I REMEMBER an interview we had with Fr. Carmelo Diola and Thelma Chiong on Frankahay Ta many years ago. The topic was Philippine penology and Thelma, who had lost two daughters to violence, was very emphatic in her endorsement of the reimposition of the death penalty. Fr. Melo, on the other hand, said he was against it, but confessed to having some moments of ambivalence, usually immediately after he has read about a victim of a crime that was particularly repulsive because of the circumstances under which it was committed.
But after anger had subsided and reason had taken over, Fr. Melo said, he rediscovered that human life was sacred and no one, not even the State, should take it away.
The other day, after I read about the high school girl who was stabbed several times and whose face was totally disfigured by still unidentified killers in Lapu-Lapu City, I was overcome with the same emotion that Fr. Melo said many years ago he felt every now and then. Except that mine was not momentary because I still feel the same way until now. And there is no ambivalence either: the girl’s killers deserve death. Anything short of that is unacceptable.
The only problem is that we do not have a death penalty. The constitution categorically declares that it should not be imposed unless Congress provides for it for compelling reasons involving heinous crimes. Alas, Congress has not found that compelling reason to reimpose it.
We used to have a death penalty law. It was passed in 1993 during the term of President Ramos, but I can’t remember if he had anyone executed pursuant to it. President Estrada had seven death row convicts receive lethal injections during his brief term before he ordered a moratorium in March 2000 in deference to the Christian Jubilee Year that the country was observing. In 2006, Congress under President Macapagal-Arroyo’s direction repealed the death penalty law.
Several attempts had been made since then to reintroduce the death penalty, but while many congressmen must have found compelling reasons to pass it, they could not seem to agree on what should be regarded as a heinous crime. At one time, a congressman had the gall to propose that plunder be classified as one but his colleagues promptly shot down his irreverence, if not, lack of brotherly love.
And even if a death penalty law would eventually emerge from Congress, it will be too late for the 16-year-old Lapu-Lapu City victim because applying it to her killers would violate the ex post facto rule in the constitution. Basically, what the rule says is that you cannot punish a person for an act that was not yet a crime when it was committed or impose a penalty higher than what was provided by the prevailing law at the time of commission.
So even if the Lapu-Lapu City victim was mercilessly mutilated, even if she could have been gang-raped, all that her killers will get is a jail term during which they will sleep on beds and be served food, both of which were bought with public money.
Why? Because supposedly our penal system is anchored on rehabilitation, not retribution, because we believe that all criminals can be reformed and re-assimilated to society’s mainstream.
When you consider the fact that no less than the national penitentiary has become the nerve center of the country’s drug distribution network, you cannot but wonder if the above assumptions are correct and if we are in fact all delusional, living a pipe dream.