Why the Death Penalty Law should be Repealed

Al Carino
May 10, 2006
Reproduced with Permission

The Easter Message to the nation of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo commuting the death sentence of convicts to life imprisonment without parole reopened the debate on whether to retain the death penalty law or not. In view of this, we are presenting below some arguments from various sources to show why it should be abolished.

Scriptures

"As I live, says the Lord GOD, I swear I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked man, but rather in the wicked man's conversion, that he may live." (Exekiel 33:11a)

"Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." (Rom. 12:19)

Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well." Mt. 5:38-39)

Evangelium Vitae - The Gospel of Life (1995)

"... the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent." (No. 56).

Catechism of the Catholic Church

The 1994 edition states: "Bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons. Public authorities should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person." (2267)

In line with EV, the 1997 edition now states: "Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm -- without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself -- the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity 'are very rare, if not practically non-existent'" (EV 56). (No. 2267)

Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines

In its Statement on the Non-Restoration of the Death Penalty (1992), the CBCP says: "From the Christian point of view, Christ's words about the forgiveness of injuries and above all his own example on the Cross call not for vindictive punishment but rather for more humane and humanizing punitive responses to evil."

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)

"Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person." Article 3.

"No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." Article 5

Remark: The death penalty, aside from being cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment, also violates the most fundamental of all human rights -- the right to life.

Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

"No one within the jurisdiction of a State party to the present Protocol shall be executed."

Remark: The Covenant has not been ratified by the Philippine Senate.

1987 Philippine Constitution

"Excessive fines shall not be imposed nor cruel, degrading or inhuman punishment inflicted. Neither shall death penalty be imposed, unless, for some compelling reasons involving heinous crimes, the Congress hereafter provides for it…." Art. III, Sect. 19 (1)

Remark: This provision of the Constitution is the basis for Republic Act 7659 which was enacted into law in 1994 imposing the death penalty for heinous crimes.

What some organizations and individuals say

1. The Integrated Bar of the Philippines in its Statement on the Death Penalty submitted to Congress during its deliberations in 1992 said that the death penalty demeans life and belittles human dignity. It is not the kind of law that will teach our children respect for human rights (this in view of a rally by children in support of death penalty), which is the cornerstone of social justice and development.

2. According to Nobel Prize Winner Gary S. Becker, what deters the commission of crimes is not the severity but the certainty of punishment. When people are deciding to commit a crime the probability of getting caught weighs more heavily than the type of punishment they may face. He concludes that stronger law enforcement would be more effective than the severity of penalty or tougher sentences.

3. Senator Jose Lina, in arguing before the Senate in 1992 for life sentence without parole instead of the death penalty, said: "The resort to the death penalty is... a desperate attempt (by government) to provide a simplistic solution to the complex problems of crime prevention. It shows government's impatience in addressing the intricate issues involved in the commission of heinous crimes."

4. Theodore Te, the lawyer of Leo Echegaray who was executed in 1999 - the first under the death penalty law, said among others in his motion before the Supreme Court: "Laws are not always just, witnesses are not always truthful, judges are not always right, trials are not always fair, but death is always final."

Remark: It may be added that even the Supreme Court Justices also commit mistakes as to the guilt of the accused. In the case of the death penalty, such mistakes can never be undone.

5. Excerpts from a statement of a grieving mother whose teenage son was murdered in Virginia in 1976:

"The hardest part of my healing was to move through the hatred for the killer of my son. But to truly grieve for my son and myself and to come to terms with what I had lost, I had to leave the hatred behind....

"The death sentence is not an answer. The death penalty reflects our lack of faith in society's ability to protect us. The death penalty is the ultimate act of cowardice on the part of society.

"We kill because we fear we cannot control.

"I chose not to hate.

"I want compassion for those who had been wronged. But only by recognizing the sanctity of life can we truly grieve for those who have lost it. By putting a criminal to death, we cheapen the value of all human life. I cannot accept that. My son's life was too important."

6. Excerpts from the April 2, 2006 article Mary under the Cross of Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI:

"One of the most popular images in all of scripture … is the image of Mary, the mother of Jesus, standing silently under the cross as her son dies.

"… What's she doing while standing there? … (A)t a deeper level, she is doing all that can be done when one is standing under the weight of the cross, she's holding the tension, standing in strength, refusing to give back in kind, and resisting in a deeper way.

"What's meant by this?

"… In the Gospels, 'standing' is … a position of strength. Mary 'stood' under the cross.

"In essence, what Mary was doing under the cross was this: She couldn't stop the crucifixion (there are times when darkness has its hour) but she could stop some of the hatred, bitterness, jealousy, heartlessness, and anger that caused it and surrounded it. And she helped stop bitterness by refusing to give it back in kind, by transforming rather than transmitting it, by swallowing hard and (literally) eating bitterness rather than giving it back, as everyone else was doing.

"Had Mary, in moral outrage, begun to scream hysterically, shout angrily at those crucifying Jesus, or physically tried to attack someone as he was driving the nails into Jesus' hands, she would have been caught up in the same kind of energy as everyone else, replicating the very anger and bitterness that caused the crucifixion to begin with. What Mary was doing under the cross, her silence and seeming unwillingness to protest notwithstanding, was radiating all that is antithetical to the crucifixion: gentleness, understanding, forgiveness, peace, light.

"And that's not easy to do. Everything inside us demands justice, screams for it, and refuses to remain silent in the presence of injustice. That's a healthy instinct and sometimes acting on it is good. We need, at times, to protest, to shout, to literally throw ourselves into the face of injustice and do everything in our power to stop the crucifixion.

"But there are times too when things have gone so far that shouts and protests are no longer helpful, darkness is going to have its hour come what may and all we can do is to stand under the cross and help eat its bitterness by refusing to participate in its energy. In those situations, like Mary, we have to say: 'I can't stop this crucifixion, but I can stop some of the hatred, bitterness, jealousy, brute-heartlessness, and darkness that surround it. I can't stop this, but I will not conduct its hatred.'"

Conclusion

Every crime, especially heinous crime, affects the social order. Society has a right to defend itself by deterring its commission. The experience of developed countries tells us that the most effective deterrence to crime is the certainty of being caught, tried and punished. Having ensured this, they have abolished the death penalty. Right now, they exact "corrective" rather than "vindictive" justice. With this, they give every criminal the chance to reform himself while society continues to be protected.

In the Philippines, the death penalty has not proven to be the deterrent it was designed to be as shown by the continued and increasing commission of heinous crimes. Moreover, it not only violates the right to life of another human being but also stains with human blood the hands not only the officials in the judicial and executive departments but above all that of the victim and his family.

Now that President Arroyo has certified to Congress as urgent a bill abolishing the death sentence and replacing it with life imprisonment without parole, it is incumbent on Congress to act on the bill right away. And while at it, it should also focus on the fertile breeding ground of crime -- poverty, the proliferation of violence and sex in the media and the easy availability of prohibited drugs. It should also take steps to reform the judicial system so that it will render speedy and fair decisions, without fear or favor. Finally, it must initiate reforms in the penal system so that our prisons will rehabilitate rather than harden criminals.

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