By Arjay L. Balinbin, Reporter
THE revival of capital punishment being pushed in the Duterte administration will have some bearing on the 2022 elections, analysts sought for comment said.
In a press conference last Thursday, Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III said passing the death penalty bill, which is pending in the Senate, is a “possibility” in the 18th Congress given that there are more pro-death penalty senatorial candidates in the midterm elections who are poised to win.
Sought for comment, University of Santo Tomas political science professor Marlon M. Villarin said in a phone message on Saturday: “In less than three years, the 2022 presidential election is coming, and to push this kind of infamous legislation is a kiss of death for those who are planning to run both for reelection and higher positions. The revival of (the) death penalty may sound promising but I think those ambitious members of Congress will practically choose the proactive and more socially sound approach.”
Also sought for comment, Ateneo Policy Center senior research fellow Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco said via e-mail on Sunday: “I expect many lawmakers will just sit on such bills rather than risk the ire of the public. After all, in their minds, all they need to do is simply survive the next three years because 2022, being a presidential election year, will be a new political battle altogether.”
For his part, sociology professor Louie C. Montemar of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines said via chat on Saturday: “If the new Congress prioritizes this in its agenda, we may see the lines drawn in the recent elections between the Duterte Administration in one side and the Catholic Church and human rights advocates in another redrawn and even more solidly.”
He also said that it would be “a more difficult fight for human rights group notwithstanding potential support from the international community.”
Mr. Villarin noted that President Rodrigo R. Duterte has the “right number” to push for the restoration of the death penalty, but the country is not “socially and legally” ready for it.
“Our institutions manifest unreadiness for its revival. Socially, what we need is a proactive or preventive approach that will address criminality like accessible social services, livelihood opportunities, responsible parenting, active citizen engagement in community peace and order,” he added.
He said the country’s justice system has to be “reexamined” first, noting that there has been “corruption in the judiciary which made (the) death penalty law…anti poor.”
Mr. Villarin said further that “there is no reliable data that the death penalty law in our country deters crime more effectively than imprisonment.”
For Mr. Montemar, the new Congress can “easily” push the death penalty agenda given the “support from the public” and President’s “high popularity.”
“Let us be reminded that Pulse Asia’s Ulat ng Bayan Survey held from March 15 to 20, 2017, showed that Filipinos’ support for the reimposition of the death penalty on heinous crimes may have dropped by 14 percentage points — from 81% in July 2016 to 67% in March 2017. But still, there is still a clear public majority that can prop up such an agenda,” he said.
For his part, Mr. Yusingco said it is “still hard” to know the general public’s view of the death penalty as the high trust rating of Mr. Duterte “is not a proper gauge of the current public sentiment about this matter.”
“I believe the best way to determine what Filipinos think about bringing back the death penalty is to ask them directly. This can be done by calling for a special session of the Barangay Assembly to facilitate debate on this issue at the community level,” he added.
Mr. Yusingco said further a nationwide tally of all the results would be an “accurate demonstration of the peoples’ will” on the issue.
“As of the moment, there is no acceptable barometer of public sentiment on this issue except the Barangay Assembly process. Surveys will simply be not enough given the gravity of the question. Moreover, it is imperative that Filipinos undergo a deliberation process prior to making a stand on this issue. If the administration decides to pursue the reimposition of the death penalty without the clear mandate of the people, they will encounter strong opposition in Congress. It is very possible that civil society, led by religious groups, will literally storm the halls of the Senate and the House of Representatives to protest bills reinstating the death penalty.”
Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Commissioner Karen S. Gomez-Dumpit said in a phone message on Sunday that the agency “is ready to engage Congress in a frank and factual conversation” on the matter.
“We are ready to present the ineffectiveness of the death penalty and offer viable programs that result in crime prevention and lowering crime incidence. These include police visibility or increasing police to population ratios and community vigilance. We fully support these initiatives that do not diminish our principles to uphold the right to life,” Ms. Gomez-Dumpit added.
She also said that the CHR has to “ensure that our legal obligations as a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Second Optional Protocol aiming at the Abolition of the Death Penalty are respected and fulfilled. As a state party to these human rights treaties, we have perpetually committed not to impose nor reintroduce capital punishment.”
“The Commission does not want crime to go unpunished. However, the apprehension, prosecution, conviction and punishment of those who have committed wrong doings must be in accordance with human rights standards and principles,” she said further.