Amante: Do you support death penalty?

NEARLY a year ago, when presidential candidates met in Cebu for the second of three debates, only two said they would favor restoring the death penalty. Sen. Grace Poe said she saw the need for the maximum penalty for heinous crimes. Eventual winner Rodrigo Duterte said he saw the need to restore the death penalty for offenses related to illegal drugs.

His congressional allies are on the same page. When the Lower House takes up the death penalty on third reading this week, it will be a formality. Its passage is all but guaranteed by the pro-Duterte majority, who cut short the period of amendments last week. It also helped hasten the debate by limiting the death penalty to eight drug-related offenses, instead of 21 crimes.

The Senate, where the debate heads next, has eight bills to restore the death penalty. The two most comprehensive ones are by Senators Panfilo Lacson and Vicente Sotto III, who want death for those who commit any of a long list of crimes previously identified in Republic Act 7659. (That’s the law that President Fidel Ramos signed in 1993, barely a year and a half into his term.)

One of three death penalty bills filed by Sen. Manny Pacquiao seeks capital punishment for “heinous crimes involving dangerous drugs,” which include manufacturing or importing dangerous drugs; operating a drug den; and protecting those in the illegal drug trade. Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian cites “the scourge of illegal drugs” in his bill, which seeks death by lethal injection for those guilty of, among other crimes, manufacturing drugs or possessing at least a kilo of shabu. The Gatchalian and Pacquiao bills list the same class of offenses in the bill that’s about to get the Lower House’s approval.

The problem, however, is that drug-related crimes do not meet the “most serious crimes” threshold that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights set for capital punishment. (The only one that does is intentional killing.) In 2015, when 25 countries executed 1,634 persons, Amnesty International pointed out that the offenses fell short of that threshold and the proceedings failed to meet international fair trial standards; for instance, torture was used to get confessions or the proceedings were not transparent.

A common reason for supporting the death penalty is the view that it deters potential criminals. In the United States, that debate continues among criminologists, economists, and legal scholars. For every study that claims the death penalty saves other lives by deterring murder or homicide, there are other studies that show contradictory results or point out flaws in the studies that showed a deterrent effect.

Our senators can help enlighten us on this score by presenting their data.

Between 2006 and 2014, our country’s crime rate dropped in five years (2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014) compared to the year before, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority. The crime rate did go up from 82 crimes (2006) to 1,004 crimes (2014) for every 100,000 persons. But there’s no proof to say that the crime rate shot up because of the absence of the death penalty. Here, our academic community could weigh in and help make the discussion more productive, by giving us a more fine-grained look at the data. We cannot leave the discussion solely to lawmakers’ political alliances and moral sensibilities.

As a citizen, I oppose the death penalty for several reasons. There’s insufficient proof that it works. I don’t trust that our law enforcement and justice systems can guarantee the accuracy and fairness that would make the death penalty less abhorrent. All the energy we’ve spent discussing the death penalty in recent weeks could’ve been spent on serious anti-poverty programs like universal health care and universal housing. Most of all, I oppose the death penalty because I have an enduring belief that people deserve a chance to change themselves; that they can, given enough support, get better. This belief is not impervious to data, but that’s one resource our lawmakers have yet to share with us in this debate.
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