Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro want to bring back the death penalty in the Philippines as a deterrent to crime. It can be said that the death penalty is already effectively and practically in force daily. As many as 10 suspects are killed daily in the war on illegal drugs.
Some are killed in police shoot-outs. Others are said to be the work of vigilante death squads. They bind the hands and feet of the victims, gag them with tape and shoot them and leave them in a public place with a crude sign saying, “I am a pusher,” or a similar message.
Some of those killed are victims of mistaken identity; others are victims of criminals who kill and use the signboard to forestall any investigation. With the sign left on the body, it is presumed that the victim is a drug pusher. It is another case of a false accusation, a wrongful killing.
The suspects are lined up on lists prepared by the local barangay officials and given to the police. This denunciation of one’s neighbors by those elected to protect their rights is a contradiction. In the gated communities of the rich, the officials are not cooperating with police demands for a list of suspects. Many end up dead and most of them are poor, small-time “suspected” drug users. The big drug lords have yet to fall.
This is very hard on some of the barangay officials of conscience. They feel the burden of guilt for having made a list of suspects and put their neighbor in harm’s way without any evidence or due process of law.
The normal way to apprehend a suspect would be to investigate, get evidence of illegal drug possession then arrest the suspects and charge them in court by the prosecutor.
This is being bypassed at present. The daily death penalty is setting a culture of fear and death where impunity is the norm. There is nothing to prevent anybody from accusing their enemy to settle a score, to steal a wife or girlfriend or to get rid of a political or business rival by marking them for death by denouncing them to the police as drug dealers.
It is setting up a network of informers, pitting neighbor against neighbor.
The legislators are determined to bring back the death penalty. Under the proposed House Bill O1 filed by Speaker Alvarez and Rep. Castro, lethal injection would be the method used to carry out the death penalty by the government. It would be given to those convicted of human trafficking, illegal recruitment, plunder, treason, parricide, infanticide, rape, qualified piracy, bribery, kidnapping, illegal detention, robbery with violence against or intimidation of persons, car theft, destructive arson, terrorism and drug-related cases. So it is death for almost any crime covered by this harsh and unnecessary law.
What is very clear in the Philippine judicial system is it will be the poor who cannot afford a lawyer who are likely to get convicted. The rich and wealthy, if ever charged in court, will surely be able to have brilliant lawyers to get them acquitted. Studies show the death penalty is no deterrent at all.
It is only a deterrent for victims not to make a complaint against their relative for rape or child sex abuse. When the death penalty was active in the Philippines in past years, children repeatedly raped by their father were very reluctant to pursue a case in court. They feared they would be responsible for putting their own father to death and have to endure the scorn and rejection of her family.
The most plausible argument against the death penalty is the clear danger of a false accusation and a false and wrong conviction. The death penalty is final and if the convicted is found to have been innocent, there is no way to correct the mistake. There is no resurrection from the grave in this life.
In the United States, hundreds of men convicted wrongly and received the death penalty have been consequently proven innocent and released after many years on death row. The convictions were overturned by new DNA evidence that proved the convicted was, in fact, innocent.
The Philippine judicial system is not superior to that of the United States, with all its faults and weaknesses. Nor can it rely on DNA forensic evidence to prove the innocence or guilt of a suspect. That is if ever he gets his day in court. Nowadays, it seems the court process is too cumbersome and the delivery of the daily death penalty is sufficient.