Capital punishment in PH jeopardizes OFWs on death row – Bag-ao

MANILA, Philippines – Dinagat Islands Representative Kaka Bag-ao argued that the Philippines will lose its leverage in efforts to save overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from death row if capital punishment is reimposed in the country.

She was the last interpellator of Deputy Speaker Fredenil Castro, House Bill (HB) Number 4727 co-author, on Wednesday, February 22, the same day the House ended the debate on the death penalty bill. (READ: House ends death penalty debate after 7 session days)

Bag-ao likened the 17th Congress' passage of HB 4727 into law to agreeing to the execution of OFWs on death row. (READ: CBCP hits death penalty: 'No person beyond redemption’

Kaya po ba natin manawagan na maisalba ang buhay ng ating mga kababayan sa ibang bansa, kung dito mismo ay ipapakita nating pumapatay na rin tayo at ibinabalik natin ang parusang bitay? (Can we appeal that the lives of our countrymen abroad be spared if here at home, we would show that we too are doing the same and reimposing death penalty?)” asked Bag-ao. 

Ang pagboto po natin ng ‘yes’ sa death penalty ay katumbas sa pagdiin sa kanila sa kamatayan (Voting ‘yes’ on the death penalty is equal to condemning them to death),” she added.

The lawmaker cited several OFWs who are currently on death row: Mary Jane Veloso (Indonesia), Jennifer Dalquez (United Arab Emirates), Emmanuel Sillo Camacho (Vietnam), Donna Buenagua Mazon (Vietnam), Mark Alvin Antonio (Thailand), Rigor de Padua (Saudi Arabia), and Jeanette Opena (Malaysia).

“Habang inaaprubahan ng Kongresong ito ang panukala upang ibalik ang bitay, paano makakakilos ang ating pamahalaan upang ipagtanggol at isalba ang mga Pilipinong nasa death row sa ibang bansa na humigit kumulang ay nasa 70 sa kasalukuyan?” asked Bag-ao.

(While this Congress would be approving the measure reimposing the death penalty, how can the government move to defend and save around 70 Filipinos on death row abroad?)

Paano natin maipapakita ang prinsipyo ng ating bansa pagdating sa pagpapahalaga sa buhay at sa mga katarungang nakasandig sa konsepto ng kapatawaran at pagbabago ng sarili? Paano natin maipapakita ang sinseridad ng pamahalaan sa pag-angat ng dignidad ng ating mga overseas Filipino workers na nailagay sa death row, ngunit sa maraming pagkakataon ay naging biktima rin nang dahil sa kapangyarihan at pangangailangan?” she added. 

(How can we show that our country upholds the principle of valuing life and that we have justice that is anchored on forgiveness and reformation? How can we show the government’s sincerity in raising the dignity of our overseas Filipino workers on death row who, most of the time, are also victims of power and circumstance?)

In a forum in Manila last week, 9 members of the Cambodian Parliament and 6 from the Malaysian Parliament signed a solidarity statement opposing the planned reimposition of the capital punishment. 

Mu Sochua, member of the Cambodian Parliament, even said her country has always looked up to the Philippines as a champion for human rights. (READ: Palace to ASEAN lawmakers: Death penalty 'apt' for PH)

Unjust to the poor

Bag-ao argued that the measure is unfair to the poor, who are supposed to be the priority of the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Bag-ao said that when a crime is committed on the rich and the powerful, it becomes a part of the headlines. But when a crime is done on the poor, it is treated as “ordinary.”

Gusto rin ba nating gawing normal din ang death penalty para sa mahihirap na mamamayan? Malinaw naman po na mas marami ang mahihirap na nasa kulungan. At kung ipinatupad natin ang parusang bitay, tiyak din na mas marami ang mahihirap na mahahatulan nito,” she said. 

(Do we also want to make the death penalty something normal when it comes to our poor citizens? It’s clear that there are more poor people in prison. And if we implement the death penalty, surely most of those who will be meted this punishment are poor.) 

Bag-ao, a lawyer, said the poor have limited means to defend themselves. (READ: A lethal mix? Death penalty and a 'flawed, corrupt' justice system

She said the poor cannot afford to post bail and hire good lawyers. The poor also have no capability to convince witnesses to testify for them nor the means to continue providing for their family while in prison.

Castro replied by first acknowledging bribery among prosecutors and judges. But he believes there are still more members of the judiciary who uphold their oath to administer justice. 

He believes that prosecutors, judges from the regional trial courts, and the justices of the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court can all be considered the lawyers of the poor. 

Kaya hindi totoo na walang magaling na abogado ang nasasakdal sapagkat mula sa piskal hanggang sa mga mahistrado ng Korte Suprema, sila lahat ay mga abugado ng mga nasasakdal," Castro said.

(That’s why it’s not true the accused will not have access to good lawyers because the fiscals up to the magistrates of the Supreme Court, all of them are the lawyers of the accused),” said Castro. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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