President Rodrigo Duterte’s plan to send more than 2,000 malefactors to the gallows within 12 months could easily result in hundreds of wrongful executions, House Senior Deputy Minority Leader and Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza warned on Monday.
“The last time the country experimented on the death penalty, the wrongful execution rate was around 15 percent. We expect this rate to shoot up, considering the administration’s apparent plan to quickly put to death a lot of people inside a very short period,” Atienza said.
Duterte earlier vowed daily executions once Congress restores the death penalty.
“Restore it and I will execute criminals every day—five or six. That’s for real,” Duterte said.
Atienza, however, also warned that “the country’s criminal justice system, with all its flaws and imperfections, is severely ill-equipped to handle another experiment on the death penalty.”
“We have a corrupt and bungling police force. Both our prosecution service and trial courts are prone to sleaze and haphazardness. We have an overworked Public Attorney’s Office. And even the Supreme Court is weighed down by mounting docket pressures,” he said.
These factors when combined would make the next experiment on capital punishment “highly dangerous,” Atienza added.
Congress is set to resume session next week with the bill bringing back death sentences for heinous crimes on top of the agenda for plenary approval.
The House Committee on Justice earlier endorsed the swift passage of the bill, in accordance with Duterte’s wish to immediately reinstate death sentences.
Atienza said the country’s law enforcement and prosecution arms still abound with illegal methods and rotten practices, including arbitrary arrests and searches, torture, intimidation, evidence-planting and the filing of defective charge sheets.
“The problem is aggravated by our lack of scientific methods in criminal investigation, which makes it difficult to disprove fabricated evidence.
Unlike other countries, we lack forensic specialization,” he added.
“We have a high rate of judicial errors because our trial courts are manned by fallible mortals, and many judges are overloaded with work, susceptible to recklessness, or simply inept,” Atienza said.
When capital punishment was in force from 1993 to 2006, the lawmaker said some 65 percent of death verdicts, upon automatic review by the Supreme Court, were found to be erroneous, resulting in acquittals, retrials or the imposition of lighter sentences.
And during the administration of President Joseph Estrada, Atienza added, at least one of the seven convicts actually put to death was later found to have been mistakenly executed.
Then Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban shocked the nation in 2006 when he belatedly revealed that the case against Leo Echegaray suffered from a fatally defective charge sheet, and that a “judicial error” had caused the house painter’s unfounded execution in 1999.
“The fact is, the Department of Justice, the Public Attorney’s Office, the trial court, and eventually even the Supreme Court failed to spot the defective charge sheet in Echegeray’s case,” Atienza said.
In other cases wherein the defendants were found guilty of a capital offense despite a defective charge sheet, the Supreme Court, upon automatic review, either acquitted the accused, ordered a retrial, or reduced the sentence to 40 years in prison with eligibility for early release after 30 years.
Within a month after Panganiban’s stunning revelation, Congress passed a law abolishing the death penalty.
“Here lies the big difference between killing a convict and putting him behind bars for life. If we imprison a convict and he is later exonerated, we can still set him free. We can still rectify the error.
“In death sentences, we cannot correct the mistake once the convict has been executed,” Atienza said.
He added that the death penalty clearly does not serve any purpose that is not already being served by the punishment of life-long imprisonment.
“Modern nations around the world have long recognized that the certainty of swift capture and punishment of felons is the best deterrence to other would-be offenders, and that extended prison terms are already adequate in serving the ends of justice and in protecting society,” Atienza said.
He added that 140 nations have already abandoned the death penalty as a cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, while only 25 nations are actually carrying out executions.