CHR: Restoring death penalty will likely hurt efforts to save OFWs on death row

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines — There is no compelling reason to reinstate death penalty in the Philippines, the Commission on Human Rights said Wednesday as it stressed that doing so may affect the confidence of the international community in the country and the situation of Filipino workers on death row abroad. 

At a House hearing, CHR Commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit reiterated bringing back capital punishment will breach the country’s obligations under international human rights instruments such as the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which permanently prohibits the imposition of death penalty, and which the Philippines ratified in 2007.

“We have committed ourselves not to execute anyone in our jurisdiction,” Gomez-Dumpit said.

“The reinstatement will amount to violation of many international agreements we have signed and which will not only affect our economy but also our dealing with international community. There will also be difficulty in cooperation on dealing with transnational crimes,” she added.

The Philippines has backed out of treaties before. In 2019, it left the International Criminal Court after the government withdrew ratification of the treaty creating it. The government said at the time that the Statute of Rome had never been in force because it was not published in a newspaper like a law would be. That had previously not been a requirement for treaties and is still not part of the treaty-making process.

The Philippines is also withdrawing from the Visiting Forces Agreement, although this has been suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

'DFA ability to negotiate will be undermined'

The CHR official also said the reimposition of death penalty will likely hurt the country’s effort to save migrant workers who are meted death sentence.

“If the death penalty is reinstated, the ability of the Department of Foreign Affairs to negotiate on behalf of OFWs will be undermined. Moreover, our country will be considered hypocritical if we reimpose death penalty but at the same time seek the lives of OFWs who are in death row abroad,” Gomez-Dumpit said.

She added that death penalty “can only bring counterproductive effects in our efforts to curb and punish crimes.”

The House justice committee is tackling at least 12 bills seeking the restoration of death penalty. This came less than two weeks after President Rodrigo Duterte renewed his call to reinstate death penalty by lethal injection for drug crimes.

The prospect of OFWs being executed, and actually being executed, has not deterred the push to bring back death penalty in the Philippines in the past.

READ: Duterte unfazed by Pawa execution, wants death penalty revived

Karapatan: Death penalty may also affect rights defenders, activists

Rights group Karapatan reiterated that death penalty will “institutionalize the carnage of the poor” made in the name of the internationally-condemned war on drugs and will not curb nor eliminate crimes.

“Karapatan avers that the death penalty disproportionately impacts on the poor sectors in Philippine society who were in death row due to various economic and social drivers such as economic status, educational attainment, and even longstanding issues on access to justice, including access to a competent legal counsel and to a fair trial,” Karapatan said in a position paper submitted to the House justice panel.

The organization also said that reinstatement of capital punishment will likewise “significantly impact” human rights defenders, activists and political dissenters “when the exercise of political beliefs and political actions that seek to institute meaningful and comprehensive reforms and change is criminalized.”

It noted that almost all political prisoners are charged with trumped-up criminal offenses such as murder, kidnapping, destructive arson and even drug-related charges.

“With this measure, there is danger that political prisoners will be dealt with capital punishment, when they should be released on just and humanitarian grounds,” Karapatan said.


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