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Rappler’s Evening wRap on President Duterte and the death penalty.

By Mara Cepeda in Manila

A proposed measure seeking to reimpose the death penalty in the Philippines has decisively passed the House committee level.

Voting 12-6-1, the panel approved the committee report on House Bill Number 1, which seeks to reinstate capital punishment for all “heinous crimes”, including the following:

  • Treason
  • Qualified piracy
  • Qualified bribery
  • Parricide
  • Murder
  • Infanticide
  • Rape
  • Kidnapping and serious illegal detention
  • Robbery with violence against or intimidation of persons
  • Destructive arson
  • Plunder
  • Importation of dangerous drugs and/or controlled precursors and essential chemicals
  • Sale, trading, administration, dispensation, delivery, distribution, and transportation of dangerous drugs and/or controlled precursors and essential chemicals
  • Maintenance of a drug den, dive, or resort
  • Manufacture of dangerous drugs and/or controlled precursors and essential chemicals
  • Possession of dangerous drugs
  • Cultivation or culture of plants classified as dangerous drugs or are sources thereof
  • Unlawful prescription of dangerous drugs
  • Criminal liability of a public officer or employee for misappropriation, misapplication, or failure to account for the confiscated, seized and/or surrendered dangerous drugs, plant sources of dangerous drugs, controlled precursors and essential chemicals, instruments/paraphernalia and/or laboratory equipment including the proceeds or properties obtained from the unlawful act committed
  • Criminal liability for planting evidence concerning illegal drugs
  • Carnapping

The bill outlines specific conditions on how these crimes were committed for a violator to be given the death penalty. The measure also provides 3 methods to carry out the death penalty: by hanging, firing squad, or lethal injection. (House death penalty bill: How they voted)

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, one of the co-authors of the bill, is hoping that the bill would be passed on 3rd and final reading before Congress goes on Christmas break next week.

The measure is also one of the priority bills of President Rodrigo Duterte, who counts more than 250 congressmen as his allies.

Punishment for ‘Satans’?
For Leyte 3rd District Representative Vicente Veloso, the death penalty bill seeks to punish individuals who repeatedly commit heinous crimes. The lawmaker compared them to “Satan”.

“What the substitute bill says, in our penal system, especially the Revised Penal Code, the maximum penalty there is life imprisonment. The problem really is we have a guy who keeps on raping, kidnapping for ransom people repeatedly, he commits the same offenses,” Veloso said at the committee meeting.

“If in front of you is Satan, what can courts do? None, because the maximum penalty provided for in our penal system is life imprisonment. Kung ang nasa harapan mo ay si Satanas na mismo, oh my God! Bigyan mo naman ang gobyerno ng option para patayin na ‘yan. Satanas na ‘yan ah (If the person in front of you is Satan himself, oh my God! Give the government the option to kill him. That is Satan already)!”

Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas also reasoned that the 1987 Constitution allows the death penalty to be implemented if Congress finds compelling reasons to do so.

Section 19, Article III reads: “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. Any death penalty already imposed shall be reduced to reclusion perpetua.”

Fariñas said there would no discussions on the reimposition of the death penalty now, had the framers of the Constitution completely removed the particular provision.

Bring back trust in legal system
“Nilagay nga po nila [na bawal], pero sinabi nila na nandiyan pa ‘yan at puwedeng ibalik ‘yan ‘pag nakita ng Kongreso na kailangang ibalik ‘yan. Hindi natin puwedeng sabihin na against God ‘yan. Eh bakit nasa Constitution? Eh di against God na ang ating Constitution!”
said Fariñas.

(They did put there that it should not be imposed, but they still placed it there and said it can be implemented if Congress sees fit to return it. We can’t say that is against God. Why is it in the Constitution then? That would mean our Constitution is against God!)

Oriental Mindoro 2nd District Representative Reynaldo Umali, committee chairperson, added that restoring capital punishment in the country would help bring back Filipinos’ trust in the justice system.

As of December 3, there have been more than 5800 drug-related deaths, both from legitimate police operations and vigilante-style or unexplained killings.

EJK versus death penalty. Don’t you realize that people, parang sobrang wala nang tiwala sa hustisya ‘yung mga tao, hindi sila masyadong nagagalit sa EJK? (EJK versus death penalty? Don’t you realize that most people have lost faith in the justice system that they’re not totally angry at EJKs?) Do we really want to maintain the status quo?” asked Umali.

Death penalty will ‘hurt the state’
But Dinagat Islands Representative Kaka Bag-ao said the death penalty cannot be compared to extrajudicial killings (EJKs).

“Tingin ko hindi puwedeng i-compare ang EJK at death penalty. Magkaiba ang kategorya, magkaiba ang klasipikasyon. Ano ang basehan ng pagkumpara? Ang sinasabi natin na gusto nating matugunan na matigil ang EJKs, pero ‘di puwedeng ikumpara ito na, ‘Ah sige, death penalty.’ ‘Di po ganun,” she said.

(I don’t think you can compare EJKs and the death penalty. They belong to different categories and classifications. What is the basis of the comparison? We want to end these EJKs, but we can’t solve it by saying, “Okay, death penalty.” That’s not how it works.)

“In fact, statistics would show that crime rate decreased after the death penalty law was repealed in 2006. Only 13 percent [or] 474 of the documented 3,524 reports on extrajudicial, vigilante-style, unexplained killings are arrested. The other 87 percent are still at large or under investigation. The real issue is not the imposition of the death penalty but the assurance to the public that offenders will be apprehended regardless of the nature of the penalty,” added Bag-ao.

Quezon City 6th District Representative Jose Christopher Belmonte acknowledged that should a heinous crime be committed against someone close to him, he would not be able to stop himself from considering killing the perpetrator.

But he said doing so would only make things worse.

“‘Pag nangyari sa anak ko o malapit sa akin, most likely gugustuhin ko rin at gagawin ko pa rin po ‘yung ganun. Andiyan na po ‘yan. And I think ‘di mo maaalis sa kahit sinong tao,” said Belmonte.

(If that happens to my child or someone close to me, most likely I’d want to do it and I would do it. The option is there already. And I think you can’t take this away from anyone.)

Pero (But) from personal knowledge and personal experience, this will diminish everybody involved. This will destroy you as a person. This will hurt the state. This will hurt our entire institutions kapag nilagay natin ang legal option na pumatay (if you give the legal option to kill),” he added.

Church opposition
Minority lawmakers had previously accused the House leadership of “railroading” the passage of the bill into law to meet Alvarez’s deadline, but the Speaker denied this, citing public consultations with various sectors to get their stand on the proposal.

The Catholic Church, human rights groups, and some lawmakers have objected to the reimposition of capital punishment in the country, saying it is not a deterrent to crime. (Lawmakers urged to reject revival of death penalty and A lethal mix: Death penalty and a ‘flawed,’ corrupt justice system)

Amnesty International had earlier expressed concern over the move to restore the death penalty in the Philippines shortly after it became clear that Duterte had won the presidency. (A shame for PH if death penalty is restored)

Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas had called for a prayer rally against the proposed measure in his archdiocese on December 12.

Alvarez, however, advised Filipino Catholics to look for a new religion should they be ostracized for supporting the reinstatement of capital punishment in the country.

The Philippines was the first Asian country to abolish the death penalty under the 1987 Constitution, but it was reimposed during the administration of President Fidel Ramos to address the rising crime rate.

Capital punishment was eventually abolished in 2006, under the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Now a Pampanga Representative, Arroyo is still against the reimposition of the death penalty.

Mara Cepeda is a journalist with Rappler.