The recent proposal by a Philippines official to restore the death penalty, particularly for big time drug traffickers, appears redundant, considering the fact that the government’s “war on drugs” has already led to the deaths of more than 6,000 alleged drug suspects.
And if we’re to believe the claims of human rights groups that the death toll in the anti-drug campaign has already reached 27,000 due to alleged summary executions by vigilante groups, then capital punishment might even be “counterproductive” in the eyes of its supporters, as it would entail a lengthy judicial process, as is the norm in the Philippines.
But perhaps Dante Jimenez, the newly appointed co-chairman of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD), may be forgiven for his stand on restoring capital punishment. After all, prior to his appointment, he was the head of the Volunteers against Crime and Corruption, a non-government entity whose members are drawn from the families of victims of heinous crimes, including murder and kidnapping-for-ransom.
When Jimenez took his oath as ICAD co-chair, he signaled his intentions loud and clear by signing his appointment paper with a bloody thumbprint.
“I sign this … with my own blood to represent the thousands of victims of illegal drugs and as a manifestation of my commitment to the unrelenting war against the social menace that must be destroyed by all means,” he said.
This may be what his audience wanted to see and hear, but it sets off alarm bells in the ears of human rights advocates and the government’s Commission on Human Rights, who have found common cause in lamenting the high death toll in the anti-drug campaign.
It’s bad enough that the war on drugs unleashed by the administration of Rodrigo Duterte on July 2016 has transformed the entire country into a vast killing field, where thousands upon thousands of so-called “drug personalities” have been killed because they allegedly fought back when law enforcers came to arrest them.
It’s going to be even worse if the government reimposes the death penalty and begins to execute those found guilty of heinous crimes.
Will capital punishment solve the drug problem in the Philippines?
From my vantage point, that seems highly unlikely.
Six thousand people, mainly street-level pushers and users, have already been killed by law enforcers in numerous anti-drug operations.
Did those deaths — and the arrest of thousands more — deter drug traffickers from plying their illegal trade? Not by a long shot.
The usual argument for capital punishment is that it serves as a deterrent to drug traffickers and other criminals.
But the reality is that the drug problem in the country seems to have gotten even worse, with authorities continuing to seize large amounts of illegal drugs nationwide.
When he was still on the campaign trail in 2016, Duterte promised to end the drug problem in 3-6 months. Four years on, the country is no closer to a solution.
Vice President Leni Robredo, who sat as co-chair of ICAD for only 18 days, said the anti-drug campaign was a “massive failure” after authorities had only been able to seize 1 percent of the total supply of illicit drugs in the country.
And yet Robredo’s successor, Jimenez, has thrown his support behind Duterte’s anti-drug campaign, with a plea to congress to reinstate the death penalty.
But passage of the capital punishment bill, a key component of Duterte’s law and order agenda, is not likely to happen soon, as it faces stiff opposition from the Church, pro-life advocates, and enlightened lawmakers who prefer life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for those found guilty of heinous crimes.
I expect Duterte to spare no effort in convincing congress to pass the death penalty bill as a vital component of his relentless war on drugs.
As of late, he has ramped up his rhetoric on the need for the government to be unafraid of using every available means to stamp out crime and corruption.
Recently, he told an audience consisting of newly appointed officials that the next president to be elected in 2022 should know how to kill.
“You know, to be honest, if you’re president and you don’t know how to kill or you’re afraid to die, don’t be president,” Duterte said. “Nothing will happen to you and nothing will happen to the country if all you do is give orders.”
He made this statement after telling his audience that he didn’t see anyone in the current political scene who is “fit” to be his successor.
Duterte’s “kill, kill, kill” rhetoric is no longer surprising, nor shocking. And the more he persists, whether as figure of speech, or as a joke, as his spokesman insists, his die-hard supporters seem to adore him even more.
And there’s the rub: We cannot allow the culture of killing to dominate the country’s political landscape now or after 2022. That’s why the Church and pro-life groups should oppose the restoration of the death penalty with as much conviction and resolve as they can muster.
Ernesto M. Hilario writes on political and social justice issues for various publications in the Philippines. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of LiCAS.news.