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Brainstorm: The Next Generation | Thou shall not kill?

BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY appears to be a growing battle cry among politicians which has been making the rounds in both traditional and social media and it appears to be garnering support with comments like “Patayin na yang mga adik na yan” “Bitay talaga ang dapat talaga dyan sa mga kriminal!” or “Ubusin na yang mga salot sa lipunan”.

There are, of course, many groups espousing their strong opposition to the death penalty calling it barbaric, immoral, backward, primitive and the like. Many religious people are against it on grounds of faith or fear of divine retribution.

With the opening of a new Congress, there has been a resurgence of the discussion of strong legislation against crime and foremost among them is the apparent agenda to re-legislate the death penalty.

Incidentally, as part of the global campaign against the death penalty, it has become a tradition in Italy, which is strongly anti-death penalty, that the Roman Colosseum, where untold thousands of slaves, gladiators and criminals were killed during the Roman Empire, would be lit up with special lights for 48 hours whenever a country abolishes the death penalty.

I used to joke to my students that the Philippines is the only country that has caused this to happen twice. First, when the 1987 Constitution was ratified and, second, in 2006, when R.A. Act 9346 abolishing the death penalty was signed into law by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Well, it seems that a third time is in the offing.

Considering the discussions about this issue, I believe it appropriate for me to join the fray and give my own thoughts on the matter.

I have always been opposed to the death penalty but not for religious, philosophical or ideological reason but for a very practical one. IT IS TOO IRREVERSIBLE.

As a lawyer, I will be the first to admit the imperfections of our judicial system. While it does work for the most part, it is certainly far from being perfect and mistakes can, and do, happen.

Lest I be misunderstood, the imperfections of our justice system cannot be attributed to any particular part of it but rather a conglomeration of possible weaknesses that can fail. Any part of the system can break down and cause it to malfunction. Perjured witnesses, planted evidence, falsified documents, sloppy or corrupted police investigations and incompetent judges or lawyers are just some of the examples of the possible cracks through which the ideals of justice can fall.

This is my primary gripe against the death penalty because if it is later discovered that a mistake was made in convicting the accused who had already been executed, one cannot just say, “Ay, Mali, Sorry Ha?”

Another thing that I cannot seem to grasp about the issue is what, for me, seems to be a glaring incongruity in the stated positions of many pro-death penalty advocates. While touting the exemplary or preventive effect of the death penalty on would-be criminals, they also talk about the “humane” manner in which it is to be administered. What is a “humane” way of killing, anyway?

If it is meant for its exemplary value, or to scare criminality out of the citizenry, shouldn’t it be done as publicly gruesome as possible? So, why not bring back the penalties of our pre-Hispanic forefathers like throwing criminals to the crocodiles or leaving them to be eaten alive by ants and make a public spectacle of it?

“What if it is a member of your family that will be the victim of a drug-crazed criminal?” is a favorite question of death penalty supporters. My honest answer is that I would probably shoot the criminal myself, but I would call it vengeance and not justice.

My bottomline? If we could have a system where we could be truly sure about the guilt of a violent criminal who has no value in society, I would probably be all for it but, until then, I would rather limit our penalties to something we can try and rectify in case of mistakes. Well, maybe short stays on the anthill or dipping hands in boiling water will do for the meantime.

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