CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 9 September 2017

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Death penalty bill directed at individuals

Life is for living. It is to experience freedom to love and help others, to be free to grow and have a family. To be human is to be free from fear and punishment and ill health, poverty and hunger.
 
Living is to be free to think, to speak our thoughts and freely choose the good. To be alive is to have justice and dignity and the fullness of existence. To be able to say I am alive and I know that I am is to be aware of life.
 
But millions are deprived of these basic values of human life. The death penalty is just another way of depriving people of life itself.
 
Why is it that many officials in authority and power wish to exert that power by inflicting pain and hurt on the helpless and the vulnerable? The death penalty has been judged to be a cruel, unusual and immoral punishment. It is a denial of the dignity and life of the human person.
 
In The Philippines, the lower house of congress passed a death penalty bill on its second reading in early March. It shows that vengeance and revenge for wrongdoing is the driving force in the thinking of the congress and those who support the bill.
 
Compassion, rehabilitation and eventual mercy and forgiveness is not in their hearts and minds. The law of the uncivilised jungle is what they want.
 
Every intelligent and learned person knows and accepts the truth that fear, threats of retribution and dire punishment do not deter crime or wrongdoing. It is a cause of more crime, not less.
 
It has been shown that a restorative justice system rather than punitive one has much better results in reducing crime. Rehabilitation through therapy, compassion, respect and humane treatment is most effective and instances of re-offence are kept at a minimum.
 
In the European experience, it is clearly shown. In the Netherlands, the government is closing down several prisons, as crime has fallen to such a low level due to kindness rather than cruelty. Where social justice dominates and equality reigns, there is minimal crime.
 
In the United States of America (US), The Philippines and other countries with punitive social systems reliant on violence, mockery, racism, stripping, brutality, humiliation, beating and severe punishment, more dangerous criminals return to crime on release and return to prison again on average within 18 months.
 
The death penalty is a bridge of no return. It is irrevocable and undoable if new evidence is found proving innocence. It is too late to undo the injustice. Hundreds of prisoners in the US who were sentenced to death were later proven innocent.
 
In The Philippines, it is mostly the poor that are convicted, because they cannot afford skilled lawyers to defend them. They rely on legal aid, which is overburdened with hundreds of cases. 
 
But the rich get away with murder or drug trafficking, as they can pay private lawyers and bribe prosecutors and judges.
 
Perhaps vindictive officials want this death penalty law passed and applied to the jailed senator, Leila de Lima, who is charged with drug offences, which she denies, so as to exercise vengeance on her for speaking out and opposing the war on drugs.
 
This is one good reason for the intelligent in the senate not to approve this proposed law and avoid the eternal shame and ignominy of what would be an unconscionable act. The death penalty law seems to be targeted at individuals.
 
In the US where it is still used in many states, more and more Americans come out against it year by year. Since the discovery of DNA as a forensic tool to present incontestable evidence of guilt or innocence, many on death row have been exonerated after having been wrongly convicted.
 
In The Philippines there are those that argue that the death penalty, if it was quick and painless for the poor prisoners, would be a happy release from the intolerable suffering they endure 24 hours a day in the hell-holes of the prison system.
 
Photos show prisoners stripped naked in Cebu, while in Quezon City bodies are shown piled on top of each other in overcrowded cells. Commercial animals are treated with greater respect.
 
These unfortunate accused, but not yet convicted, await trial for many years crammed into overcrowded, unsanitary cells in intolerable heat.
 
They are not even able to lie down to sleep. Critics call them the living dead and the justice system has neither the capacity nor ability to give them a speedy or fair trial.
So the intolerance of the rich and powerful in congress can inflict suffering on others without a compassionate thought.
 
Thankfully, another proposed law to make children of nine- or 12-years-old criminally liable did not pass in the congress.
 
But currently, they are locked up and some report being tortured. They are made to cling to the bars of their cells and tied there as punishment. Others are beaten, used as slaves in the jail or raped continually. That’s the Philippine penal system at work.
 
As many as 40 children in conflict with the law and children-at-risk have been rescued by PREDA.
 
We prove that when children are treated with respect and dignity in an open, pleasant home they will stay by choice and enjoy a life of education filled with hope and dignity.
 
 • Father Shay Cullen