Death penalty in recent history

HISTORY MATTERS - Todd Sales Lucero - The Freeman

This week on February 5, 1999, Leo Echegaray became the first to die by lethal injection since the death penalty was reinstated in 1993. The death penalty was a popular form of punishment during the Spanish period. Who could forget the executions of Mariano Gómez, José Burgos, and Jacinto Zamora through garrote in 1872, or the death of Jose Rizal by firing squad in 1896? After the Americans took over, executions through garrote were replaced with hanging and then the electric chair. Few capital punishment stories throughout history have been told, so here are some interesting historical tidbits on the death penalty in modern times:

In the 1920s, Francisco Otero of Bacolod was convicted of hiring two men to murder a love interest and a business rival. Otero paid P5 to each man and promised both a job after the murder. According to the law then, the members of the Supreme Court must vote unanimously to execute anyone and as they were unable to reach a unified vote, Otero’s sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. The two men who did the killings were sentenced to life imprisonment and eight years, respectively.

Then there was also the story of Macario Sera Josep in 1927 who stole P1,828 worth of eyewear and lenses and murdered a sleeping watchman of an optical shop by “striking him on the head with the handle of an iron grinder and stabbing him with a knife or sharp pointed instrument in different vital parts of the body.” Josep confessed to his crime and was sentenced to death but requested to see his girlfriend first before being executed. Unfortunately, we do not know if he was able to see her one last time.

Two executions in the Marcos era continue to fascinate people today. The first was the triple deaths by electric chair of Jaime G. Jose, Basilio Pineda Jr., and Edgardo P. Aquino in 1970 for the abduction and rape of actress Maggie de la Riva. Another man, Rogelio Sevilla Cañal, died of drug overdose two years before their scheduled execution. All four had promising futures and were sons of prominent families. Despite their families’ appeal, the executions pushed through as public opinion was in favor of their deaths. The second execution was that of the Chinese drug lord Lim Seng, known to supply heroin in most of Southeast Asia and America. He was strapped and blindfolded until a volley of gunfire from eight M-1 rifles were unleashed whose bullets ripped into his chest.

Despite these, there were few executions over various administrations. When Corazon C. Aquino became president, the death penalty was abolished. It was reinstated in 1993 during the term of President Fidel Ramos but abolished again in 2006 during President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s term, commuting 1,230 death sentences to life imprisonment.

Seven lethal injection executions were carried out although most only remember Leo Echegaray. These seven were Echegaray, Eduardo Agbayani, Pablito Andan, Alex Bartolome, Dante Piandong, Jesus Morallos, and Archie Bulan. Six were executed in 1999, beginning with Echegaray on February 5 and ending with Piandong, Morallos, and Bulan on July 8. The seventh to be executed was Bartolome on January 4, 2000 and was the last to die before the law was repealed. The saddest death was that of Agbayani, who was sentenced to death for raping his daughter. Appeals by his children together with the Catholic Church convinced President Joseph Estrada to grant him a stay of execution. Unfortunately, it took a while before the call from Malacañang reached the execution room and Agbayani died two minutes after the call arrived.

The death penalty remains a hot-button topic in the Philippines. While it has both its supporters and critics, history teaches us that plain human error, a labyrinthine bureaucracy, and unequal access to quality representation could tip the scales of justice either way.


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