Taking the cue from President Rodrigo Duterte’s 5th State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 27 where he called for the return of the death penalty by lethal injection, the Committee on Justice of the House of Representatives has begun to tackle bills pushing for the revival of capital punishment in the country.
The reimposition of the death penalty, according to Duterte, “will not only help us deter criminality but also save our children from the dangers posed by illegal and dangerous drugs.”
Coming as it does on the heels of the national government’s recent move to again place Metro Manila and outlying provinces in yet another lockdown to arrest the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the legislature could well be wasting precious time discussing the death penalty for drug traffickers when all hands should be on deck to keep the COVID-19 death toll from rising and getting the economy back on track.
The Catholic Church has been right all along and consistent in its stand: the death penalty is not a deterrent to crime at all.
For Bishop Joey Baylon of Legazpi, who heads the Commission on Prison Pastoral Care of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), the claimed deterrent effect of capital punishment has been repeatedly debunked in various studies.
The prelate stressed that the death penalty “has no place in a Christian and civilized society like ours…. While we believe that offenders must be made accountable for their acts or omissions committed against their victims and the community, they should be given proper treatment to enable them to rehabilitate and change for the better.”
Instead of reviving capital punishment, Bishop Baylon said, “restorative justice” is the preferred choice: “With the death penalty justice is nothing but punishment, and never a way to reform the offender. But true justice is restorative, never punitive.”
Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga has also warned the proposed reimposition of the death penalty in the Philippines would weaken appeals to save Filipinos on death row abroad: “With (the) death penalty we lose moral authority and credibility to beg for life, to save lives of our imprisoned overseas Filipino workers.”
Jesuit priest Silvino Borres, president of the Coalition Against Death Penalty, said even criminals have an affirmative right to rehabilitation. He called on Christians to take a stand for life “wherever we find it.”
The Philippines abolished capital punishment in 2006 but Duterte wants it restored particularly for those found guilty of trafficking in illegal drugs, heinous crimes, and plunder.
But the renewed push for the death penalty by Duterte is rather strange — perhaps even unnecessary, if not redundant — as the Philippine National Police has already killed as many as 6,000 drug suspects who they claimed had resisted arrest and fought back.
Despite the high body count in the government’s bloody war on drugs since 2016, almost everyday we read in the papers news reports of continuing killings or arrests of drug suspects as well as the seizure of varying amounts of methamphetamine hydrochloride, or “shabu,” by the police.
This tells us very clearly that drug traffickers are not deterred at all by the draconian “take-no-prisoners” approach of the government in dealing with illegal drugs, nor by the possibility that they would die by lethal injection, the electric chair, or the old-fashioned guillotine.
Will drug syndicates cower in utter fear and immediately stop their criminal activities once the death penalty is re-imposed by the government?
We don’t think so, and the Church is correct in debunking the notion that capital punishment is a crime deterrent.
Pope Francis shook the Christian world in 2017 when he denounced the death penalty as “contrary to the Gospel.”
His statement constituted a radical departure from Church doctrine that had long encouraged civil governments to minimize the use of capital punishment.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that capital punishment is not inherently evil and within the scope of “legitimate public authority…to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense.”
That stand allowed Pope Pius XII to send a Jesuit archivist to the prosecutors at Nuremberg to hasten the executions of Nazi war criminals. The Jesuit is said to have even personally assured the American prosecutor: “Not only do we approve of the trial, but we desire that the guilty be punished as quickly as possible.”
For his part, Pope Innocent I even said that capital punishment was “granted through the authority of God” to legitimate authorities and that any effort to condemn the practice per se would “go against the authority of the Lord.”
In fact, research on the Internet further reveals, the Lateran treaty of 1929 provided for the execution of anyone attempting to assassinate the pope within the Vatican.
But times have really changed, and with Pope Francis declaring capital punishment “contrary to the Gospel,” marking a break from the past and putting himself at odds with his predecessors and sacred scripture, will Filipinos be inclined to support the reimposition of the death penalty as a deterrent to crime?
Rather than answering that question at this point, maybe it would make more sense for us to ask our lawmakers: Will you decide according to the dictates of their conscience, or will you simply obey what the president says because of political expediency?
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.