Death penalty looms ahead
INTROSPECTIVE - Tony Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - September 3, 2019 - 12:00am

I have written in previous columns that I am for the death penalty being reinstated. I believe that capital punishment is an important tool in stopping heinous crimes from being committed. It is both a way of effectively punishing those who commit murder, rape, and drug trafficking and at the same time should prove a deterrent to those who would do the same.

Ever since he took office, President Duterte has been hoping to bring back the death penalty. It seems that because it hasn’t happened yet officially, street justice has been taking its place with thousands dying in the streets in the bloody war on drugs. But while the street war continues, we are still left trying to figure out how to beef up the criminal justice system and truly legally deal with the villainous criminals we put behind bars.

The Philippines has a penitentiary problem. Our jails are overflowing and the conditions far below what they should be. Convicted criminals are just lumped together in spaces far too small for them and made to stay in jail forever. Or, at the very least, until some form of law gets them out early on “good behavior”. I can’t even talk about the rehabilitation programs in place because I simply don’t know of any. But really – is this how an effective justice system should be operating?

We saw it recently, with the potential release of convicted rapist and murderer mayor Antonio Sanchez due to a parole law, which allowed for good behavior to bump up a criminal’s release time. The fact that this law could be applied retroactively made it a lifeline for several convicted felons such as Sanchez that could potentially be let out onto the streets once again.

For the first time, in a long time, the people were actually united in their reaction to this news. They, we, were livid. Reports of the crimes Sanchez committed surfaced anew and reopened all sorts of old wounds. The thought that this criminal would be getting out was just horrific to everyone. In fact, even public officials who were tooting about “second chances” decided to flip their narrative when they saw how angry the people were.

We were unanimous, we were indignant. Mayor Sanchez should never be released. That no amount of good behavior could ever make up for his crimes and that he didn’t deserve a second chance when he so callously and coldly robbed Eileen Sarmenta and Allan Gomez of any chance in life at all.

This was one, of so very few cases, that actually proved the Philippine justice system could work every once in awhile and that, yes, even people in a position of power and prestige could be made to answer for their crimes and not get away with it. Perhaps they felt that twenty odd years was enough and that mayor Sanchez could skate out with no one being the wiser (there were even reports of him having been released already). They were wrong.

Fortunately, Sanchez won’t be released. This was doubly assured through presidential intervention. However, this situation has once again brought up the need for the death penalty. Many argue that if the death penalty had been in effect during the trial of Sanchez then, theoretically, he would have been sentenced to death for his part in gang rape, torture, and murder, and we wouldn’t have to be worrying about him getting back on the streets.

But again, the Sanchez case is just one of many. There are many criminals here in the Philippines who act as if they have nothing to fear because they don’t fear the punishments for their crimes. They understand how short our memories can be and they feel if they are convicted then it’s only a matter of time before they are somehow freed. Is this the mindset we want to be cultivating?

I know there are human rights issues involved. I don’t discount that. But people are killing on the streets with impunity and we can’t pretend that isn’t happening. Surely, it’s better to mete out this brand of justice legally and publicly than in dark alley meetings and random late night drive-by shootings.

And for those who are against death penalty – what is the safe alternative? Life imprisonment? Sure that works for a time. But what happens when jails get full and there isn’t enough room for everyone. A law goes into effect about letting people out who have behaved well enough and then we’re back to square one again. Unless there is a way to overhaul the penitentiary situation then this is where we are always going to end up.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t just want to start dealing out death sentences just like that. I know there is going to be a lot of back and forth about implementation and we must all be vigilant that this isn’t used as a corruption tool of intimidation. But we can no longer deny that this is a conversation that needs to be had and soon. I personally believe that with the right safeguards in place, it can work even as I pray for the time when we won’t need it anymore.

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