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Death penalty resurrects as democracy wanes

MANILA (SE): Countries across the world today have been systematically taking the death penalty off their law books as democracy within their borders strengthens, but recently, as the power of the people has been waning in many traditional democracies, it is gradually being reintroduced.

The Philippines is no exception and as the current president, Rodrigo Duterte, ups the ante in his rule of fear over the country, the blood-soaked soil of the land has made it fertile ground for its reintroduction.

The death penalty was abolished by the former president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, in 2006 and enacted on the eve of a visit by the president to Pope Benedict XVI.

It is widely believed that the abolition was part of a come on to the pope to accept her invitation to visit The Philippines, something Arroyo badly wanted to boost her flagging popularity.

The death penalty had previously been abolished under the administration of Cory Aquino in 1987, when restoring democracy was the rallying cry of her presidency, but reintroduced by Fidel Ramos in 1993 as the people’s hold on power was diminishing.

But as the rule of fear instigated by Duterte takes hold, the Committee on Justice in the Philippine House of Representatives voted 12 to one abstention to push the bill and it was passed in the lower house on December 7.

It will apply to what is being called heinous crimes, including anything to do with drugs.

The proposed measure will redefine capital punishment as the death penalty instead of life imprisonment and, apart from drug-related crime, will include murder, plunder, rape, kidnapping and serious illegal detention, carjacking with homicide and treason, among other things.

Parols in The Philippines will be twinkling their seasonal greetings into the shadow of death this Christmas, as an increasingly desensitised population has sat back for over six months and nodded approvingly at the succession of the bodies of the poor that have littered the streets in the name of stamping out the drug trade.

But while the campaign instigated by the president may have dampened the demand for drugs in the slums of Manila and the poor barrios of the countryside, supply has not been touched and is happily seeking out more profitable markets.

But killing is the name of the game in today’s Philippines and, not content with simply shooting people, innocent or otherwise, it is almost certain that another tried and failed anti-crime law will be passed in the congress in January—the death penalty.

With Duterte fixated on blood and drugs, which Filipinos have embraced as the number one agenda in the country, even though they had not thought of it prior to it being introduced by the president as his signature policy in his election campaign, the cry of kill, kill, kill receives the approving nod in most places.

Bishop Broderick Pabillo told seminarians on November 8 that killing the poor is not addressing the drug problem, pointing out that the trade is alive and well despite the rampant bloodletting of the president’s campaign.

A similar policy enacted in China in the 1850s also saw the supply of drugs increase and the market continue to open up new and difficult to identify markets. Similar purges have also been tried and failed in several countries since then, with the most recent in Thailand, where today, the trade is bigger and healthier than ever.

However, the innate violence embedded in Philippine culture has bred a belief in the power of the gun, despite evidence to the contrary, and the auxiliary bishop of Manila called it a strengthening of the culture of death that has long been a blight on society.

The president of the bishops’ conference, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, has called on people to resist the threat of the restoration of the death penalty.

“We cannot be disunited or indifferent,” he was quoted by CBCP News as telling a rally on December 10, World Day of Human Rights.

While the death penalty may further isolate The Philippines, as foreign governments are reluctant to deport criminals back to a land that has the death penalty, more than anything else, its reintroduction is a sign of the waning health of whatever democracy ever may have existed in the nation.

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