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Sunday, August 25, 2019

Wenceslao: Death penalty and HB 1

IT'S an interesting battle waged primarily in the Senate and the House of Representatives. I am referring to the move to reimpose the death penalty, which has gotten the support of the House justice committee. Referred to as House Bill (HB) Number 1, it got the nod with a vote of 12 in favor, six against and one abstention. The measure goes back to the plenary for second reading.

The bill proposes three types of execution, which gives away the ruthlessness of its intention: hanging, firing squad or lethal injection. I thought lethal injection, which was used on death convicts Leo Echegaray and six others in 1999, would be the preferred method because it is less violent than hanging and the use of a firing squad. I just hope those executions, if ever, wouldn't be made public.

The website deathpenaltyworldwide.org lists six other common methods of execution, and these are ordinary shooting, electrocution, beheading, use of gas chamber, stoning and pushing from an unknown height. The most popular method is hanging, which is authorized in 60 countries worldwide, followed by shooting by firing squad with 28 countries authorizing it. Only Iran allows pushing convicts from an unknown height.

HB 1 lists the following as punishable by death: treason; qualified piracy; qualified bribery; parricide; murder; infanticide; rape; kidnapping and serious illegal detention; robbery with violence against or intimidation of persons; destructive arson; plunder; importation of dangerous drugs and/or controlled precursors and essential chemicals; and sale, trading, administration, dispensation, delivery, distribution, and transportation of dangerous drugs and/or controlled precursors and essential chemicals.

Also punishable with death are maintenance of a drug den, dive, or resort; manufacture of dangerous drugs and/or controlled precursors and essential chemicals; possession of dangerous drugs; cultivation or culture of plants classified as dangerous drugs or are sources thereof; unlawful prescription of dangerous drugs; criminal liability of a public officer or employee for misappropriation, misapplication, or failure to account for the confiscated, seized and/or surrendered dangerous drugs, plant sources of dangerous drugs, controlled precursors and essential chemicals, instruments/paraphernalia and/or laboratory equipment including the proceeds or properties obtained from the unlawful act committed; criminal liability for planting evidence concerning illegal drugs; and carnapping.

While a pro-administration “supermajority” controls the House, that does not mean smooth sailing for the measure there. Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas is confident they will get more than half of the 293 House members to vote for the measure but admitted that as of now, only 50 percent has openly supported the measure, 15 percent is against it and 35 percent is undecided. In the Senate, the number of those opposing the death penalty reimposition is growing.

Everything depends, though, on which pressure Congress would respond to: the push by President Rodrigo Duterte and his fanatical supporters or the opposition by the Catholic Church, progressive groups and concerned sectors. The antis are growing and for good reasons.

One example: the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) noted in its “timeline of the death penalty in the Philippines” that in 1999, “the bumper year for executions, the national crime volume, instead of abating, ironically increased by 15.3 percent or a total of 82,538 (from 71,527 crimes in the previous year). That was the year when Echegaray was executed.

(khanwens@gmail.com/ twitter: @khanwens)
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