“IF YOU ask me, firing squad,” said Sen. Manny Pacquiao recently when asked how criminals such as drug traffickers should be dealt with. “But it depends on what the people want, as long as death penalty is imposed.”

Is death penalty the solution to peace and order problems?

That the restoration of capital punishment would be an effective deterrent against criminality is debatable. In fact, the deterrent effect of death penalty has been repeatedly debunked by studies made worldwide. In the Philippines, even with the reinstatement of the death penalty in December 1993, crime rates increased despite the mortal risk in committing heinous crime. By 1999, the year that Leo Echegaray was executed, the national crime volume, instead of abating, ironically increased by 15.3 percent or a total of 82,538 (from 71,527 crimes in the previous year), according to Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. 

Viewed in the context of history, the death penalty is an instrument of political repression. History tells of the executions imposed on Filipinos who challenged colonialism and tyranny. During the Spanish colonial rule, the Gomburza and Dr. Jose Rizal were both sentenced to public executions, in an attempt to quell the growing challenge to Spanish authority. Subsequently, the American colonizers retained the death penalty, and used it to execute Filipino freedom fighters such as Macario Sakay.

The dictator Ferdinand Marcos imposed the death penalty also in the name of deterring criminality, but was primarily used to deter the growing rebellion and social unrest under martial rule.

In today’s context, the proposed return of the death penalty is disturbing, combined with the move to lower criminal liability and the rampage of killings of thousands of suspected drug offenders from among the poor.

Criminality is engendered by mass poverty and the unjust system of exploitation and oppression of the people. The return of the death penalty will not address these. 

The truth is that given the existing social inequity, combined with our flawed and corrupt justice system, the re-imposition of the death penalty will inflict yet another injustice on the poor. The marginalized who cannot afford adequate legal representation will inevitably populate death row rather than the plunderers and human rights violators with deep pockets and a phalanx of lawyers at their disposal.


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