ON DISTANT SHORE
By Val G. Abelgas
I don’t know what’s with this administration, but President Duterte and the men around him seem to believe that to create a better world, those that they deem “criminals and misfits” or not “part of humanity” should be eliminated and sent to hell, if not fed to the sharks on Manila Bay.
When warned by the Amnesty International that the extrajudicial killings of drug dealers and users could constitute crimes against humanity, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II — yes the same guy that’s under fire for his alleged involvement in the P48-million extortion and bribery at the immigration bureau — asked how can the killings be so when the drugs lords and addicts “are not the humanity.”
“How can that be when your war is only against drug lords, drug addicts, drug pushers? You consider them humanity? No. I believe not,” he said, echoing his boss’s line that these criminals are not human beings, they’re animals and deserved to be extinguished from the face of the earth.
Since assuming his post, Duterte has been threatening offenders with death if they did not behave — local officials, gambling lord, erring policemen, yes even tax cheats. Although the President probably didn’t mean to really kill them, that he mentions killing as a form of punishment and deterrent is cultivating, slowly but surely, a culture of violence, if not a culture of death, in the country.
And now, he wants to make death for certain offenders legal by restoring the death penalty in the country. House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has made it clear that the passage of the death penalty bill is one of the most, if not the most important legislation of this administration, so much so that the President has declared it a priority bill.
Not content with having triggered the killing of more than 7,000 Filipinos – whether by the police or by so-called vigilante groups, it doesn’t really matter – in just six months, they now want to make sure those who escaped instant death on the streets by going through the judicial process would get their final retribution in the execution chamber.
Although lethal injection is the preferred way by the few countries that still enforces the death penalty, Duterte would rather do it the old-fashioned brutal way – by public hanging. And mind you the tough-talking Chief Executive would not be satisfied with a single hanging for the really hardened offenders. In May, while waiting to be formally installed as president, Duterte said criminals convicted of murder, robbery and rape should be hanged twice.
“After the first hanging, there will be another ceremony for the second time until the head is completely severed from the body,” he said. This is an overkill, of course, often used by Duterte to excite his audience during the presidential campaign. In fact, he even suggested using military snipers to kill criminals.
Again, these were just “hyperboles,” as his spokesmen and defenders would say, but we wonder why the leader of a mostly Roman Catholic country would even utter these words.
As has been the case with the brutal drug war, the proposal to restore the death penalty has sorely divided this already fractious nation. And if the administration does not thread carefully on this matter, it could also cause the collapse of his so-called “supermajority” in the House of Representatives that was formed when the political turncoats expectedly gravitated to the party that held the spoils of the war we call presidential elections.
Alvarez, the toughie who was personally handpicked by Duterte to lead the House of Turncoats, has threatened members of the super coalition of severe consequences if they voted against the party stand on the death penalty bill. No, the consequences do not include being shot by a military sniper or being gunned down on the street, but just as severe for a politician who is looking forward to reelection or to a higher office.
Alvarez has warned his fellow PDP-Laban members that they must vote for the restoration of the death penalty or they should leave the party. If they hold committee chairmanships, they would be replaced. To a dyed-in-the-wool politician, this could mean political death – no funding for their pet projects that, in local elections, can spell defeat or victory.
The President believes that restoring the death penalty could be an effective deterrent to crime, just like the public execution by firing squad of the Chinese drug lord at the onset of martial law instilled fear on criminals. But many believe it was not the fear that they could be next that stopped criminals, but the fear of martial law itself. They argue that if there were no martial law at that time, the execution of Lim Seng would not cause a dent on the crime rate just like the electrocution of four scions of prominent families for the rape of actress Maggie de la Riva just before martial law did not stop other rapists from doing their dastardly crime.
Proponents of the death penalty all over the world cite its role as a major deterrent to crime as the primary reason capital punishments should be imposed. However, such claims have no basis in fact. In the Philippines, for example, according to the late Sen. Joker Arroyo, a longtime human rights lawyer and activist, the revival of the death penalty from 1993 to 2004 did not bring the number of violent crimes down.
In the US, Texas has had the most number of executions for years, but is still ranked 13th in the country in violent crimes and 17th in murders per 100,000 citizens.
The American Civil Liberties Union said there is no credible evidence that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than long terms of imprisonment. The Death Penalty Information Center, on the other hand, says the murder rate in non-death penalty states has remained consistently lower than the rate in states with the death penalty. In addition, a study published in The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology found that 88 percent of criminologists in the US believed that the death penalty was not a deterrent to murder.
There is no evidence that serial killers and rapists would consider their death by lethal injection or in the gas chamber prior to committing crimes. Law enforcement experts say criminals usually operate with the belief that they will not be caught.
Proponents also claim that “deserved punishment protects society morally by restoring this just order, making the wrongdoer pay a price equivalent to the harm he has done.” Abolitionists, however, counter: “To kill the person who has killed someone close to you is simply to continue the cycle of violence which ultimately destroys the avenger as well as the offender.”
The biggest argument against the death penalty, however, especially in the Philippines where the judicial system is far from ideal, is the real possibility that a wrongly convicted person could be put to death for a crime he did not commit but was unable to defend himself in court because of various factors, including inadequate legal representation by court-appointed defense attorneys, serious flaw in police investigative work, racial prejudice, political pressure to solve a case, and misrepresentation of evidence.
It is the poor who can’t afford to hire the best lawyers and who often have to rely on public defenders that end up in death rows, unable to defend themselves and nobody willing to listen to their protestation of innocence.
Even in the US, which boasts of one of the best judicial systems in the world, it has been established that two out of three death penalty convictions have been overturned on appeal because of police and prosecutorial misconduct.
Abolitionists suggest that instead of death penalty, those convicted of certain violent crimes should instead be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole and made to work while in prison, with a big portion of their pay given to victims or victims’ kin as payment of court-ordered restitution.
The death penalty is a barbaric form of state-aided revenge that has long been abolished by civilized society. If restored in the Philippines, it would only boost the culture of death that has begun to prevail over the country.