Wednesday, June 7, 2006
OKs repeal of death penalty law
By Christina Mendez and Jess Diaz
In two landmark votes
yesterday, the Senate and the House of Representatives abolished the death
penalty — 12 years after it was reimposed by Congress as the maximum
punishment for heinous crimes.
Voting 16-0 with one
abstention, the Senate approved on third reading Senate Bill 2254,
repealing the death penalty law and replacing execution with life
imprisonment without parole.
Similarly, the House approved
its counterpart bill on second reading. This makes the measure’s passage
on third reading a mere formality.
The House will proceed with its
third and final-reading approval since the measure has been certified as
"urgent" by President Arroyo.
Congress had to pass the
necessary legislation in order to repeal the death penalty, which its
proponents argue is an effective crime deterrent.
Since the Senate and House
bills are both certified as urgent, they will go straight to the President
for her signature instead of the usual bicameral conference deliberations,
in which differences in the Senate and House bills are usually ironed out.
Malacañang praised lawmakers
for passing the bills. "We congratulate and thank Congress for this
historic act of statesmanship and humanity," said Mrs. Arroyo’s
political adviser, Gabriel Claudio. "It’s great to see the upper
and lower chambers’ legislative mills in high gear in defense of justice
and the sanctity of human life."
House approval of the bill came
hours after the Senate passed its measure.
Under the Senate and House
bills, the sentences of convicts already on death row would be commuted to
life imprisonment without chance of parole.
Sen. Joker Arroyo, chairman of
the Senate committee on justice and human rights, led the Senate in
seeking a repeal of Republic Act 8177, which restored capital punishment
Out of 23 senators, those who
voted to repeal the death penalty law were: Arroyo, Senate President
Franklin Drilon, Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan, Minority Leader
Aquilino Pimentel Jr., Senators Richard Gordon, Luisa Ejercito, Edgardo
Angara, Pia Cayetano, Ralph Recto, Panfilo Lacson, Jamby Madrigal, Alfredo
Lim, Juan Flavier, Juan Ponce Enrile, Manuel Roxas II and Ramon Revilla
Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, who is
facing plunder charges that carry a maximum penalty of death, abstained
from the final vote. "I would like to register a vote of abstention
because I am a co-accused of plunder which carries a penalty of death,
wherein my conscience is clear," he said.
Estrada’s father, former
President Joseph Estrada, was ousted in 2001 by a military-backed popular
uprising over allegations of rampant corruption.
He is currently on trial on
charges that he ran an illegal gambling protection racket during his
aborted presidency and amassed billions of pesos in payoffs.
Estrada and several others,
including his son Jinggoy, are charged with plunder, which carries the
maximum penalty of death.
The Senate, in passing Senate
Bill 2254, upheld the president’s power to grant clemency.
"The President’s right
to pardon is not curtailed," Senator Arroyo said, noting that the
Senate has been "passionate" about abolishing the death penalty.
During the period for making
amendments to the bill, Drilon noted that "executive clemency cannot
be limited nor qualified by legislation." His move was adopted by the
Arroyo said the
is now the only Christian country that has abolished capital punishment,
"which is consistent with its values."
"This is a very big issue
abroad, it is something which we can be proud of," he said. The
European Union and international rights groups have been urging the
abolish abolish its death
"Capital punishment has
not been effective as a deterrent to crime. What really prevents the
willful violation of the penal code is a vigilant law enforcement
mechanism, a resolute prosecution of criminal cases and a speedy
resolution by the courts," said Senator Villar, whose Senate Bill 694
was one of three bills incorporated into the approved bill.
Repealing the death penalty law
would also benefit Filipino migrant workers sentenced to death in other
countries, Arroyo added.
"We cannot ask other
countries to even commute our fellow countrymen (facing) the death penalty
abroad when we impose the death penalty here," he said.
are divided on the death penalty issue. Supporters argue it is an
effective deterrent against crime. Opponents argue that the death penalty
has been ineffective and claim that more efficient law enforcement and a
speedy justice system are the solutions.
The death penalty was abolished
after the downfall of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986 but the 1987
Constitution gave Congress the option of restoring it.
Fueled by public uproar over a
series of high-profile murder cases, capital punishment was restored in
1994 for heinous crimes such as rape, kidnapping-for-ransom, murder, drug
trafficking, treason, piracy, infanticide, parricide, arson and carjacking
Executions were carried out by
lethal injection, chosen as the most humane form of execution. Executions
during the Marcos era were carried out by electric chair.
one execution was carried out by firing squad. Shortly after the
declaration of martial law in September 1972, convicted drug lord Lim Seng
was sentenced to death by a military tribunal. President Ferdinand Marcos
ordered the execution shown on live television as part of his crackdown on
Seven convicts were put to
death between 1999 and 2000, but Estrada declared a moratorium on
executions amid pressure from the Roman Catholic Church and rights groups.
Despite the separation of
church and state, the Catholic Church wields strong influence in the
predominantly Catholic country.
There are over 1,000 convicts
on death row and over a dozen of them are women, according to government
data. The Supreme Court has upheld at least 160 death sentences.
In an Easter Sunday
announcement, Mrs. Arroyo commuted all current death sentences to life
imprisonment but did not say whether she would move to abolish the death
The Catholic Church welcomed
the commutation in the spirit of Holy Week, calling it a "visible
manifestation of a heightened moral consciousness."
Leo Echegaray was the first to
be executed by lethal injection in February 1999 since the restoration of
the death penalty for raping his stepdaughter. Six other death row
convicts were executed until Estrada ordered a moratorium.
A devout Catholic, Mrs. Arroyo
continued the moratorium but then lifted it in October 2001, saying the
freeze had emboldened criminals, particularly kidnap-for-ransom gangs. No
executions have occurred since the moratorium was lifted, however.
In September 2002, Mrs. Arroyo
indefinitely suspended executions while lawmakers began debates on whether
or not to repeal the death penalty law.
Mrs. Arroyo lifted the
moratorium a month after the body of a kidnapped Coca-Cola Finance Corp.
executive Betti Chua Sy was found stuffed in a trash bag in November —
only to reverse her position later.
Some opposition politicians,
however, suggested that Mrs. Arroyo’s commutation was aimed at currying
favor with the Catholic Church.
The President is fighting
opposition efforts to force her from office over accusations that she
cheated in the 2004 presidential election.
She is also drawing criticism
for her initiative to amend the Constitution and replace the current
US-style presidential form of government with a federal, parliamentary
system. The opposition accuses her of trying to extend her stay in office.