Sunday, January 23, 2011

Executions do not deter crime

IN a country like ours where the summary execution of suspected criminals occurs far too often the debate over the restoration of capital punishment seems pointless.

Hardly a week goes by when the news media does not report on the discovery of corpses dumped at locations where they were sure to be discovered. Most bear tell-tale signs of torture.

The tormentors of these victims of “salvaging”—Anglicization of the Tagalog sinalbahe, which in turn is derived from the salvaje, Spanish for “savage”—obviously meant to send a signal to other alleged criminals.
In not a few cases, they actually leave signs that warn, Huwag tutularan, or “Don’t emulate,” in Tagalog.

The perpetrators of these summary executions apparently have two objectives: make an example of their victims and eliminate criminal elements.

Yet, despite the grisly fate that befell scores, if not hundreds, of suspected criminals in the hands of anonymous vigilantes, heinous crimes have not abated—notwithstanding police claims about a steady drop in so-called index crimes.

It has even been argued that carjackers, rapists, armed robbers and other criminals feel compelled to also kill their victims who could identify them to investigators and/or vigilantes posing as lawmen.

Even in countries where certain types of convicts are executed as a matter of course it has been shown that the death penalty fails to deter crime. In China, for instance, criminals—from drug traffickers to corrupt state functionaries—are routinely brought before firing squads, but drug trafficking and corruption remain serious problems for the communist state.

In the Philippines, the proposal to restore capital punishment rears its ugly head whenever fear grips the public during a crime wave. The highly publicized murder and mutilation of two used car salesmen, along with a spike in carjacking cases, have given anti-crime advocates and politicians cause to demand the restoration of the death penalty.

Last week, Bohol Rep. Erico Aumentado filed House Bill 03993, which seeks to restore the ultimate penalty for capital offenses as defined in the revised penal code. According to the bill, carjacking with homicide; kidnapping with homicide or for ransom; manufacturing, smuggling or trafficking of dangerous drugs and plunder cases should be made punishable by death.

Another proposed measure, HB 00744 filed by Rep. Jane Tan Castro, would declare illegal logging a heinous crime that can incur the penalty of death.

In the Senate, Jose Miguel Zubiri has also filed a bill seeking the restoration of capital punishment.

It does seem as though that whenever law enforcers are shown unable to quickly solve crimes—and not just “heinous” ones—some lawmaker feel compelled to offer capital punishment as the solution.

The 1987 Constitution—drafted by a special commission whose members were handpicked by then-President Corazon C. Aquino—abolished the death penalty, which had been the severest punishment for criminals since pre-colonial times in this country. And for that, the Philippines drew the applause of much of the civilized world.

Mrs. Aquino’s successor, Fidel V. Ramos, however, managed to get Congress to bring back capital punishment in the wake of grisly criminal incidents that horrified and outraged the nation.

From 2001, however, then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo adopted—on mainly religious grounds—a policy of commuting death sentences. By 2004 her allies in Congress were persuaded to abolish capital punishment again.

In the face of recent proposals from lawmakers and others to restore the death penalty, President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd has already disclosed his opposition. In an imperfect criminal justice system, he said, the risk is great that innocent persons could be sent to the death chamber.

In an online article, human rights lawyer and law professor Theodore Te says that Mr. Aquino is “right on the issue.”

Te then goes on to point out why:

“In People v. Efren Mateo, G.R. Nos. 147678-87, the Supreme Court made a landmark admission that the judicial system isn’t perfect and how! Citing cold, hard statistics, the Supreme Court said that:

“’Statistics would disclose that within the eleven-year period since the re-imposition of the death penalty law in 1993 until June 2004, the trial courts have imposed capital punishment in approximately 1,493, out of which 907 cases have been passed upon in review by the Court. In the Supreme Court, where these staggering numbers find their way on automatic review, the penalty has been affirmed in only 230 cases comprising but 25.36% of the total number. Significantly, in more than half or 64.61% of the cases, the judgment has been modified through an order of remand for further proceedings, by the application of the Indeterminate Sentence Law or by a reduction of the sentence. Indeed, the reduction by the Court of the death penalty to reclusion perpetua has been made in no less than 483 cases or 53.25% of the total number. The Court has also rendered a judgment of acquittal in sixty-five [65] cases. In sum, the cases where the judgment of death has either been modified or vacated consist of an astounding 71.77% of the total of death penalty cases directly elevated before the Court on automatic review that translates to a total of six hundred fifty-one [651] out of nine hundred seven [907] appellants saved from lethal injection.’ [underscoring provided, citations omitted].

“The death penalty is the most final of all penalties. It cannot and should not exist where the conditions for determining guilt or innocence is so imperfect—as admitted by no less than the Supreme Court itself.

“I have witnessed two executions. It is an experience I do not wish to inflict on my worst enemy. In the only triple execution so far [three convicts in one day, one after the other], at least one of the three who was killed was widely acknowledged by the inmates in Bilibid to be absolutely innocent.”

Professor Te concludes: “The death penalty is State-sanctioned murder. The greatest irony and tragedy is that it is carried out in the name of the People. I raise my voice to join the President’s. I OPPOSE THE DEATH PENALTY IN ANY FORM, MANNER, INSTANCE OR CIRCUMSTANCE. DO NOT KILL IN MY NAME.”
Manila Times

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