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Arguments for restoring the death penalty

Opponents of the death penalty are at it again.  So-called human rights advocates and highly politicized leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines are pressuring the House of Representatives to abandon its plan to restore the death penalty in the country. 

Early this month, the House Committee on Justice approved a draft law reinstating the death penalty for heinous crimes like drug offenses, treason, qualified piracy, qualified bribery, parricide, murder, infanticide, rape, serious illegal detention, robbery with violence against or intimidation of persons, arson, and plunder.

A vocal critic of the death penalty is the Commission on Human Rights, which insists that the Philippines is bound under an international protocol to perpetually abolish the death penalty in order to finally uphold the right to life.  That protocol cited by the CHR is the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which purportedly binds signatory countries to do away with the death penalty.  The protocol was signed in 2006 under the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

According to the CHR, the restoration of the death penalty will violate constitutional provisions regarding respect for human rights and the dignity of every person.  The CHR also claims that capital punishment by whatever method constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, does not accord dignity to human beings, and has no place in a civilized society.  In addition, the CHR says that there are no studies which prove that the death penalty deters crime. 

For the CHR, effective law enforcement and an efficient criminal justice system are the best deterrents against crime.  This proposal is echoed by local Catholic Church leaders.             

 The arguments raised by the CHR sound good, but they are devoid of legal substance.  In fact, there is absolutely nothing in the Constitution which sustains the CHR’s position.  A look at the pertinent provision of the Constitution will set the pace. 

Section 19, Article III of the Charter states: “Excessive fines shall not be imposed, nor cruel, degrading or inhuman punishment inflicted.  Neither shall the death penalty be imposed, unless, for compelling reasons involving heinous crimes, the Congress hereafter provides for it.  Any death penalty already imposed shall be reduced to reclusion perpetua.

It will be readily gleaned from the text of Section 19 that although the imposition of cruel, degrading, or inhuman punishment is explicitly prohibited, the same section allows Congress to impose the death penalty for heinous crimes.  This clearly means that it was never the intention of the Constitution to consider the death penalty as a cruel, degrading, or inhuman punishment. 

Every freshman law student knows that when a particular act is explicitly allowed by the Constitution, it is impossible for that act to be considered unconstitutional.  Therefore, since the Constitution allows Congress to impose the death penalty for heinous crimes, the death penalty cannot be unconstitutional.  It also means that the death penalty cannot be repugnant to any provision in the Constitution.   

Thus, as far as the Constitution is concerned, the death penalty is not a cruel, degrading, or inhuman form of punishment, and the death penalty is not repugnant to any provision of the Constitution.  

This effectively debunks the arguments of the CHR to the effect that the death penalty is an unconstitutional form of punishment, and that it violates provisions of the Constitution regarding human rights and dignity.

As for the argument that the death penalty has no place in a civilized society, suffice it to say that that’s a matter of opinion.  The military establishment imposes the death penalty on erring soldiers.  Does that make the military establishment uncivilized?  Death sentences were carried out during the administrations of past presidents under the 1935 Constitution.  Does that make those administrations uncivilized?  On many occasions in the past, the Supreme Court upheld the death penalty imposed by lower courts on certain convicts.  Does that make the justices of the high court uncivilized?  Good grief!

Sure, the Philippines signed that protocol on the abolition of the death penalty, and the Constitution itself states that the Philippines adopts the generally accepted principles of international law as part of the law of the land.  That notwithstanding, it is a basic principle in constitutional law that an international protocol cannot prevail over a specific provision of the Constitution—like Section 19, Article III which allows the imposition of the death penalty.  Moreover, adopting international law as part of Philippine law does not necessarily mean that international law automatically takes precedence over the Constitution. 

The reason for the supremacy of the Constitution over an international protocol is obvious—the Constitution was ratified by the sovereign Filipino people; an international protocol signed by the Philippine government does have the same approval from the electorate.

While there may be no empirical data to show that the death penalty is an effective deterrent against crime, there is none to suggest that its abolition has reduced crime.

The proposition that effective law enforcement and an efficient criminal justice system are the best deterrents against crime is, at best, wishful thinking.  Effective law enforcement only means that criminals will be caught and charged.  On the other hand, an efficient criminal justice system only means crime will not go unpunished.  Both do not necessarily assure that nobody will commit crime. 

Truth to tell, overpopulation contributes to criminality.  A runaway increase in population translates to more unemployed people and, ultimately, to poverty.  Desperation results, and desperation triggers crime because it is very difficult to be law-abiding when one is hungry and no meals are forthcoming.

Because the Philippines has a very serious population problem, the government is promoting a population control program.  Unfortunately, the Roman Catholic Church is not helping out because it is against contraceptives. 

The Church may not know it but by opposing population control, it tacitly condones criminality.

So much for the opposition to the death penalty. 

Topics: Victor Avecilla , death penalty , human rights advocates , Commission on Human Rights , House of Representatives
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