Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 21 January 2016


If the order in which problems are tackled indicates their relative priority, then the House of Representatives gives the highest importance to reimposing the death penalty for heinous crimes. Because that is what House Bill No. 1, which calls itself the proposed “Death Penalty Law,” is about. And the bill was approved by the House committee on justice more than a month ago. Action agad.

And how are heinous crimes defined by HB 1? They are “grievous, odious and hateful offenses, which by reason of their inherent or manifest wickedness, viciousness, atrocity and perversity, are repugnant and outrageous to the common standards and norms of decency and morality in a just, civilized and ordered society.”  Note that all characteristics must be present: wickedness, viciousness, atrocity AND perversity.

So the Reader would think that very few crimes can possibly fit that description. Think again. There are 20 separate crimes listed, eight of which are drug-related, as in possession of dangerous drugs, their importation, cultivation, or unlawful prescription, and maintenance of drug dens. How these activities can be considered wicked, vicious, atrocious and perverse, and therefore “heinous,” is kind of a stretch.  The other 12 include treason, planting evidence, and car theft (with murder), which again stretches the imagination to fit the description of heinous.

Since 40 percent of these heinous crimes are drug-related, it looks like the war on drugs weighs heavily on the minds of our congressmen, as it does on our President. But why put it in the law when the police and “vigilantes” are already practicing the death penalty with impunity, sans a judge’s imprimatur? Strange.

Even more strange is that the authors of the bill seem to think that this law, as long as it is properly implemented (which means, I suppose, that dozens—nay, thousands—of executions will be scheduled and performed), will result in deterring the crimes listed as heinous. Well, I urge them to think again. Thinking seems to be a scarce commodity in the House.

If they only did their homework, or read the papers presented to the committee, such as those by Amnesty International and FLAG (Free Legal Assistance Group), or maybe even just googled “Death Penalty Pros and Cons,” it would be immediately apparent that:

  1. The death penalty doesn’t do squat about deterring crimes. Study after study gathered by the United Nations from around the world show this. And the studies that show the death penalty to be a deterrent are “fundamentally flawed,” according to the National Research Council (US). In America, the highest crime rates are in states that have the death penalty (i.e., the South) and the lowest crime rates occur in states with no death penalty (the Northeast). Huh. Also, a 2009 poll commissioned by the Death Penalty Information Center found that police chiefs ranked the death penalty LAST among ways to reduce violent crime.
  1. The death penalty, contrary to popular belief, costs more than life in prison without parole. For example, “enforcing the death penalty in Florida costs $51 million a year above what it would cost to punish all first-degree murderers with life in prison without parole.” The police chiefs in the 2009 poll considered the death penalty the “least efficient use of taxpayers’ money.”
  1. The possibility of wrongful deaths is also a problem. Again, in the United States, more than 10 percent (156) of death penalty convicts were found innocent, versus 1,444 convictions. In the Philippines, FLAG chair Jose Diokno, citing Supreme Court data, said that 7 of every 10 convicts on death row (before we abolished it) had been wrongfully convicted.
  1. And who are these convicts? It turns out, again according to FLAG, that most of them were poor. Anywhere from 70 percent to 80 percent. So the death penalty will be borne mostly by the poor.
  1. Well, maybe HB 2 shows a better bent than HB 1. Oops. Spoke too soon. HB 2, also by Rep. Fred Castro and Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, seeks to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility to nine years old.