De Lima: PHL cannot opt out from international obligations vs death penalty

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The Philippines can neither denounce nor withdraw from its commitment to treaties and international agreements which prohibit it from carrying out executions and compel it to take needed measures to abolish death penalty, Sen. Leila M. de Lima said today.

This was the position expressed by De Lima during the first public hearing on Senate proposals reintroducing death penalty.

“Treaties and international agreements duly ratified have a limiting effect on our otherwise exercise of an act of sovereignty. That is a very fundamental principle,” she said.

The Philippines is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which it signed and ratified on Dec. 19, 1966 and Oct. 23, 1986, respectively.

ICCPR compels the country, along with other signatory states, to respect and observe fundamental freedoms. Among these include freedom from arbitrary deprivation of life and freedom from cruel, inhumane, or degrading punishment.

“That is a binding and firm ratification, something that we cannot opt out and we have to live with that commitment. That is very clear,” she said.

The Philippines is also a party to the Second Optional Protocol on Sept. 20, 2006 and its Annex was ratified on Nov. 20, 2007. The Second Optional Protocol explicitly forbids the signatory states, including the Philippines, from conducting executions within their respective jurisdictions.

The former justice secretary explained that the ICCPR and its Second Optional Protocol form part of international law that binds the Philippines, and were ratified after the ratification of the 1987 Constitution.

“I take the firm position that since the Constitution was enacted ahead of our ratification of the Second Optional Protocol, the latter serves as a limitation or a hindrance to re-imposition of death penalty,” she said.

“The ratification of the Second Optional Protocol was done without any reservation. And both the ICCPR and the Second Optional Protocol do not contain a provision on withdrawal or denunciation or opting out,” she stressed.

Citing Article 56 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties to which the Philippines is also a party, De Lima also said the country cannot legally withdraw from either the ICCPR and the Second Protocol since “treaties which do not have provisions on withdrawal or denunciation cannot be denounced or be withdrawn from.”

“We should not waste time on deliberating on the propriety of the pending bills calling for the re-imposition of the death penalty. On legal, constitutional grounds, we do not have to debate on these arguments,” she said.

Apart from ICCPR and the Second Optional Protocol, the Philippines is also signatory to other human rights treaties, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Convention on Social, Economic, and Cultural Rights.

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