Social welfare dept opposes proposals to reinstate death penalty

By on February 7, 2017

MANILA –The social welfare department has strongly objected to legislation proposing the reinstatement of capital punishment in the country, saying that respect for human dignity is one of its core values.

The department made the objection in a position paper on Senate Bill Nos. 04, 42, 185, 187, 368, and 985 on capital punishment, which Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo submitted to Senator Richard Gordon, chair of the Senate justice and human rights committee, on Tuesday.

Taguiwalo said that instead of re-institutionalizing capital punishment, priority should be given to reforming the existing criminal and justice system to ensure that offenders get caught, and justice is delivered to all fairly.

“Capital punishment is cruel, degrading, and inhuman. It goes against the right of individuals to life, as provided for in core universal and regional human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that aims to abolish the death penalty,” she said.

“This right should not be disregarded, regardless of an individual’s needs, especially since empirical evidence shows that ‘criminality’ is determined by a number of factors including poverty, lack of education, marginal economic opportunities, even disability.”

Taguiwalo said that capital punishment is anti-poor in the context of the Philippines’ justice system where resolutions to cases are always long delayed and the process is expensive.

She cited that in 2012, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) pegged a lawyer’s “acceptance fee” at PHP30,000 to defend a person accused in a criminal case that will be heard at the lowest level court.

“Overworked and underpaid public lawyers cannot do much to help many of those accused among the ranks of the poor. On the other hand, influential and moneyed offenders can pay private counsels who work on their cases full time,” she said, explaining that this already makes the system unfair.

The social welfare chief also cited the results of a 2004 survey of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), which stated that 70 percent of 1,121 inmates on death row before the death penalty was abolished in 2006, earned less than PHP1,000 a month and that 81 percent worked in low-income jobs, such as sales, service, factory work, farming, transport, and construction.

“The meager income of the poor, aggravated by the lack of education and marginal economic opportunities, preclude them from affording effective legal representation in court,” she said. She also noted the FLAG data that 71 percent of the death sentences handed down by the trial courts were wrongfully imposed. “In essence, this means that there are seven innocent lives out of 10 convicted on death row,” she said.

Finally, Taguiwalo said, the use of capital punishment does not prevent the commitment of crimes. She pointed out that to date, there is no reliable evidence that can show that capital punishment has a direct impact on reducing crimes, much less preventing offenders from committing further crimes. In contrast, studies have shown that the certainty of getting caught has been known to be a deterrent to crime.

“The use of capital punishment also extinguishes the offender’s hopes to reform and engage in rehabilitation. It highlights the permanency of their offense, instead of their capacity to change for the better through the process of restorative justice, which would enable them to connect, reconcile, and learn from their offense,” she said.

Proponents of restorative justice, she added, have attested that offenders who were given the chance to face the consequences of their actions were more prepared to rebuild their lives through reparations and acceptance of responsibility.