AMID rising criminality in Metro Manila and across the country, the death penalty is again being revived in Congress.

Statistics from the Philippine National Police showed there was a 17 percent increase in crime incidence from January to May 2014 at 289,198 cases, from last year’s 245,347.

Index crimes, or crimes which are “serious in nature and occur with sufficient frequency,” have recorded a 19 percent increase so far this year. Index crimes include murder, homicide, and rape.

“These past years, without a death penalty, we have become a virtual wild. Criminals have more fun in the Philippines,” minority Senator Vicente Sotto III said in a privilege speech last Sept. 24.

Lezel De Villa, chief legislative staff officer of Senator Sotto, said statistics were not needed as the real situation could be seen from news reports.

“People by nature are afraid of death,” De Villa told the Varsitarian. “Let us not rely on statistics and just ask ourselves: Would you commit a crime that will lead to your death?”

Last January, Sotto filed a bill titled “Act Imposing Death Penalty in the Philippines” that seeks to repeal Republic Act 9346, the law forbidding death penalty.

The law, in effect since 2006, imposed the penalty of reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment on those convicted of heinous crimes.

Sotto’s bill proposes administering lethal injection on criminals convicted of murder, rape, drug trafficking, and kidnapping among others. The bill has been forwarded to the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights Committee, but remains pending.

As of 2012, 58 countries have carried out death sentences and executions, according to Amnesty International, a nongovernment organization that campaigns for human rights.

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Alibi for failure?

De Villa noted that critics of the death penalty had often argued that the “country’s faulty justice system” would make capital punishment unreliable.

“If we would always think that our justice system will render a wrong decision and may serve death to an innocent, then let us not convict criminals anymore,” De Villa said.

Sotto is this time at odds with an ally in the pro-life movement, former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza. Atienza, a congressman representing Buhay party-list, said the death penalty was not a long-term solution to crime deterrence and would instead cultivate a culture of violence.

Atienza said a better criminal justice system—through police and justice reforms—would bring back citizens’ faith on the government.

“It’s easy to reinforce death penalty, but it only reflects that we are resorting to this because we can’t offer an efficient justice system,” he said. “One should pay for his or her crimes, but no one has the right to take anyone’s life.”

Allan Basas, faculty secretary of the Institute of Religion, said the Church’s stand on the death penalty has always been the same: life is sacred.

“The Church’s stand has always been mercy over vindictiveness; a person always has a chance to change for the better,” Basas said.

Meanwhile, a commission under the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) warned in a statement that there was always a chance the death penalty would take innocent lives.

“Taking away the life of someone is a horrible lesson to teach our children, that human life is as disposable as any contraptions and trimmings of postmodern life,” the CBCP Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care stated on its website.

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History

The death penalty in the Philippines dates back to the time of Spanish colonizers, which carried out executions through methods such as burning, decapitation, drowning, flaying, garrote, hanging, and shooting.

In the American regime (1898-1946), the death penalty was retained to curtail resistance.

During the two-decade Marcos dictatorship (1965-1972), the death penalty was considered one of the government’s main crime deterrence tools. Subversion, possession of firearms, arson, embezzlement and illegal fishing were among the 24 offenses punishable by death. Execution through electric chair and death by firing squad were among the known practices.

It was only during President Corazon Aquino’s term (1986-1992) when death penalty was abolished. Death sentences were reduced to life imprisonment.

But during the latter part of her term, heinous crimes rose, prompting the next administration of President Fidel Ramos to reinstate death penalty.

The death penalty was abolished for the second time in 2006, during the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, upon the request of the international community particularly the European Union and the Vatican.

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