Amid the continued campaign for the revival of death penalty for heinous crimes in the country, Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has urged Congress to address the worsening problem of criminality under the Duterte administration by pushing for bills on prosecution and judicial reforms that make for more effective justice system.
De Lima, a known human rights defender here and abroad, maintained that the oft-repeated proposal to reinstate the death penalty law – and to equate death with justice – is “a patently fallacious and iniquitous way” of confronting the issue.
“Criminality is a more complex and nuanced matter than politicians will care to admit. The problem requires a multi-dimensional and multi-level approach considering how aggravating and aggravated the situation is,” she said.
“Politicians will try to pander with tough talks and promises of harsh punishment against criminals. However, they are all cheap and meaningless if they do not translate to actual arrests, prosecutions and convictions,” she added.
De Lima’s commentary expressing her strong opposition to the restoration of death penalty law, entitled “In Search for True Justice: Death Penalty is a False Solution” was published in online news website Rappler last April 19.
Note that a bill reinstating the death penalty for heinous crimes, including drug-related offenses, has been approved on the third and final reading at the House of Representatives but has yet to be tackled at the committee level at the Senate.
Mr. Duterte and his allies in Congress are pushing for the reinstatement of death penalty – which was brought back under then president Fidel Ramos’ administration and abolished anew under former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo – because they consider it as deterrent to crimes without considering the flawless justice system in the country.
Counting the possibility of judicial error, De Lima said she opposed the imposition of death penalty because “all too often we have seen convictions reversed years later after pieces of evidence have surfaced that would exonerate the accused,” which cannot bring back the life taken away from anyone.
It may be recalled that the Supreme Court in the case of People vs. Mateo in 2004 admitted that a considerable majority of the trial courts had wrongfully imposed the death penalty during the time it was sanctioned as a sentencing option from 1993 to 2004.
Quoting Equal Justice Initiative Founder and Executive Director Bryan Stevenson’s argument that “our justice system treats you better if you are rich and guilty than if you are poor and innocent,” De Lima maintained that the imposition of death penalty only targets people from the poor families and often save the rich and powerful.
“From historical experience and in-depth studies, we realize how imperfect and inadequate our justice system is. Socio-economic realities have skewed the implementation of the law against the poor and the marginalized,” she said.
The former justice secretary said she believes that it would be a taxpayer-funded machinery for political assassination if the death penalty were reinstated considering the Mr. Duterte is known for putting justice and law in his hands.
“We have seen how the law is used to silence witnesses against criminal wrongdoings of the administration allies without making any sincere effort to investigate the allegations,” said she.
Sharing the disparity between how the Duterte administration treats innocent critics against how it treats allies, De Lima cited, among other cases, how the government easily detained her on trumped-up drug charges while going easy against Imelda Marcos and Nur Misuari for graft and rebellion cases, respectively.
In solidifying the country’s commitment against death penalty, the Philippines has previously ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in November 2007, which prescribes an obligation among state parties to abolish the death penalty and prevent its reimposition. Among De Lima’s efforts to push for judicial reform include her filing of Senate Bill No. 1677 seeking to provide clear guidelines on plea bargaining agreement in criminal cases to avoid abuse of the process by the accused and ensure that it is done in the interest of’ justice and of the public.