MANILA, 15 February 2017 — As debate continues in the Philippine House of Representatives over a controversial bill to reintroduce capital punishment in the country, members of Congress from the Philippines were joined by regional counterparts today in calling for the legislation to be scrapped.
Gathering in Quezon City along with civil society organizations and representatives from the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, the lawmakers argued that reintroducing the death penalty, which was most recently abolished in 2006, would mark a significant step backward for the Philippines, going against the country’s international commitments and hitting marginalized groups, especially the poor, hardest.
“This bill is wrong for the Philippines and wrong for the region. All the evidence suggests that reintroducing capital punishment will have no clear effect on crime, while victimizing poor Filipinos. The Philippines has twice abolished the death penalty since the end of the Marcos dictatorship. Let us not revive a policy that has not proven to be any deterrence to crime,” said Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin, who hosted the gathering.
“There’s no way around it: reinstituting the death penalty means another offensive in the Philippines’ war on the poor. When it comes to handing down death sentences, the poor suffer disproportionately because they cannot afford to compete in our pay-to-play legal system,” he added.
His comments were echoed by over a dozen parliamentarians from other Southeast Asian countries, who today issued a joint statement in solidarity with their counterparts in the Philippines.
“As lawmakers from across Southeast Asia, we stand opposed to the reintroduction of capital punishment in the Philippines, and we urge our counterparts in the Philippine Congress to reject the bill currently before them that would legalize the practice. We stand shoulder to shoulder with those Philippine legislators who are fighting this bill and support them in their principled struggle, which is based on strong evidence that this policy is wrong for the country,” the statement reads.
Cambodian MP Mu Sochua, who serves as a Board member of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) and was one of the statement’s signatories, said that the Philippines’ current stance on capital punishment made it a regional leader and that it should not abandon this position.
“In Cambodia, we have been forced to deal with the brutal legacies of state-sanctioned killing, which is why our Constitution—like that of the Philippines—outlawed the death penalty. Abolishing capital punishment was the right choice for the Philippines and for Cambodia. We must move forward as a region, not back,” Mu Sochua said.
House Bill 4727 is currently being debated in the Philippine House of Representatives, following approval by the House Justice Committee on 7 December 2016. The bill would allow for the death penalty to be imposed for 21 heinous crimes, including some forms of murder and rape, as well as treason, plunder, and nine drug offenses. According to the bill, the importation, sale, manufacture, cultivation, and possession of drugs in quantities as low as 10 grams for methamphetamines and marijuana oil are all punishable by death.
Lawmakers noted that, if passed and signed into law, the bill would violate the Philippines international legal obligations under the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which the country ratified in 2007 and commits it to the perpetual abolition of capital punishment within its borders. International standards have also increasingly come to regard the death penalty as a barbaric and outdated form of punishment, legislators said.
“At the most basic level, the death penalty is morally wrong and goes against fundamental human rights, including the right to life and the right not to be subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment,” said Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat.
“On top of that, it would violate our international commitments to revive capital punishment, which could jeopardize our international standing and economic growth. There is simply no compelling reason to revive this form of punishment, and the potential negative repercussions are enormous.”
Related legal concerns led last week to the suspension of hearings on the death penalty in the Senate, which is currently considering its own legislation to reintroduce capital punishment.
Lawmakers urged their colleagues to focus on addressing the root causes of crime and drug use instead of pushing for a revival of the death penalty. They also stressed the need to prioritize reform of key institutions in the criminal justice system, including the police and the judiciary.
“Particularly given the flaws so obvious today in our criminal justice system, it’s clear that the death penalty is not a sustainable path toward building a safer and more prosperous nation,” said Albay Representative Edcel Lagman, who was the principal author of Republic Act No. 9346 prohibiting the imposition of the death penalty back in 2006.
“We should be focused on reforming and strengthening the justice system, combatting corruption, and addressing core economic and social woes that lead to crime and drug use. Reviving capital punishment accomplishes none of those goals.”
Malaysian MP Kasthuri Patto, who joined legislators in Quezon City, stressed that parliamentarians from across the region believe in the cause of death penalty abolition, despite the actions of some of their governments.
“Although several Southeast Asian countries—including mine—have yet to abolish the death penalty, there are strong movements that support the goal of abolition among MPs, statesmen, and civil society in and around this region. As defenders of human rights, we have looked to the Philippines for guidance in this struggle. We hope that your country will continue to provide this important form of moral leadership for the ASEAN region and support the right to life,” she said.
“Laws and policies in every ASEAN country, in relation to human rights and particularly on the abolition of the death penalty, will naturally have a huge forcible and affirmative snowball effect in the region.”
While the Philippines and Cambodia are the only ASEAN member states to have legally abolished capital punishment, three other countries—Laos, Myanmar, and Brunei Darussalam—are considered abolitionist in practice, having not executed anyone in the past 25 years. In addition, ASEAN observer state Timor-Leste has legally abolished the death penalty. Five ASEAN member states—Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam—retain capital punishment.