Conscience(less) vote and the death penalty

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With 54 against and one abstention, House Bill 4727 was passed on third and final reading, reinstating the death penalty for drug-related misdemeanors. Although the original bill included 21 misdemeanors punishable by death, it was trimmed down to four (plunder, treason, rape and drugs), and after the second reading, just to drug-related misconduct.

Capital punishment was abolished by the 1987 Constitution, but restored in 1993 by President Fidel Ramos as a crime-control measure. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo abolished it again in 2006.

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has removed from key positions all those who said no to the reimposition, including Arroyo, whose post as deputy speaker for Luzon was declared vacant right after the third reading.

Although one may speculate why Arroyo and other political bosses (such as former first lady Imelda Marcos, now a Visayas representative) stuck to their guns and said no to the death penalty, even party-list representatives said Alvarez should have allowed members of the House to vote according to their conscience, with no political pressure.

But Alvarez of course has delighted in cracking the whip and making everyone toe the line in order to show he’s the Duterte administration’s top honcho in the chamber. He also has to do it to keep his job because there are no if’s and but’s under Duterte, who often shoots his mouth and thereby betrays he has ordered that anyone remotely involved in illegal drugs be shot down. Like the police and vigilante groups shooting down drug suspects at Duterte’s bidding, Alvarez is doing the job of a “Berdugo” or hangman for the Davao madman, albeit in the political killing fields.

Going by the example of Bataan Rep. Geraldine Roman, the “transgender” representative who voted for the return of the death penalty despite his/her “liberal” espousal of anti-discrimination, the call for respect of conscience vote is valid. There could be no more liberal cause than the abolition of the death penalty, which is anti-poor and anti-life, but Roman, coming from an old political family (read: “trapo”) would rather serve political self-interest rather than be liberal. In a university forum later, she said she voted against her conscience because politics is a compromise and she represented the interests of her constituents.

Presumably, that “constituency” is as conscienceless and morally willy-nilly as their representative.

Arguments for capital punishment are mainly based on emotionalism or in the case of Senator Pacquiao, Biblical literalism.

The purported deterrent effects of death penalty have been repetitively debunked. Ivan Simonovic, United Nations assistant secretary-general for human rights, said there’s no evidence of deterrence of any crime. Phelim Kine, Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director, said the failure of death penalty to dissuade crimes is globally recognized.

Moreover, the Philippine justice system is problematic. It is corrupt, incompetent and error-prone. Such a system should not be empowered to decide who hangs and who don’t.

Likewise the restoration of the death penalty is redundant. Since President Duterte assumed office, there have been 7,000 drug-related killings. Human Rights Watch claimed in a report that cops had planted evidence in the crime scenes to frame their suspects. Duterte also vowed to execute five or six criminals daily in December or a minimum of 150 convicts per month.

Many of those killed were poor: they were meted the capital punishment, Davao-gangland-style, even when the fate of its reimposition was hanging in Congress. So why should there be a need for capital punishment to be restored when the President’s own assassins from the PNP and his own secret militia are gunning down just about everyone who gets within the purview of a mad dictator’s paranoia?

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