Restoring the Death Penalty
Capital punishment has been part of the Philippine justice system until the late 20th century. The country suspended the death penalty for the first time in 1987 when a new Constitution was promulgated after the end of the Marcos dictatorship. In 1993, the death penalty was restored. A moratorium on executions was declared in 2000 as a result of anti-death penalty campaigns led by the Church and civic groups. The death penalty law was suspended for a second time in 2007.
As the Philippines prepares for presidential elections in May 2016, the death penalty has become a point of debate. Two of the leading presidential candidates have expressed their intentions of restoring capital punishment. One candidate proposed the death penalty for persons involved in “drugs and multiple crimes where involved people can no longer be rehabilitated.” She believed that capital punishment is a necessary deterrent for serious crimes. Another candidate has a more extreme view on the death penalty. He publicly stated that if he was elected president he would restore public hanging to eliminate criminals.
The two candidates’ claims that capital punishment can reduce or deter crime are intended to appeal to voters concerned about peace and order in society. There is, however, no basis for their claims. During the years when the death penalty was in effect in the country, the prevalence of capital crimes like murder, rape, and drug-dealing did not significantly diminish despite arrests, convictions, and executions. A flawed criminal justice system where wealth and connections can influence the outcome of investigations and trials has enabled offenders to avoid arrests and convictions. In such a system, the death penalty ceases to be an effective deterrent to crime.
Calls for the restoration of the death penalty are ironically inconsistent with the public’s response to cases of overseas Filipinos workers convicted of capital crimes in other countries, especially in the Middle East and Asia. Government officials are often pressured by public protests to have these death sentences commuted through diplomatic appeals and the payment of “blood money.” It is also paradoxical that the country, which has a remarkable record of providing sanctuary to refugees threatened with death by oppressive governments, would consider restoring a law that would impose death on its own citizens.
While the country’s bishops have made clear their opposition to capital punishment, pro-death penalty presidential candidates continue to have many supporters. Unless these candidates’ baseless claims and politically expedient motives are exposed and challenged, the country may find itself on the path of restoring a law that violates the basic human right to life and treats certain members of society as expendable and beyond redemption. Such an outcome will be great tragedy not just for the country but for the universal human family.