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TURNING POINT: Death Penalty law: Legitimizing the Assault on the Poor

NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental  (MindaNews / 05 March) — A watered-down bill on the re-imposition of death penalty in the country may soon be passed by the House of Representatives on 3rd or final reading. The approved version of the bill makes the death penalty an option for judges to impose on those convicted only for drug-related offenses.

The bill authorizes hanging, firing squad, and lethal injection as modes of execution.

The pro-death penalty in the Senate are also inclined to limit the coverage of death-punishable crimes to offenses related to illegal drugs.

The adoption of the 1987 Constitution put a sudden halt to death penalty,  the imposition  in the country of which was allowed under the 1935 Constitution. Yet the 1987 Constitution does not totally prohibit but in fact allows the imposition of death penalty for heinous crimes.  Section 19, Article lll of the Constitution stipulates that death penalty shall not be imposed, “unless for compelling reasons involving heinous crimes, the Congress hereafter provides for it.”

A year and a half after he assumed office, President Ramos signed into law RA 7659 in December 1993. This was followed in 1996 by another law RA 8177 providing for lethal injection as the method of execution for crimes punishable by death. Under RA 7659, crimes are considered heinous for “being grievous, odious and hateful offenses and which, by reason of their inherent or manifest wickedness, viciousness, atrocity and perversity are repugnant and outrageous to the common standards and norms of decency and morality in a just, civilized and ordered society.”

The Supreme Court did not declare RA 7659 as unconstitutional, thus the death penalty became final and executory. However, upon assumption to office, President Gloria Arroyo issued a “moratorium” suspending or putting on hold the death penalty. This explains the reasons why there was no execution carried out for a number of years.

In June 2006  President Arroyo signed RA 9346 abolishing the death penalty in the country. She said: “the abolition of death penalty in the Philippines ends an era of retributive justice and paves the way for restorative justice.” She added that “we have seen a strong hand against the threat to the high moral imperatives dictated by God to walk away from capital punishment.”

I am personally convinced that killing people regardless who does it, whether the State,  some lunatics or terrorists, will not solve anything in this world. Thus, I am against death penalty, but if its restoration in the country cannot be avoided at all because Congress cannot afford to displease the blood-thirsty tenant in Malacanang, then it should not  be confined to drug-related offenses only  but ought to cover all heinous crimes possible.

To limit to drug offenses the death-punishable crimes suggests that these are the only worst of crimes contemplated in the Constitution, a myopic view and approach that weakens the ardent campaign of President Duterte for retributive justice to flourish in our country.

The narrow confine for death penalty exempts terrorists who kidnap and mutilate their captives alive and who bomb to smithereens innocent civilian populations. This may yet further embolden the Abu Sayyaff bandits, who have always been cornered by the military but incredibly to this day still behead hapless victims, into plying their wares without let-up thinking that the government has either given up on them or is scared to touch them.

Exempted likewise from death penalty are murderers and human traffickers, bestial psychopaths who rape even infants, likewise plunderers who ravage the people by depriving them of much needed resources intended for education, health, social and infrastructure services.

Actually in the advent of the government’s war on drugs, , death penalty has already been passionately imposed, even without any existing law allowing it, on poor drug offenders in their stinking abodes, in dark alleys and corridors.

As always, the poor, who cannot afford to hire good counsels or bribe corrupt law enforcers, prosecutors and judges, are at the receiving end of any concerted effort to cleanse society of criminals perceived to have disturbed the peace and security and impeded the country’s steady march to progress and development.

The passage of a death penalty, if ever, would accomplish nothing but legitimize the assault on the poor by moving to the courts the venue to decide on expunging them from society and by transferring their execution to government poison, toasting chambers or killing fields. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan is a retired professor and former chancellor of the Mindanao State University Naawan campus in Misamis Oriental).

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