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The death penalty has already arrived

The speaker in the House of Representatives, Pantaleon Alvarez, and the member from Capiz, Fredenil Castro, want to put the death penalty back on the Philippine law books claiming that it is a deterrent to crime.

However, in the current climate, it can easily be claimed that the death penalty has already effectively been implemented and in practice is already in force on a daily basis, as dozens of people said to be suspected drug users or pushers are being murdered either by the police or vigilantes in various parts of the country.

Both police and private enterprise bind the hands and feet of the victims, gag them with tape and shoot them, before leaving their bodies to rot in public with a crude sign saying, “I am a pusher” or something similar.

Some are known to be victims of mistaken identity; others just victims of criminals avoiding investigation. It is simply presumed that the victim is guilty—the justice of the jungle.

The suspects are listed by local barangay officials and given to the police. This denunciation of neighbour by those elected to protect their rights is a total contradiction.

In the gated communities of the rich and powerful, officials are not cooperating with police demands for suspect lists, so those who end up dead are only the poor. The big drug lords do not fall.

This is hard on barangay officials of conscience. They feel the burden of guilt for putting their neighbours in harm’s way without evidence.

Due process is being bypassed. This kangaroo court-style death penalty creates a culture of fear where impunity for murder has become the norm.

There is nothing to prevent anybody from accusing anyone they like just to settle a score, to steal a wife or girlfriend, or to get rid of a political or business rival by telling the police they are into drugs.

It is setting up a network of informers, pitting neighbour against neighbour in much the same way as the bible describes the end of the world.

But members of the congress are determined to put the death penalty back on the law books.

Alvarez and Castro propose lethal injection (United States of America (US)-style) as the government weapon against anyone found guilty of human trafficking, illegal recruitment, plunder, treason, parricide, infanticide, rape, qualified piracy, bribery, kidnapping, illegal detention, robbery with violence or intimidation, car theft, destructive arson, terrorism and drug-related cases.

This is death for almost any crime except sneezing!

What is clear in the Philippine judicial system is it will be the poor who cannot afford a lawyer that will be convicted. The rich and powerful, if they are ever charged in court, will retain brilliant lawyers to get them acquitted.

In fact, studies have shown time and time again that the death penalty is not a deterrent at all.

It is only a deterrent for victims, which discourages them from making a complaint against a relative for rape or child sex abuse. 

When the death penalty was active in The Philippines in past years, children repeatedly raped by their father were extremely reluctant to pursue a case in court, as they feared they would be responsible for putting their own father to death and then have to endure the scorn and rejection of their families.

The most plausible argument against the death penalty is the clear danger of false accusation and mistaken conviction. The death penalty is final and if the convicted is later found to have been innocent (which happens frequently enough), there is no way to correct the mistake. There is no resurrection from the grave.

In the US, hundreds of men who were wrongfully convicted and condemned to die at the hands of the state have subsequently been proven innocent and released after many years on death row. The convictions were overturned by new DNA evidence that proved the convicted was in fact innocent.

The Philippine judicial system is in no way superior to that of the US with all its faults and blind spots. Nor can it rely on DNA forensic evidence to prove the innocence or guilt of a suspect—even if they do get to court.

Nowadays, it seems the court process is too cumbersome and the delivery of the daily death penalty remains a constant reminder of the chaos the president, Rodrigo Duterte, seeks to create to shore up his power.



 • Father Shay Cullen