Kneejerk reactions

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Friday, January 31, 2014


WHO wouldn’t be alarmed at the spate of crimes all over the place? Kids below 10 years of age are raped and killed. Police officers themselves violate the law they have pledged to protect.

And the authorities seemed powerless to nail the perpetrators. More and more, knee-jerk reactions are the strident calls for citizens to arm themselves. Vigilantism is on the rise, no less by the Honorable Mayor Rodrigo Duterte of Davao City who threatened to kill rice smugglers without due process of law.

Duterte has found many supporters. While his call can be construed as grave threats— a criminal act—some of our lawmakers are pushing to make State-sponsored killing legal.

Alarmed by the flood of heinous crimes, Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III is batting for the revival of the long dead Republic Act 7659 or the Death Penalty Law through lethal injection.

In filing Senate Bill 2080 known as “An Act imposing death penalty in the Philippines,” Sotto wants to repeal Republic Act No. 9346 otherwise known as “An act prohibiting the imposition of Death Penalty in the Philippines…”

I find it strange how an RH bill opponent on grounds of being anti-life could advocate for the State to kill convicted felons. Sotto argued that “The indiscriminate and horrendous brutality happening everywhere rightfully and justifiably compels the government to resort to the ultimate criminal penalty provided for by no less than our constitution – the death penalty. The imposition of life imprisonment proves to be a non-deterrent against criminality.”

Deterrent? Since when did the death penalty put a brake on a crime wave? No, Sotto’s bill is the anti-life. Let’s go back to the time when the country imposed the death penalty and review the outcome.

According to the Commission on Human Rights in 2007, then President Joseph Estrada “carried out the capital punishment and put to death seven death row convicts. 1999 was a bumper year for executions which were intended to abate criminality. Instead, using the same year as baseline, criminality increased by 15.3 percent as a total of 82,538 (from 71,527 crimes in the previous year).”

Worse, according to a Free Legal Assistance Group (Flag) research which profiled death row convicts, most of those who are sentenced to death are poor and not properly represented by lawyers during their trial. The majority was also arrested without warrants and unassisted by counsel during police investigation, questioning and interrogation. Many were tortured.

Flag cites a 2004 Supreme Court decision which pegged the judicial error rate at a whopping 72 percent. It says that the high tribunal found police irregularities — including the use of shortcuts, or planted and recycled evidence —in the investigation of capital crimes.

Most death inmates were sentenced to death for rape, murder and kidnap and very few for violating the dangerous drug laws. Most were charged, tried and convicted for one count of the crime.

In fact, the Supreme Court revoked more than half of the death sentences it reviewed, as of end March 2002. It scrutinized 348 which affirmed a mere 158, or less than half. More could probably be absolved if the Philippine facility and expertise for DNA testing go beyond identification and parentage testing and use this cutting-edge forensic science on rape cases.

Of the 190 death sentences that were reversed, 38 ended in acquittal, 140 reduced to life imprisonment or shorter terms, and 12 were revoked and the cases sent back to lower courts for re-trial after the Supreme Court found substantial and grave procedural lapses during the original trial.

No, the death penalty is a knee-jerk reaction not based on social science or even empirical evidence. It will not stem criminality. What can be done is for the State to improve its five pillars of the justice system to detect and arrest suspects, convict them beyond reasonable doubt of criminal liability, and put them behind bars. The assurance of punishment is the grail of deterrence.

(bqsanc@yahoo.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on January 31, 2014.

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