On its way out?

The Mindanao Cross
September 07, 2002
Reproduced with Permission

Things have been quite at the death penalty front since the 1999 executions by lethal injection with Leo Echegaray as its firm victim. In 2000, former Things have been quite at the death penalty front since the 1999 executions by lethal injection with Leo Echegaray as its firm victim. In 2000, former President Joseph Estrada, acceding to the request of the Catholic Bishops as the Church celebrated the Jubilee Year, suspended all scheduled executions for the year. Shortly after Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo assumed the presidency in January 2001, she made public her opposition in principle to the death penalty.

But in February this year, the President had a change of mind. Besieged with complaints from the Chinese-Filipino community whose members had been the kidnappers' victims of choice, she promised to carry out the execution of convicted kidnappers. Later, she added drug traffickers to her list. Finally, in keeping with her vision of a "strong republic" which she spelled out in her State of the Nation Address last June, she said that she would implement all state executions.

It was for this reason that the President ordered the execution of convicted rapist Rolando Padawayon on August 30. But an unexpected event came into the picture: the birthday of Cardinal Sin on August 31. A strong advocate against the death penalty as all the bishops of the Philippines are, President Arroyo gifted the cardinal with an indefinite reprieve of Padawayon's execution.

Then still other intervening factors came in. In the House of Representatives, 100 congressmen - nine short of a majority out of 216 congressmen - signed a bill abolishing the death penalty. Earlier, 15 of the remaining 23 senators signed a similar bill. Both groups asked the President for a moratorium on executions until congressional action is taken on the two bills. Last Monday, the House went farther by passing a resolution asking the President for a moratorium of all executions till the death penalty law is repealed. For her part, the President granted a three-month suspension on all executions.

Though the 1987 Constitution has abolished the death penalty and prohibited "cruel, degrading or inhuman punishment," it nonetheless gave an opening to its reimposition when it added a proviso to Sect. 19(1), Art. III, namely, "unless, for some compelling reasons involving heinous crimes, the Congress hereafter provides for it." Armed with this proviso, Congress passed the death penalty law in 1994. The primary reason for its reimposition was to deter the commission of "heinous crimes" and thus protect society from people with such criminal intent.

But since the passing of the law, has it prevented the commission of heinous crimes? Has the commission of kidnapping, drug trafficking and rape been totally eradicated or even just diminished because of the fear of execution by lethal injection? The answer is there for all of us to see: death penalty or not, the commission of such heinous crimes continues unabated.

Why? Because and this without even going into its moral aspect, what deters the commission of crimes, according to the findings of Nobel Prize Winner Gary Becker, is not the severity but the certainty of punishment. When people are deciding to commit a crime the probability of getting caught weighs more heavily than the type of punishment they may face. Thus, stronger law enforcement will be more effective than the severity of penalty or tougher sentences, e.g. death, which is final.

Along this line, we recall what Theodore Te, Leo Echegaray's lawyer, said when he argued his client's case before the Supreme Court: "Laws are not always just, witnesses are not always truthful, judges are not always right, trials are not always fair, but death is always final."

This being so, it will do everyone good if the state replaces the death penalty with life imprisonment without pardon or parole, as Senator Pimentel proposed. This, he said, "can be a punishment worse than death." And we add: no hand will be stained with blood.