Philippine and int’l law on the death penalty

Published July 31, 2020, 11:11 PM

by Manila Bulletin

President Duterte revived interest in the death penalty when he included among his proposals in his State of the Nation Address that it be reinstated as penalty for drug-related crimes.

In the House of Representatives, Congressmen Robert Ace Barbers of Bayan Muna and Ruffy Biazon of Muntinlupa, who had authored a bill reviving the death penalty in the previous Congress, were quick to welcome the President’s proposal, while Congressmen Lito Atienza of Buhay and Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna opposed it on the ground that death penalty has never served to deter crime.

In the Senate, Senate President Vicente Sotto III, who has a bill reviving the death penalty, said with the President’s support, it now has a chance to win approval. But Sen. Richard Gordon said his Committee on Justice is not keen on holding a hearing.

Death by electric chair used to be common in the country until it was provided in the Philippine Constitution, ratified in 1987 during the Cory Aquino administration after the People Power Revolution of 1986, that: “The death penalty shall not be imposed, unless, for compelling reasons involving heinous crimes, Congress hereafter provides for it.”

In 1993, during the Fidel Ramos administration, Congress enacted RA 7659, providing for the death penalty for 46 crimes. In 1999, during the Joseph Estrada administration, seven convicts were executed by lethal injection. Estrada then declared a moratorium in 2000 to mark the Christian “Jubilee Year.”

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo announced the lifting of the moratorium in 2003 in response to a rise in drug trafficking and kidnapping. But she subsequently commuted the sentences of 1,230 on death row in 2006.

Congress enacted RA 9346, abolishing capital punishment, reducing all death sentences to life imprisonment. This is now the prevailing Philippine law on the death penalty.

In our international relations, the Philippines is one of 104 member states of the United Nations that voted in 2007 for a worldwide moratorium on executions, with the ultimate aim of abolishing the death penalty. The Philippines has led the way in Asia in prohibiting the death penalty.

Now that President Duterte has called again on Congress to revive the death penalty, we can expect it to be one of the key issues that will occupy the attention of both chambers in the coming sessions. There will again be debates on whether the death penalty can really deter crime, whether it discriminates against the poor who cannot afford good lawyers, and the unswerving opposition of the Catholic Church and human rights groups.

And then there is that 2007 vote in the UN when the Philippines became a state party to what was called the “Second Optional Protocol” from which a state may not withdraw without violating international law.