A Regressive Step
Restoring the Death Penalty
THE CENTER FOR MEDIA FREEDOM & RESPONSIBILITY (CMFR) recognizes the sovereign voice of the people in the election of Rodrigo Duterte. He campaigned on an anti-crime platform, vowing to go after drug lords and syndicates, but never made clear how exactly he would achieve this within the self-imposed deadline of three months– recently extended to six– except to say that he himself would kill the scoundrels. He left to individual imagination the kind of blood bath that would eliminate presumed “enemies of the state.”
We were assured by those who supported him that such talk was simply campaign bluster to win over voters who believe in chest-thumping braggadocio. But the president-elect has wasted no time in vowing to restore the death penalty. He favors execution by hanging, which in some cases leave some of the convicted hanging until their heads are severed from their bodies.
Along with this announcement, the former Davao mayor also said he would order law enforcement agents to “shoot to kill” suspects who resist arrest. More and more countries have rejected capital punishment, as studies have questioned its usefulness in deterring crime as well as its role in the making of such tragedies as wrongful executions.
With the obvious problems in our justice system, the policy of inhumane punishment would apply mostly to the poor. CMFR joins the Commission on Human Rights and other groups and individuals in opposing capital punishment as a strategy to end criminality. The Philippines has had the death penalty in the past, but these regimes did not see the end of lawlessness. It did not lessen crime nor temper the violence in our midst. Those who favor the restoration of the death penalty should review other conditions that breed crime in our country.
Through its press freedom protection work, CMFR has assisted the pursuit of justice for killers of journalists. With partner organizations in the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists, Inc.(FFFJ), CMFR has concluded that the widespread failure to punish wrongdoing is the root of all forms of crime. This culture of impunity involves a weak and flawed criminal justice system; a gun culture; criminal elements in law enforcement agencies; and the obvious lack of forensic capacity that hobbles the identification and arrest of suspects before they escape.
The slow trial of the accused in the Ampatuan massacre demonstrates systemic obstacles to justice. The accused include members of a ruling clan in Maguindanao with the collusion of some law enforcement officers. By the end of the year, the trial will have reached its seventh year. The deaths of key witnesses during the interminable trial suggest that the families of victims will not soon be seeing a satisfactory resolution of the case.
The rules of court rightly favor the accused until proven guilty. But the application of this presumption is abused by legal manipulation. The president-elect, a lawyer who has served as a government prosecutor, might recall how court procedures can be interpreted to benefit wealthy and powerful defendants who can afford expensive lawyers to take advantage of the court’s latitude.
A functioning criminal justice system is a major factor that will help arrest the surge in criminality. This requires several painstaking policy actions. The Duterte campaign boasted that it would bring change. But the shoot-to-kill order and prioritizing the restoration of capital punishment are regressive steps, taking us all back to a situation when state intervention only made bad things even worse.