Senators debate death penalty revival

Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 06 2019 07:30 PM

MANILA - Senators on Tuesday began debates on proposals to revive the death penalty in the Philippines, with minority Sen. Franklin Drilon making good on his promise to fight “tooth and nail” its reimposition.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said a successful demand reduction strategy, not death penalty, is the best way to curb the country’s illegal drug problem.

Drilon said Sotto’s statement “confirms the fact that killing, whether judicial or extrajudicial, is not the solution to our drug problem.”

“The Senate President has put it very rationally: Let us reduce the demand,” Drilon said. “Killing the users or the pushers is not the solution, except probably where it is a high-value offender.”

The debates on the death penalty started with Sen. Manny Pacquiao’s privilege speech, where he asserted that reviving the death penalty is the most effective solution in dealing with the illegal drug scourge and heinous crimes.

“Illegal drugs are destroying the lives of our people. The organized international drug syndicates are more aggressive than ever. Should we just allow them to keep doing what they are doing?” Pacquiao said.

Pacquiao said it appears that drug syndicates were undeterred by the government’s drug war. Thus, “it is high time for the State to step up its game and put these criminals to death through judicial sanction.”

In his interpellation of Pacquiao, Drilon argued that judges and justices, being humans, are fallible and could render decisions that could cost people’s lives.

He noted that between 1993 and 2004, trial courts imposed the death penalty in 1,493 cases, out of which 907 were elevated to the Supreme Court for review. Of the 907 cases, the death penalty was affirmed in 230.

“In other words, if there was no appeal process, almost 72 percent of those convicted would have died a wrongful death,” Drilon said.

“We can commit mistakes, and if you commit a mistake, and impose the death penalty, that becomes irrevocable.”

Pacquiao countered by saying that the public must trust the government and authorities.

Meanwhile, minority Sen. Risa Hontiveros said certainty of punishment is the best deterrent against drug trafficking.

“The sustainable solution lies in reforming our overall justice and criminal system to ensure that the law will be applied swiftly and evenly and ensure that the rights of every individual are protected,” Hontiveros said in her interpellation of Pacquiao.

“The effectiveness of the law is determined not by its harshness or ruthlessness, but by its sureness.”

The death penalty was abolished in the Philippines in 2006, during the time of then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Duterte has been hoping to reinstate the death penalty in the Philippines, where nearly 80 percent of the population is made up of Catholics, as he wages his war on illegal drugs and pursues an anti-crime campaign. The Catholic Church has been opposed to death as capital punishment. 

Several 18th Congress senators, including Pacquiao, have filed their respective bills seeking the revival of the death penalty.

Sen. Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa’s bill imposes death as maximum penalty only for the importation and manufacture of illegal drugs and its precursors. Dela Rosa was Duterte's chief enforcer of the anti-drug campaign during his time as national police chief. 

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, on the other hand, seeks death penalty for a slew of crimes including illegal drug crimes, qualified piracy, qualified bribery, parricide, murder, rape, kidnapping and serious illegal detention, destructive arson, plunder, terrorism, human trafficking, and arms smuggling.

Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go, meanwhile, is seeking to include plunder among crimes punishable by death.