The Pros and Cons of Capital Punishment by Noel F. de Jesus
“The death penalty issue always puts in
question the fairness, efficiency and accuracy of our judicial system. People ask why is it
that the rich generally escape capital punishment?”
Almost everybody who witnessed the execution of Jaime
Jose, Basilio Pineda, Jr., Edgardo Aquino, convicted rapists of actress Maggie de la Riva in
1972, described the affair as a sordid and depressing experience.
Their electrocution evoked a general feeling of shock
that even the most hardened individuals found hard to conceal.
The executions revived an old controversy regarding the
abolition or adoption of capital punishment. Is the practice of legal killing of criminals
On February 10, 1970, President Marcos issued a general
retrieve of all death convicts, pending the study of pros and cons of the issue by Congress.
The law-making body, however, shelved the matter and the issue remained unsolved until the
adjournment of the eight Congress in 1971.
Meanwhile, the presidential reprieve was lifted, but
then Director of Prisons Alejo Santos managed to stave off all executions until his
retirement from public service.
Ruben Ablaza, convicted to die for the abduction and
rape of Annabelle Huggins, was spared by a commutation of sentence to life imprisonment.
Armingol Hanasan, convicted murderer for insurance, died
of heart failure a few before his execution in 1971.
There were no executions during the administration of
Cory Aquino and Fidel V. Ramos. Although the 1987 Constitution abolished capital punishment,
it allowed Congress to have the last say. Congress reestablished capital punishments and Leo
Echegaray may be the first man to be executed by the state since 1970.
Proponents of the abolition of capital punishment
contend that the trend in modern penology is reformative and not retribution.
More civilized countries tend to shun the practice of
exacting “life for a life.” Their lawmakers say that the death penalty is not succeeded in
diminishing criminality at all.
In 1971, then Senator Salvador Laurel, an abolitionist,
filed a bill proposing the abolition of capital punishment. In the explanatory portion of
the bill, Laurel stated:
“Capital punishment is principally vindictive. It
originated from the cruel and inhuman principle of lex taliones, or ‘an eye for an eye, a
tooth for a tooth’, which has no place in a Christian and civilized society like ours. It is
patterned after the old classical theory of criminology which establishes a direct
proportion between crime and punishment, believing that man can thereby be deterred from
committing more crimes.
“This school of thought has been proved wrong, as shown
by the prevalence of criminality today, not only in our country but in almost every part of
the world.” The pro-death side insists that the death penalty has been an effective punishment for
vicious criminals. They aver that capital punishment is a strong deterrent against crime.
Judge Guillermo Guevara, a leading exponent of retention
of the supreme penalty, argues:
“Every state has the right to protect and
defend itself from all those who threaten its existence.
“And no one can deny that the dangerously depraved
criminal threatens the existence and order of any civilized society.
“Stripped of emotional considerations, therefore, the
execution of such a man is simply necessary social cauterization. The death penalty is
imposed in order that society may survive by lopping off from its body an unfit and
degenerate member, who in the last analysis, is not adapted to social life.
“Hence, the elimination of the depraved outlaw, the
cruelest, the most degenerate, the nearest-the-brute creation, would appear to be a moral,
social and even biological necessity.”
Still another group believes that our present laws
should be re-examined. It contends that the laws governing four major crimes punishable by
death – murder, robbery with homicide, genocide, parricide, infanticide, kidnapping with
serious illegal detention; kidnapping and rape – deserve modifications.
Kidnapping and rape are believed to be least deserving
of the death penalty.
This group argues that the abolition or retention of the
death penalty is a matter of general public concern, and the final decision should not be
left to the people in the form of plebiscite.
Thus the issue is expected to be taken up in a future
The Philippines is the seventh country in the ASEAN to
restore death penalty as a means to deter the commission of crimes. The other pro-death
penalty countries are Brunei Darrusalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the
Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
The only countries in the region that still outlaw
capital punishment are Cambodia, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Australia.
The death penalty issue always puts in question the
fairness, efficiency and accuracy of our judicial system.
What if one of those convicted is innocent, who only
happened to be in the company of the culprits? Or, because of poverty, the accused may not
be able to hire a competent lawyer? Or who could have been tortured by the police to admit
There have been cases where individuals sentenced to
death are finally found to be innocent by the people ask, why is it that the rich generally
escape capital punishment?
Killing criminals will not solve the peace and order
problem. If the collective consciousness of a people is inclined towards rejection of life,
how can we expect the culture of life and love to prevail?
If all forms of media and the arts, including movies,
continue to institutionalize violence and to treat individuals and human life as
commodities, there will be people who will arrogate upon themselves the power to manipulate,
to exploit and to kill.
Crimes are frequently committed in society where many
people are addicted or exposed to drugs, pornography, sex, vices, and prostitution.
Statistics show that the majority of heinous crimes,
specifically rape have been perpetrated under the influence of liquor or prohibited drugs,
as well as after having viewed pornographic materials.
If the government is to stamp out criminality, then it
must get at the root of those evils. Otherwise, exacting capital punishment is just as
heinous as the crime that has been committed. Imposition of death penalty does not preclude
the perpetration of crimes in a society where values are weak.
Dostoesvsky, in describing the feeling of approaching
execution has written: “The worst pain may not be in the bodily suffering, b but in one’s
knowing for certain that in a day, and then an hour, and then in 10 minutes, and then in
half a minute, and the now, at the very moment, the soul will leave the body and the one
will cease to be a man.”
(Noel F.De Jesus, The Pros and Cons of Capital Punishment,
PHILIPPINE GRAPHIC, January 18, 1999, p. 20)