THE revival of capital punishment will be an embarrassment for the Philippines and a setback for the rest of Southeast Asia, a number of lawmakers from the region said on Wednesday.
Lawmakers Kasthuri Patto of Malaysia, Mu Sochua of Cambodia, and Filipino opposition lawmakers Edcel Lagman and Tom Villarin issued the warning in a forum organized by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Parliamentarians for Human Rights in Quezon City.
“It would be a shame if the Asean nations [like the Philippines]will stand to say we have kept the death penalty. Does a nation lose face when it fights for its people by upholding freedom, justice, equality, democracy and right to life? A nation will lose its face when it listens to the masses of misinformed public and supports the corrosion of human rights,” Patto, a member of the parliament of Malaysia representing the Batukawan constituency, said in the forum titled: “A Dialogue on the Death Penalty and Regional Responses.”
If the Philippines restores the death penalty, the effort to abolish capital punishment in the region will suffer a huge blow, said Sochua, member of the National Assembly of Cambodia representing Battambang for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.
“We need a very strong member state [in Asean]to play that role who champions and protects fundamental human rights and the freedom of our people. If one Asean nation slips back to death penalty, you might pull back others. That’s why we are certain that we will defend our position against death penalty,” he said.
Cambodia experienced state-sanctioned genocide during the Khmer Rouge regime of Pol Pot from 1975 to 1979, leaving around three million dead. Among Asean nations, only Cambodia and the Philippines have abolished the death penalty.
“We have always been inspired by the Philippines. The People Power movement, the fight for democracy, human rights, and we want to continue to put you on a very high position. If we are alone in that fight, it won’t be a comfortable place,” Sochua said.
The women parliamentarians then echoed Lagman’s earlier call to his colleagues to heed their consciences in casting their vote on the death penalty measure.
“Life is sacred. Our conscience is at stake here as representatives of the people. Through the years, we in Cambodia have witnessed a lot of atrocities, Cambodians killing Cambodians, and the state-sponsored genocide is part of it. As members of the parliament, we cannot vote for anything according to what is dictated by our parties. We are elected by our people to promote human rights and respect human life. We are elected by our people, not appointed by our parties,” Sochua stressed.
“We should mobilize the region and join the Philippines in its fight to keep the abolition of the death penalty. Death penalty is not a solution to injustice. If we invest in reforming the judiciary and going after corruption from the top level, that will be beneficial and serving justice to our people in the long run,” Sochua added.
Patto said Asean’s non-interference policy, which the Duterte administration has repeatedly stressed, could put citizens at risk, citing those facing the death penalty for various offenses in countries with weak justice systems.
“When an Indonesian was sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia even if it was based on a flawed case, the Indonesian government pleaded for mercy; to free the Indonesian from the gallows. There were fits of laughter back home because it is so funny that Indonesia is begging for mercy when Indonesia is executing people like it’s nobody’s business. That is also what is happening in Malaysia since we have Malaysians facing death penalty in Singapore for drug trafficking offenses,” Patto said.
“Filipinos are also in death row in Indonesia. I want to be of help to the Malaysians facing death penalty in Singapore but how? Malaysia has the death penalty. Authorities there would just tell me, why then is it so easy for you [to execute people in Malaysia and [it is supposed to be]difficult for us? My point here is this cycle of death must come to end at some point,” Patto said.
Six of the 10 Asean nations still have death penalty laws, including Malaysia. Three of the six however, have taken steps toward scaling down executions in the past two years.
A briefer provided by the Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights showed that Thailand has pledged to commute death sentences and review the imposition of the death penalty on drug-related offenses. It has chosen not to execute prisoners since 2009, following a periodic review at the UN Human Rights Council.
Malaysia’s Attorney General Mohamed Apandi Ali said in November 2015 he would propose to the cabinet that death penalty be abolished.
Vietnam approved amendments to its criminal code that reduced the number of crimes punishable by death to 18 from 22.
Laos, Myanmar and Brunei have not abolished capital punishment but have not executed any prisoner for at least 25 years.
The death penalty was abolished in the Philippines with the adoption of the 1987 Constitution.
In 1993, however, Congress passed Republic Act 7659, or the Death Penalty Law, which revived capital punishment.
Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo abolished capital punishment in June 2006 when she signed Republic Act No. 9346, also known as An Act Prohibiting the Imposition of the Death Penalty in the Philippines.