Will the revival of the death penalty lead to more deaths?

President Duterte is dead serious in his fight against drugs. He pushed his allies in Congress to expedite the passing of the death penalty bill to strengthen the ongoing war on drugs.

Editorial

The House of Representatives hastily approved House Bill No. 4727 in its 2nd reading which sought to reinstate capital punishment the country. However, this is a watered-down bill as it only focused on drug-related offences.

There will be strong resistance in Senate

After a final reading and vote in the House of Representatives this month, it will be passed to the Senate where it will face a much more vocal opposition to the measure. Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said, “It would not be smooth sailing in the Senate. There is no consensus…[but] it has a chance.  A close fight. I am predicting anywhere from 14 versus 10 or 10 versus 14, either way.”

The opposition cited the year 1999 when there was still a capital punishment in the country. In that year, crime rose by 15.3%. This percentage suggested that the death penalty was not effective and might increase crime in the country.

Human Rights Watch voiced strong opposition to the bill

Carlos H. Conde, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, believed that this was a major step backwards for the Philippines. He said, “This further erodes the already horrendous human rights situation in the Philippines.”

Human Rights Watch released a damning report condemning Duterte’s war on drugs. It claimed that Duterte and the police were guilty of crimes against humanity. They carried out extrajudicial killings and planted evidence to claim self-defense in the shootouts falsely.

Bloody campaign against drugs to continue

More deaths will ensue in Duterte’s resumption of the war on drugs. Philippine National Police (PNP) chief said, “A bloody campaign is unavoidable as drug traffickers do not give up easily. People involved in the illegal drug trade will not leave a billion-peso industry without a fight.”

The police force that continues the war on drugs will be a carefully selected group without smudges of corruption.  If they do their job properly, there will be less extra-judicial killings. They can capture these alleged criminals and let the law dictate their punishment. The death penalty law can then mete out the necessary punishment which ranges from reclusion perpetual to death and fines ranging from P500,000 to P10 million. Public officials and employees will also face perpetual disqualification from public office if they are charged with drug-related activities.

Death penalty bill unlikely to create long list of people on death row

This version of the bill does not include heinous crimes such as plunder, treason, murder and rape. However, the death penalty applies to those who kill and rape under the influence of drugs.

The problem with Duterte’s war is that it has been killing mostly drug users and small-time pushers. The big-time drug lords and pushers remain at large while the death penalty is specifically targeting them. This scenario suggests that the effect of the death penalty will be limited to its shock value as a way to deter people from participating in the drug trade.

Under the bill, the death penalty will apply to those caught in possession of 500 grammes of marijuana, or 10 grammes of cocaine, heroin or ecstasy. Small time drug users simply do not have the money needed to purchase these big amounts. Plus, drug prices have skyrocketed already because of the intensity of the war on drugs.

Things to look out in the near term

It is interesting to observe whether the resumption of the police operations against drugs will reignite summary killings. If it does, then that makes the death penalty bill irrelevant since the police kill with impunity.

The government should focus on getting the high-value drug lords and pushers. They can achieve this by boosting the budget and manpower of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and careful cleansing of the PNP.