotten and unlamented age.
Many quote the Bible without necessarily binding themselves to what it teaches; they have succeeded in convincing themselves that the man whom Christ has redeemed by his birth and dying has nothing to do with the political animal that must yield to the dictate of the state and those who speak in the name of the state. The state now decides what God can do and not do. It is a great inversion of moral principles and praxis all in the name of moral relativism and political correctness.
But a society trying to make its way into the future should have the courage and the wisdom to reject what is morally wrong, even when many applaud it as politically correct. In the case of the capital sentence, it is both morally wrong and politically incorrect, as international covenants and treaties tell us. DU30 alone, from inside the darkness of Plato’s cave, seems determined to impose it. There is not a single educated mind that has offered a compelling reason for it. The strongest argument advanced by its proponents is that, DU30 wants it.
Is it for the common good?
This is not enough. DU30 must demonstrate that what he wants would advance the common good rather than merely indulge his dictatorship. Until now he has not shown how killing more people will humanize society or even make it narcotics-free; all it will do is cleanse it of the wretched underclass, some 6,000 of whom have already been killed without due process.
DU30 declares that unless the death sentence is enacted, the next generation, if not the entire nation, would be completely lost. It is an apocalyptic vision without any hard premises to support it. But the more terrifying vision is suggested not by the fact that so many have not been killed, but rather that the killings have gone unchecked— unless they stop and the evident thirst for murder is stanched, our democratic republic and Christian society could forever perish.
The basic issue must be thoroughly debated before the death bill moves one step further and the House finally steamrolls it. So far no semblance of a debate has been attempted. During the presidential debates, the death penalty came up as a question which the candidates were asked to answer in one sentence without any discussion of the subject. Now extreme care is being taken to make sure that the poor who will suffer the most from it are the last ones to know about it.
This is because, as I have repeatedly pointed out in this column, the House has become an appendage and rubber stamp of the DU30 presidency, without a mind or honor of its own, and with an intense animus against honest and unrestricted debate. Its sole commitment is to the political aggrandizement of DU30, not to truth, reason or justice, or the good of the Filipino people.
Social media focus
Outside of Congress, DU30’s strongest support appears to lie in the social media, where the focus is not on the merit of what he does or says but rather on his alleged popularity with the masses, and the readiness of his critics, if they so dare, to confront this President, head to head. They dare not ask, “is killing—during or after Christmas—right?” Their only point of interest is, “is it right to oppose DU30 on anything he does or says?” So we have to be grateful that the House has decided to hold off on his death bill, and steamroll it only after the Christmas and New Year holidays.
The world’s finest philosophers, theologians, social scientists, thinkers and scholars within and outside the Church have shown that although sometimes it becomes necessary to execute a dangerous criminal, for the good of society and humanity itself, this should be few and far between, under extraordinary circumstances, and not as a normal remedy for common colds.
For even when a man has killed another, and an entire community has witnessed the killing, an honest and impartial judge may not be able to tell whether the assailant was in full possession of his faculties when he committed the crime.
Without full knowledge and full consent, an individual can only commit an act of man, for which he cannot be held wholly responsible, instead of a human act, for which he is thoroughly accountable. What happens then if and when after a thorough and competent medical and psychiatric examination, he is shown to have been momentarily insane during the commission of the crime? DU30 cannot simply say, that man has killed, therefore he should be killed as well. Tit for tat?
Beyond the moral question
Now what happens when those accused of heinous crimes are, like presidential candidates, not even subjected to any medical or psychiatric examination? The court will presume that they were completely sane and had given full consent to their crime, even without any clinical evidence to support that conclusion. That is a mighty slippery slope. Beyond the state’s moral right to kill, and the victim’s moral duty to submit to the killing mandate of the state, the more fundamental issue is, does the state have the ability and competence to carry out a just process in which the innocent are saved and only the guilty are punished? This is the bottom line.
If arresting officers, prosecutors, lawyers, witnesses, judges and justices could be easily bought and corrupted, and the entire judicial process undermined, manipulated, and overwhelmed by small-town despots, what chance have the innocent and the powerless against the abuses and excesses of the runaway process? Instead of becoming a solution to crime, the death penalty becomes itself the crime. This is what we fear from a regime which regards death as its most important instrument of naked power.
In the present war on drugs, the problem of the state is not that there are numberless individuals at large who should be but have not been meted with the death sentence. The problem rather is that thousands have already been executed by the police and so-called vigilantes without any finding that they were guilty of any capital crime. Against them the death penalty has been implemented without the benefit of legislation. All that the police had to rely on was PNP Chief Bato de la Rosa’s Command Memorandum Circular 16-2016, which defines their mission as “the neutralization of illegal drug personalities” at the behest of the President.
For lawyer and public advocate Manuelito Luna and members of the National Transformation Council, this means nothing less than the “liquidation” of suspected drug dealers. With just one memo circular, the police have succeeded in summarily “liquidating” thousands of useless drug pushers and users. With the death bill moving at the speed of a Chinese fast train after New Year, will we now be looking at tens or hundreds of thousands or more?