Death penalty bill divides Philippine lawmakers

WHILE some lawmakers view death penalty as the ultimate weapon to avert a dramatic rise of criminality in the country’s urban centers, particularly in Metro Manila, others consider it a waste of time. But for those lawmakers who “do not have the balls” to stand firm on what they’re talking about as they embrace the slogan “pro-life” like the powerful Catholic Church, reviving capital punishment through lethal injection is absurd and illogical.
What’s the logic behind it?
Absurd or illogical, the time has come for both houses of Congress to craft stiffer laws to safeguard the lives and properties of our people. Every now and then we hear on radios, see on television and read on the newspapers how a young girl was raped by her own father and killed afterwards; how an old woman was molested by a group of young boys high on drugs; how a teller was gagged and tied to a vault by bank robbers; and how a group of innocent children fell into the hands of human traffickers.
We also have the so-called riding in tandem victimizing civilians even in broad daylight along the busy streets of Metro Manila. It seems violence has become the order of the day and no place is safe anymore wherever we go.
It can be recalled that the father of slain car dealer Venson Evangelista has renewed his call for the Philippines to restore death penalty amid the spate of crime incidents gripping the country.
“Reviving death penalty is a very timely message to deter would-be criminals against committing heinous crimes,” said Arsenio Evangelista, Venson’s father.
Arsenio made the call as his family marked the third year since Venson was killed. He also lamented the slow pace of the trial of his son.
Simply put, the logic behind this upheaval is that if there is a harsher punishment, the hungry masses wanting for swifter justice see the death penalty as a breath of fresh air that could give them a sense of security as they ply the routes of the outside world.
Definitive in its purpose
The truth is, the revival of death penalty issue has a definitive purpose. In a bid to block the alarming rise of criminality in the Philippines, Senator Vicente Sotto III filed a bill seeking the return of death penalty “only” on heinous crimes.
In Senate Bill 2080, Sotto cited Article 19, Section 3 of the Constitution which provides “Excessive fines shall not be imposed nor cruel, degrading or inhuman punishment inflicted. Neither shall death penalty be imposed, unless, for compelling reasons involving heinous crimes, the Congress hereafter provides for it.”
”The influx of heinous crimes committed poses an alarming situation in the country nowadays,” the actor-turned politician explained, adding that the indiscriminate and horrendous brutality happening everywhere rightfully and justifiably compels the government to resort to the ultimate criminal penalty provided for by no less than our Constitution – the death penalty.”
Sotto said life imprisonment proves to be a non-deterrent against criminality.
The proposal of Sotto is also consistent with the rationale of Republic Act 7659 which provides that death penalty is appropriately necessary due to the alarming upsurge of such crimes.
”The upsurge of such crimes has resulted not only in the loss of human lives and wanton destruction of property but also affected the nation’s efforts towards sustainable economic development and prosperity while at the same time has undermined the people’s faith in the government and the latter’s ability to maintain peace and order in the country,” Sotto said.
Sotto, a former chairman of the Dangerous Drug Board, also filed in July last year a bill that would re-impose the death penalty in drug-related cases.
Sotto’s proposal, however, received cold response from some of his colleagues in the Senate.
Flawed enforcing hands?
Does the country really need death penalty when in fact, while it was part of capital punishment, after its revival only one person was meted with lethal injection and later on it was abolished in 2006?
Sen. Juan Edgardo ‘Sonny’ Angara instead called for strengthening of the law enforcement institutions.
“I remember when we have law on death penalty, the Supreme Court was not able to implement it because they (accused) were able to find mitigating circumstances to reduce penalty to life imprisonment or reclusion perpetua,” Angara said.
Angara said other countries have already started abolishing their death penalties.
“Let’s see first the implementation of the current laws. Let’s focus on the strengthening of the law enforcement institutions,” Angara said.
Senators Cynthia Villar and Antonio Trillanes IV said they will not support reimposition of death penalty because they are “pro-life.”
“I’m a pro-life and I was surprised that Sen. Sotto filed this kind of bill because he is also a pro-life,” Villar said, referring to Sotto’s strong opposition for the passage of Reproductive Health bill.
Sotto explained that he is pro-life for unborn child but pro-death for individuals who are guilty of committing heinous crimes.
For his part, Trillanes said: “Our justice system remains flawed. We might end up killing innocent people. What we need to improve is our law enforcement capabilities.”
Senator Bam Aquino also opposed death penalty but open to discuss the proposal at the plenary.
”Personally, I’m not in favor of death penalty but I’m open to discuss it and I’m also open to change my mind. But at this point, I’m not in favor of it,” Aquino said.
Sen. Jinggoy Estrada said he will support the death penalty “If it is deterrent to heinous crimes.”
“But if it will not serve as deterrent, what for? We have to deliberate it extensively because if it is proven that it will be deterrent to heinous crimes, then go,” Estrada said.
Estrada, however, agreed with Sotto that the increase of criminality is alarming and requires government’s full attention.
“Senator Sotto has a point to bring back death penalty on drug related cases, murder and rape,” Estrada said.
Asked by media if plunder needs to be included, Estrada said “include that also, reclusion perpetua to death.”
Lay all the cards on the table
Estrada as well as senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Ramon Revilla Jr. have been charged with plunder before the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with alleged misuse of their priority development assistance fund (PDAF).
Despite the perception of increased criminality, President Benigno Aquino III said the government will have to thoroughly study the proposals reviving the death penalty.
Like the stand of some lawmakers, the President expressed concerns that a person sentenced to death may not be able to avail of all opportunities to prove his or her innocence due to imperfections in the justice system.
“The question remains, is the convict given all the opportunities to defend his or her self in court? Can we absolutely be sure we are not wrongly sentencing someone to death? Sad to say, this is still a work in progress,” he said.
“Unless we are absolutely sure a person was given all his individual rights to defend himself and later on was found guilty, then we realize an execution cannot be undone,” he added.
The President noted the Public Attorney’s Office is swamped with work and may not have the time or resources to review a convicted person’s case.
A bill has been filed in the Senate to revive the death penalty, amid a series of recent high-profile heinous crimes.
“So I believe the proposal should be studied thoroughly,” President Aquino said.
On the other hand, the President said the death penalty is not the only deterrent to crime, since arrest and the certainty of punishment will also make people think twice before committing a crime.
In conclusion
Meanwhile, as of this writing, inhumane rape, cold-blooded murder, dismembered body parts, unrecognizable victims, dead bodies kept in automobiles still occur. If the final destination of reviving this law is a resounding “yes to death penalty” amid the strong contradiction of the powerful churches and political interest, and not a seemingly predictable “no to death penalty”, then how long will this “thorough study” take place? Is death penalty really a means to curb the enthusiasm of criminals and criminal masterminds to perform their in-house specialty?

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