Return of death penalty will fix faulty justice system – lawmakers

MANILA, Philippines – Three lawmakers allied with President Rodrigo Duterte made their case on why the death penalty should be reimposed for heinous crimes in the Philippines. 

House justice committee chairperson Reynaldo Umali, justice committee vice chairperson Vicente Veloso, and Deputy Speaker Fredenil Castro argued that reimposing the capital punishment is allowed under the 1987 Constitution and there is a compelling reason to do so given the crimes occurring today.

Veloso delivered his speech ahead of Umali's sponsorship speech on Tuesday, February 7. Castro, meanwhile, was able to speak during the session on February 1. 

According to Umali, the country's current criminal justice system "has failed millions of lives due to wanton disregard of our laws and our authorities."

He cited a study by the Philippine National Police (PNP) Crime Research Analysis Center that noted 81,064 murders were recorded from July to November 2015. While the index crime volume dropped to 31% in the same period in 2016, Umali said it came with a 51% increase in murders. 

The Oriental Mindoro 2nd District Representative then categorized these killings into 3:

"These 3 kinds of killings, Mr Speaker, are manifestations of the failure of our criminal justice system… The people would rather serve justice with their own hands than trust the government to deliver it," said Umali. 

"Thus, your Honors, with the dysfunctional criminal justice system, it is imperative that we resort to extreme measures to ensure that interest of the greater good is served. I firmly believe that the reimposition of death penalty is a needed legislative measure as we transition to a reengineered criminal justice system," he added.  

Reimposing the death penalty is part of the legislative priorities of Duterte, who believes the capital punishment is a way to exact payment for the victims of heinous crimes.

Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas already warned the anti-death penalty lawmakers that if they would keep insisting on complete attendance during the sessions, the House leadership can terminate the debate after 3 pros and 3 antis have delivered speeches. 

'Due process' for convicts on death row

Umali defended HB 4727 against critics who argue that the country's "flawed, corrupt" justice system cannot properly implement the capital punishment.

The lawmaker said people who are punished with the death penalty have chances to appeal before the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.  

"Lastly, the President may exercise his powers of clemency or pardon at any stage of the proceedings, even right before the execution. In short, Mr Speaker, once the death penalty is restored, no person will be executed without having gone through this long and exhaustive process at determining whether or not the accused deserves the death penalty for the crime committed," said Umali. 

He used to be against the capital punishment, but he had a "change of heart" after leading a House probe into the narcotics trade at the New Bilibid Prison. (READ: House panel wants to reimpose death penalty for drug cases

For Umali, the public cannot expect any improvements in the criminal justice system should the status quo remain.

"So I ask again, if we do not do anything and just maintain the status quo, can we expect change? Sa madaling salita, wala tayong maaasahang pagbabago kung mananatili tayong walang ginagawang aksyon sa kasalukuyang sistemang panghustisya sa ating bansa (In other words, we cannot expect change if we continue doing nothing regarding our country's criminal justice system)," he said. 

Retribution for victims 

Castro dwelled on the constitutionality of the reimposition of the death penalty. He argued that the 1987 Constitution allows Congress to revive it as long as it finds "compelling reasons involving heinous crimes."

In his 60-minute speech delivered fully in Filipino, Castro said a "persistent and sincere examination" of his conscience led him to become one of the principal co-authors of HB 4727. 

He then cited at least 27 crimes ranging from rape to murder to show how the capital punishment could serve as retribution for the victims of heinous crimes. (READ: An eye for an eye: Can the death penalty bring justice to victims?)

"Ang panukalang batas na ibalik ang kaparusahang kamatayan, ay laban sa mga krimen na matindi, nakakamuhi, o nakakapoot. Ang panukalang batas, kung maisabatas, ay isang kalasag ng mamamayan at Estado laban sa krimen at mga kriminal, upang maidepensa o maipagtanggol ang mamamayan sa mga karumaldumal, kakilakilabot, at kasuklamsuklam na krimen," said Castro.

(The bill seeking to revive the death penalty will fight crimes that are grave and hateful. This measure, if passed into law, will be a shield of the citizenry and the State against crimes and criminals, so the public can be protected from heinous crimes.)

"Ang panukalang batas ay hindi kalaban ng buhay. Ang panukalang batas ay tagapagtanggol ng buhay, buhay man ng inosente o salarin," he added.

(This bill is not an enemy of life. This bill is the protector of life – that of the innocent or the culprit.) 

'Not anti-God'

In his speech, meanwhile, Veloso responded to the growing opposition of the Church against the death penalty. (READ: CBCP hits death penalty: 'No person beyond redemption’

The Leyte 2nd District Representative said HB 4727 is "not anti-God." He also invoked the constitutional provision mandating the separation of Church and State.

"A death penalty is, therefore, the exclusive domain of Congress. Such is what Section 19 of Article III provides. Just as Congress cannot dictate how the Church should penalize its priests and religious, it is beyond the powers of the Church to tell how Congress should penalize criminals in heinous crimes," said Veloso.

The former appellate court justice also argued that the Philippines is not bound to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Second Optional Protocol on the ICCPR.

"Such is not generally accepted principle of international law. In ASEAN, only the Philippines, as of now, does not have the death penalty law," said Veloso.

"Japan, Singapore, the United States, and almost all of Asia, still have the death penalty law. Such agreements do not constitute an amendment to Section 2, Article II of the 1987 Constitution which mandates that the [Philippines] 'adopts generally accepted principles of international law as part of the law of the land,'" he argued.  

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, however, already warned that the Philippines will break international law if it revives the death penalty despite having ratified a protocol against the capital punishment in 2007. – 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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