Should we help produce “Blood Money” for death convicts?

DIRECT FROM THE LABOR FRONT - Atty Josephus B. Jimenez - The Freeman

The Philippine government is appealing to all Filipinos and other nationals of goodwill to help produce the difference between the 44 million pesos demanded by the victim, supposedly killed by OFW Joselito Zapanta in Saudi Arabia, and the amount of 5.6 Million pesos already generated by the Zapanta family, from their own funds and from friends' and relatives' donations. The question that may deserve some discussions is this: Is this a worthy cause that we should all support? Or, should we leave the government and the convict's family alone to solve this problem. What are the legal and other implications that should arise if and when we again chip in to save the life of this death convict.

One school of thought advances the view that we should all rally behind this cause and save a Filipino life from execution. As the biggest Catholic nation in Asia, it is our moral and spiritual obligation to help a fellow Christian in distress. We cannot condemn him even if he was already convicted by the Court of First Instance of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, for killing and stealing from his Sudanese landlord.If we did all our best to help Flor Contemplacion, who was convicted for killing Delia Maga, a fellow OFW in Singapore, we should likewise help Zapanta. We also did help Rodelio Dondon Lanuza not so long ago.  For want of a name, let us call this the Christian approach.

Upon the other hand, there are many Filipinos who strongly believe that if you kill and are convicted for such killing, you should appeal. The Philippine government should perhaps help him exhaust all legal and procedural remedies. It is a matter of public knowledge that, we do have a Legal Assistance Fund under the custody and administration of the DFA. But if ad when, one is already convicted by final judgment by the Highest Court, then he should be man enough to accept his fate. The Filipinos should not be burdened, albeit via volunteerism, to contribute out of their hard-earned money. This school of thought submits that by government's act of calling for donation, a dangerous legal precedent may be established. Let us call this the strictly legal approach.

Under the Christian approach, we are called upon to extend a helping hand. This is not compulsory. All men and women of goodwill should rally behind this cause out of the goodness of their hearts. Even if the court of law has already pronounced him guilty beyond reasonable doubt, Christians cannot just abandon him and leave him and his family to face their own unfortunate predicament. This has been done in all previous cases. Government funds were spent to help convicts whether they murdered or robbed, raped or used and possessed prohibited drugs. Government and civil society come together to contribute whatever little amounts out of the abundance of their hearts. This is not a matter of obligation but a spontaneous compassion upon the prodding of the Holy Spirit.

The strictly legalistic approach strongly objects to the use of public funds to give aid and comfort to criminal convict. It also frowns upon any attempt on  the part of government to encourage public donation for such would invite speculations that, as a matter of government policy, this government nurtures and comforts perpetrators of capital crimes. It is the stand of this school of thought that the wrong signal that the government is sending, is to assure those who are inclined to be violent, that they always have a haven to nurture them even if they commit some heinous crimes. Worst of all, this would establish a very bad precedent. There are 95 death convicts for drug-related crimes in China alone. There many death convicts in Kuwait and other Arab countries. Do we have enough money to help all of them?

Our own take on this is neither the Christian nor the legalistic approach. We believe that if we are able, we should help. However, we can not help just any and all convicts. We should be discerning in the exercise of our compassion. We should never help drug convicts even if they invoke poverty as a justifying circumstance. But a murder convict who killed because they were subjected to injustice, oppression and too much unfairness, then we may help. The case of Sarah Balabagan, for one is a case in point. She killed her serial rapist under passion and obfuscation. By all means, we should help.

The government should draw the line between  help for political posturing, and one that is genuinely based on principles, like a spontaneous outrage against a manifest act of injustice against our OFWs. As of today, there is no clear demarcation between plain and vain politicking and an authentic concern for our living heroes. Drawing that demarcation line is not only preferable but a matter of duty that is both urgent and imperative.

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