Heartening change of heart

Published November 9, 2021, 12:05 AM

by Former Senator Atty. Joey D. Lina


Former Senator Atty. Joey D. Lina

It’s not as spectacular as the conversion of St. Paul who was transformed from being the most intense persecutor of early Christians to one of the most ardent followers of Jesus, but it’s remarkable nevertheless.

The recent news that my good friends Sen. Panfilo Lacson and Senate President Vicente Sotto III, who for the longest time have been furiously pushing for the death penalty, are no longer in favor of reinstituting capital punishment is quite heartwarming for so-called abolitionists like me.

Lacson told media last week that his change of heart came about after watching on Netflix the 2003 film, The Life of David Gale, which revolves around a plan of getting an innocent person wrongfully executed to change public consensus on the death penalty.

“Namulat ‘yong aking kaisipan na mas importante na ma-save ‘yong buhay ng isang inosente na na-convict kesa doon sa mag execute tayo ng talagang convicted at talagang napatunayan nagkasala (I came to realize it’s more important to save the life of an innocent one convicted than executing one who’s proven guilty),” Lacson explained as he revealed that Sotto has also changed his view on the death penalty.

The reinstatement of the capital punishment in the Philippines has long been a perennial hot topic with advocates on both sides of the issue furiously divided. The re-impositionists, on one hand, mainly argue that death penalty can be a crime deterrent or, if not, an act of retribution. The abolitionists, on the other hand, believe that abolishing forever capital punishment is right because it is anti-poor and it does not really deter crime, among many varied reasons.

I firmly believe that instead of the death penalty, certainty and swiftness of conviction and punishment of imprisonment could really deter crime.

And to bring about certainty and swiftness of conviction, there must be utmost efficiency in all aspects of the criminal justice system — reporting the crime, gathering evidence, identifying perpetrators through a no-nonsense investigation that also elicits valuable information from the community, arresting and prosecuting suspects, and conducting swift and fair trial in court until justice is served and the guilty are sentenced to languish in jail.

I also believe there are yet no compelling reasons for capital punishment as stated in Section 19 (1), Article 3 of the 1987 Constitution which provides: “Neither shall death penalty be imposed, unless for compelling reasons involving heinous crimes, the Congress hereafter provides for it.”

My argument on the particular issue of “compelling reasons” was articulated in a Supreme Court en banc opinion, G.R. No. 117472 February 7, 1997, regarding the case of Leo Echegaray who was executed in 1999. The Supreme Court’s “Per Curiam” cited our furious debate on the Senate floor on March 17, 1993 after Sen. Arturo Tolentino, chairman of the Senate special committee on the death penalty, delivered his sponsorship speech on reviving capital punishment.

Here’s what the SC said: “The stiffest opposition thereto was bannered by Senator Lina who kept prodding the sponsors of the bill to state the compelling reason for each and every crime for which the supreme penalty of death was sought. Zeroing in on the statement in the preamble of the death penalty bill that the same is warranted in the face of “the alarming upsurge of [heinous] crimes,” Senator Lina demanded for solid statistics showing that in the case of each and every crime in the death penalty bill, there was a significantly higher incidence of each crime after the suspension of the death penalty on Feb. 2, 1987 when the 1987 Constitution was ratified by the majority of the Filipino people, than before such ratification.

“In as much as the re-impositionists could not satisfy the abolitionists with sufficient statistical data for the latter to accept the alarming upsurge of heinous crimes as a compelling reason justifying the re-imposition of the death penalty, Senator Lina concluded that there were, in fact, no compelling reasons therefore.

“In the alternative, Senator Lina argued that the compelling reason required by the constitution was that ‘the State has done everything in its command so that it can be justified to use an inhuman punishment called death penalty’. The problem, Senator Lina emphasized, was that even the re-impositionists admit that there were still numerous reforms in the criminal justice system that may and must be put in place, and so clearly, the recourse to the enactment of a death penalty bill was not in the nature of a last resort, hence, unconstitutional in the absence of compelling reasons.”

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