Hontiveros: Death penalty in our 'Kill Bill' list

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Risa Hontiveros on Thursday, December 8, said they have numbers in the Senate to "put up a good fight" against the death penalty bill which the House justice committee already approved.

Echoing the estimate of Senate President Pro-Tempore Franklin Drilon, Hontiveros said they only had 7 senators "totally against" death penalty at the start of the 17th Congress, but this number has since "slowly grown to about 9 or 10." (READ: Unlike in House, chances of death penalty bill in Senate still unclear)

"Ibig sabihin, we will be able to put up a good fight also pagdating sa mga debate over the next many months, and I'm hopeful na mapapatay namin itong reimposition of death penalty bill sa Senado. It's in our 'Kill Bill' list."

(This means, we will be able to put up a good fight also once the debate begins over the next many months, and I'm hopeful we'll be able to kill this Senate bill seeking to reimpose the death penalty. It's in our "Kill Bill" list.)

Amnesty International Philippines on Thursday presented its human rights legislative agenda in the 17th Congress. First on its agenda is the rejection of all efforts to reinstate the death penalty in the Philippines' judicial system.

Together with Hontiveros, two other lawmakers attended Thursday's forum to express their opposition to the reimposition of the death penalty and plans to lower the age of criminal liability in the Philippines: Dinagat Islands Representative Kaka Bag-ao and Siquijor Representative Ramon Rocamora.

Hontiveros called these proposals "cruel and inhumane."

"They will not make our country safer. They will only result in unparalleled monstrosity. Together with the growing number of unresolved extrajudicial killings, they will contribute to a reign of terror in our country," she added. 

Rocamora said he is against the death penalty because criminal prosecution in the country still has "too much room for improvement." (READ: A lethal mix? Death penalty and a 'flawed, corrupt' justice system)

"We cannot, at this time, afford to give it the benefit of the doubt so we can impose this death penalty. My proposal would be to amend the Constitution wherein death penalty should be absolutely prohibited," he added.

Meanwhile, Bag-ao maintained that the country "cannot solve old problems using old solutions that we have already rejected in the past." She pointed out that Congress itself "had enough" of death penalty when it was abolished in 2006.

"I find it ridiculous that proponents of the reimposition of death penalty are trying to frame their arguments as a choice between extrajudicial killings and death penalty, which they refer to as judicial killings. We want neither. We are against all forms of killings, no matter how they package it," she said.

Bag-ao criticized her colleagues at the House of Representatives for rushing to approve House Bill 1 – a measure, she said, that is "not backed by empirical data, or by clear and sound facts."

Although the bill already passed the House committee level, plenary debates won't happen until January 2017. Rocamora said this could be because "proponents found they probably don't have the numbers."

"The [House] supermajority had a caucus yesterday. Although it appears that the number of people for [death penalty] is [still] greater than those against, there is also a great number of people who have not yet decided. If you combine these two, it could be a formidable number. I think that's the reason why there's a decision not to push the approval of this law this year."

A 'step back' for PH

For the lawmakers, the reimposition of the death penalty would be a "step back" for the country.

"Kung bigyang daan ang reimposition ng death penalty, that would constitute a very large and terrible reneging sa ating international commitments. All over the world, ang momentum ng laban ay ipawalang-bisa 'yung mga death penalty laws," Hontiveros noted.

(If they pave the way for the reimposition of the death penalty, that would constitute a very large and terrible reneging on our international commitments. All over the world, the momentum of the fight has been to abolish death penalty laws.)

She added: "At lalo na sa ating region, Asia Pacific, parang signal country tayo dito sa Pilipinas for holding the line against death penalty. So magiging atrasado tayo, paurong, if our opponents succeed in reimposing the death penalty."

(Especially in our region, Asia Pacific, the Philippines is like a signal country holding the line against death penalty. It will be a step back for us if our opponents succeed in reimposing the death penalty.)

Among the Philippines' international legal obligations is the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which states that "no one within the jurisdiction of a State Party to the present Protocol shall be executed" and that "each State Party shall take all necessary measures to abolish the death penalty within its jurisdiction."

The Philippines signed the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR in 2006 and ratified it in 2007.

Amnesty International Philippines chairperson Ritz Lee Santos III pointed out there is no exit clause in the Second Optional Protocol.

"'Pag ni-reimpose natin ang death penalty, which is subject ng [Second Optional Protocol], ang magiging tingin sa atin ng ibang bansa ay urong-sulong ang Pilipinas. Ano ang guarantee na 'pag magkakaroon tayo ng international treaty with other member-states of the UN, or pipirma ulit tayo ng isang international covenant, ano ang magiging expectation nila sa atin? Sino pang magtitiwala sa atin?"

(If we reimpose the death penalty, which is the subject of the [Second Optional Protocol], other countries will look at the Philippines as indecisive. What is the guarantee that when we enter into an international treaty with other member-states of the UN, or if we sign another international covenant, what will their expectation of us be? Who else will trust us?)

Bag-ao reminded lawmakers that even Article II of the 1987 Constitution states that if the Philippines signs an international instrument, it becomes part of the law of the land.

"At doon sa [Second Optional Protocol], sinasabi nating sisiguraduhin natin na 'di na babalik ang death penalty (And with the [Second Optional Protocol], we are saying we're making sure that we won't bring back the death penalty)," she added. – Rappler.com

Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.

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