Efforts to revive the death penalty are being undertaken in both houses of Congress. With President Duterte in support of its re-imposition, various versions are now pending before the House of Representatives and the Senate of the Philippines.
Before the impassioned debates begin, it is good to examine the current legal framework that the death penalty bills need to contend with if it is to be reinstituted in the country.
The 1987 Constitution of the Philippines is unequivocal in its affirmation of the invaluable dignity of every human person, mandating the State to guarantee full respect for human rights. (Sec. 11, Article II) Paramount of all privileges and liberties every human person is inherently entitled to is the right to life, which the State is bound to protect from the moment of conception, (Sec. 12, Article II) and is designated to guarantee against any undue and unlawful deprivation. (Sec. 1, Article III)
This utmost value placed by the State on the right to life is reflected in international covenants it entered into, and made part of the law of the land, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which forcefully assert man’s inherent dignity and his inalienable rights, (Preamble, Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Preamble, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) including the right to life. (Article 3, Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Article 6, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights)
In fact, the Philippines signed and ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming the abolition of the death penalty, which states that the “abolition of the death penalty contributes to the enhancement of human dignity… and should be considered as progress in the enjoyment of the right to life.” (Preamble, Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights)
As a State Party to this, the Philippines has undertaken that “no one within the jurisdiction…shall be executed” and that it shall “take all necessary measures to abolish death penalty within its jurisdiction.” (Article 1, Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights)
This obligation under international law was rightfully complied with through Republic Act 9346, the current law which prohibits the imposition of the death penalty in the Philippines.
With the State’s declared policy to uphold the right to life and its concomitant obligation to safeguard it under the Constitution and international law, it becomes glaring that the efforts to restore the death penalty in the Philippines is a step in regression and is a blatant disregard of the principles and values held by the Filipino people.
The reimposition of the death penalty would usher in a form of cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment proscribed by the Constitution, outlawed and condemned by the international community as a poor, outdated, and ineffective way of administering justice, which only serves to perpetuate a cycle of violence.
The case for the death penalty is further dampened by the absence of any objective, empirical, and scientifically verifiable study that shows it has the effect of deterring criminal behavior or decreasing criminal propensity.
Although a noble pursuit worthy of the State’s urgent action, solving criminality should not be endeavored at the expense of another life, as the life taken may be an innocent one. This is simply a risk too great to take.
While the effectiveness of the death penalty in curbing crime is in great doubt, the susceptibility of our criminal justice system to human error is well-documented.
The Supreme Court, no less, tasked by the Constitution to review convictions when the death penalty was available, noted that it “modified or vacated… an astounding 71.77% of the total of death penalty cases directly elevated before the Court on an automatic review that translates to a total of six hundred fifty-one (651) out of nine hundred seven (907) appellants saved from lethal injection.” (People vs. Mateo G.R. No. 147678-87 July 7, 2004)
This simply points to the reality that the judgment of man is not infallible, as a judge, learned and experienced as he may be, is not immune to misappreciation of evidence, erroneous application of the law, and other human considerations that might blur objectivity and hinder impartiality.
A judgment imposing the death penalty carries with it the finality of the loss of a life that cannot be undone, remedied, or restored. It puts a definitive end to a human person and his infinite capacity for goodness and reformation.
While all can commiserate with the plight of victims of various atrocities and their families, the simple truth is that the loss of another life solves nothing.
On the contrary, each life lost through the death penalty would only constitute another grave affront to humanity, where all of us are victims and would result in even louder cries to heaven for justice.
The solution is not death, but life, valued and fostered through the rule of law, and “a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality, and peace.” (Preamble, 1987 Constitution of the Philippines)
The State, whose prime duty it is to serve and protect the people, should not renege on this commitment to keeping sacrosanct the right to life of every human person, without exception, and in all stages, through means consistent with his invaluable dignity and immeasurable worth.