By Isabel S. Macaraeg

Pro-life Philippines has started an online petition opposing the revival of the death penalty, calling the proposal made by President Rodrigo Duterte in his fifth State of the Nation Address on July 27, a “step of retrogression towards barbaric violence.”

“Just as humanity has progressed on so many fronts, […] humanity has also become more deeply aware of vital abstract concepts such as human dignity and the right to life,” the statement attached to the petition said.

Duterte, who ordered a bloody drug war upon assumption to office in 2016, called for the swift passage of a law reviving death penalty by lethal injection for crimes specified under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

READ: Duterte pushes anew for revival of death penalty in 5th SONA

If Duterte’s call is heeded by Congress, the Philippines will be going against one of the most decisive and visible global trends in criminal justice in the past few decades — the abolition of the death penalty.

According to Amnesty International, 141 countries have abolished capital punishment either by law or by practice as of December 2016.

Aside from Pro-life Philippines, human rights organizations Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have expressed their opposition to the death penalty.


Abolished twice

The death penalty was abolished by President Corazon Aquino, who was in office from the ouster of the Marcos regime in 1986 up to 1992. It was brought back in 1993 when President Fidel Ramos signed Republic Act 7569 to impose the death penalty on heinous crimes.

Under the presidency of Joseph Estrada, seven people were executed by lethal injection – three for rape, three for robbery with homicide, and one for rape with homicide, according to Vera Files.

In 2006, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed into law the Republic Act 9346 abolishing death penalty.

Article II Section 4 of the 1987 Constitution states that “the prime duty of the government is to serve and protect the people.” Article III, Section 1 states that “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without the due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.”

Pro-life Philippines questioned whether the death penalty mirrored the spirit of serving and protecting the people under the charter, as it embodies negative values like revenge and violence.

The group called the death penalty a “cruel and inhuman act” and said any human, criminal or not, should not be treated as a “disposable throw-away object.”

“By legalizing the death penalty, it is as if the government is admitting that it is incapable of controlling criminals and so would rather choose the quick and easy way of killing them,” the statement said.

Pro-life Philippines also said the thought of the government mistakenly executing an innocent man should incite all Filipinos to oppose the bill.

“There should be no room in our legal system for a punishment that could deprive innocents of their life,” the statement read.

A signatory to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Philippines is required by international law to take all necessary measures to abolish the death penalty within its jurisdiction except in times of war.


Anti-poor, anti-marginalized

Pro-life Philippines also argued that “If the death penalty is again implemented, then poor convicts will disproportionately suffer from the ultimate penalty; it will be a true spectacle of ‘selective justice.’”

A survey conducted on 890 death row inmates by the Free Legal Assistance Group in May 2004 showed that 79 percent did not reach college and 63 percent were blue-collar workers.

The survey also found that two-thirds had earned below the minimum wage and only 1 percent of death row inmates earned a monthly wage of more than ₱50,000.

“Re-imposing the death penalty would [be] a step backward in humanity’s progression to a higher and deeper understanding of human rights and dignity,” Pro-life Philippines said.