Useless and inhumane
A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - August 2, 2019 - 12:00am

Under Section 19, Article III of the Constitution which took effect on Feb. 2, 1987, death penalty shall not be imposed, unless for compelling reasons involving heinous crimes, the Congress hereafter provides for it. Any death penalty already imposed shall be reduced to reclusion perpetua”. So, from said date, the death penalty was no longer imposed and any death penalty already imposed has been reduced to reclusion perpetua (imprisonment from 10 years and one day to 40 years). However in the case of People vs. Muñoz (170 SCRA 107), the Supreme Court declared that: “there is really nothing in Article III Section 19, which expressly declares the abolition of the death penalty”. The provision merely says that the death penalty shall not be imposed unless for compelling reasons involving heinous crimes the Congress hereafter provides for it”.

And true enough, on Dec. 13, 1993, Congress enacted R.A. 7659 entitled: “An Act to Impose the Death Penalty on Certain Heinous Crimes”. So when R.A. 7659 took effect on Dec. 31, 1984, the death penalty has been reinstated, because according to our legislators, there is an “alarming upsurge of ‘heinous crimes” which they defined as the “grievous, odious and hateful offenses which, by reasons of their inherent or manifest wickedness, viciousness, atrocity and perversity, are repugnant and outrageous to the common standards and norms of decency and morality in a just, civilized and ordered society.” Heinous crimes are therefore the compelling reason for the re-imposition of the death penalty.

The “heinous” crimes under said RA are: treason, qualified piracy, qualified bribery, murder, parricide, kidnapping and serious illegal detention, robbery with homicide or with rape or with intentional mutilation, destructive arson, rape, where the victim is under 18 years of age and the offender is the common law spouse of the victim’s parent, violation of the Dangerous Drugs Act (RA 6425) and Plunder under RA 7080.

Two specific penalties are imposed by RA 7659 for the above mentioned offenses. These are: (1) reclusion perpetua to death, and (2) death. If death is the only penalty imposed, it shall be applied regardless of any mitigating or aggravating circumstances that may have attended the commission of the offense. If the penalty is reclusion perpetua to death and there is present only one aggravating circumstance, the greater penalty of death shall be applied. But when no mitigating or aggravating circumstance, or when only mitigating circumstance is present, the lesser penalty of reclusion perpetua shall be imposed. When both mitigating and aggravating circumstances attended the commission of the crime, the courts shall reasonably allow them to offset one another in consideration of their number and importance. The imposition of the death penalty is, therefore, mandatory if that is the sole penalty prescribed by law, or discretionary if the penalty ranges from reclusion perpetua to death.

Death Penalty shall not be imposed: (1) when the guilty person is below 18 years or more than 70 years of age at the time of the commission of the crime; or (2) when upon appeal or automatic review by the Supreme Court, majority is not obtained for its imposition. Its execution shall be suspended when the convict is a woman and she is pregnant. The suspension shall remain within one year after the convicted woman gives birth. The execution shall also be suspended when the convict becomes insane or an imbecile after final sentence has been pronounced. The court shall determine when the suspension will be lifted, or when the convict is fit to be executed.

While the compelling reason for the imposition of death penalty is heinousness of the crime committed, others believe however that the gravity of the offense should not be the only reason for imposing death sentence as a commensurate penalty. There must also be a lack or insufficiency of any lesser penalty to defend human lives and preserve the common good.

Thus in June 2006 or about 13 years after the re-imposition of the death penalty, RA 9346 was signed into law. This law, also known as “An Act Prohibiting the Imposition of the Death Penalty in the Philippines”, abolished the death penalty imposed by R.A. 7659, mainly because “it had not proven to be a deterrent to crime and had become a dead-letter law”. Life imprisonment was thus restored as the capital punishment.

Sadly however, another bill is again being proposed to re-impose the death penalty allegedly for the purpose of deterring the commission of heinous crimes particularly the violation of the Dangerous Drugs Act and Large Scale Corruption in the government. This move is undeniably so controversial in view of what happened to RA 7659 which is the previous law imposing death penalty. Said RA was repealed precisely because it failed to serve its purpose of deterring the commission of heinous crimes. Our legislators themselves said so. They even called it “a dead letter” legislation. Reviving the death penalty therefore is providing a solution which has already been proven to be a failure in deterring heinous crimes. It is like remedying a blunder with another blunder.

Indeed the death penalty itself is a cruel and unusual punishment that degrades human life. Imposing it on heinous crimes is like correcting a wrong with another wrong; like committing violence to suppress violence.  But as already proven by what happened to RA 7659 or the death penalty law, “two wrongs do not a right make”.

Besides as shown by what is happening now in our criminal justice system, crimes proliferate and criminals abound because they are aware that it takes so many years and tedious or sometimes futile efforts to prosecute criminal cases. So the best deterrent against crimes is to ensure a fair and speedy trial in the disposition of criminal cases by improving the administration of justice which largely depends on selecting and having honest, efficient, competent, dedicated, and diligent Members of the Judiciary.

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