Whenever a heinous crime takes place, or crime rates go up, officials who want to project an anticrime, law-and-order image begin calling for a return of the death penalty. The justification for this is that the threat of capital punishment instills so much fear in the hearts of criminals that they would turn over a new leaf. Unsaid is also the desire to exact revenge from criminals, in response to the age-old call for “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” And yet, as the American Civil Liberties Union puts it, “the death penalty has no deterrent effect.” In the US, “states that have death penalty laws do not have lower crime rates or murder rates than states without such laws. And states that have abolished capital punishment show no significant changes in either crime or murder rates.”
Locally, when the death penalty was abolished in 2006, data showed that the crime rate inched up in 2009, while the number went down from 2010 until 2012, rising again in 2013. But the fluctuations in the count of socalled “index” crimes “can be traced to changes in the system of crime reporting and inconsistencies in recording crime, not to actual spikes or dives in the number of crimes committed.” If there is a single factor that gave rise to a spike in the number of crime-related deaths in recent years, it is not the absence or rarity of a death penalty verdict. Rather, it’s the government’s own anti-illegal drugs campaign, which in a way has been its way of imposing the death penalty without going through the courts.
The International Criminal Court (ICC), which is conducting an investigation into the alleged widespread extrajudicial killings of drug suspects here, as well as local and international human rights organizations, have estimated that from 12,000 to 30,000 civilians were killed in the course of the Duterte drug war between 2016 and 2019. The government, though, estimates the number of deaths at “only” 6,000 who died in the course of over 200,000 anti-illegal drug operations as of May this year.
No wonder, then, that a senator, who was the lead enforcer of the antiillegal drug campaign during the Duterte administration and was the initial architect of the bloody war on drugs, is one of the leading advocates for the restoration of the death penalty. Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa has refiled a bill restoring capital punishment, along with Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers. This despite the fact that the Philippines is a signatory to international treaties banning the imposition of death penalties, particularly the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which is the only global treaty that explicitly prohibits executions and provides for total abolition of the death penalty.
A version of this story appears in the print edition of the September 7, 2022, issue.