A senior member of the Philippine Congress has urged the Malaysian government to downgrade to prison terms the death sentences meted out to dozens of Filipinos, mostly migrant workers.
“In light of Malaysia’s decision to scrap the mandatory death sentence for several offenses, we are appealing for the lives of Filipinos on death row there to be spared,” said Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza, the senior deputy minority leader of the Philippine House of Representatives.
“The commutation of death sentences does not mean that the convicts are not getting punished. They are still getting penalized with harsh prison terms,” said Atienza, a leading Philippine crusader against capital punishment.
“The death penalty is cruel and inhuman punishment that flouts the right to life,” Atienza, former three-term mayor of Manila, said.
At least 48 Filipino citizens are on death row in Malaysia, according to the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs.
Malaysia’s Pakatan Harapan or Alliance of Hope coalition government imposed a moratorium on all judicial executions in October last year pending the passage of new legislation that would remove the mandatory death sentence for 11 offenses.
Instead, the new legislation would give Malaysian judges the leeway to inflict either death by hanging or long-term imprisonment.
At present, Malaysian judges have no choice but to send to the gallows those convicted of offenses that carry the mandatory death penalty, such as terrorist acts, murder, rape resulting in murder, gang-robbery with murder, drug trafficking, kidnapping in order to murder, and hostage-taking resulting in death.
The Pakatan Harapan government had campaigned on reviewing the death penalty and other “unsuitable” laws during the 2018 general election.
The coalition government originally announced in October that it would be endorsing a bill to abolish the death penalty in Malaysia.
It has since retreated, moving instead to just give judges the discretion to impose the either the supreme or lesser punishment, due to pressure from anti-abolitionist groups in Malaysia.
Malaysia carried out 13 executions from 2016 to 2017 before it froze executions in October.
In the Philippine, Congress revived the death penalty for 13 heinous crimes in 1993, only to abolish it in 2006 due to mounting flaws.