Thursday, July 7, 2016

No to death

published May 22, 2016
There are many ways to argue against the death penalty, which presumptive President Rodrigo Duterte says he will bring back to stem the alarming rate of criminality in the country.
One can take the religious route. I would not know about other groups, but for Christians—Catholics, at least—the thinking is that human life is God-given and only God can take it back. 
Taking the life of another is a mortal sin—it says so in the Ten Commandments—and nothing would justify the murder of a human being, even if it were for retribution for a wrong previously committed, and even if it were sanctioned by the state. 
Another argument could be from an evolutionary perspective. Yes, in the past, it was all right to punish somebody with death if it were commensurate with the wrong he or she had committed against the victims and against society in general. Often, it was imposed as a last resort.
The forms of bringing about death also evolved. People were burned, hanged, shot, caned, stoned, electrocuted and more recently, given poison shots. 
One could also argue using hard facts. There are claims that the death penalty, even if it was an option in the past, was not a deterrent to heinous crimes. There are numbers out there to prove or disprove this, but then again, it presupposes that all heinous crimes are reported.
Yet another approach could be practical. Imagine, and knock on wood, that your daughter was raped or that your entire family was killed in a massacre. Imagine all the brutal things that could happen to anyone—would you not want to exact the same suffering on those who committed this wrong?
The answer may vary, of course, and those who answer “no” may just say so because it has not happened to them. Will death, however, bring back the lives of the dead, take away the vacuum that had been created by their loss and exact some form of satisfaction on the part of the bereaved? Is this necessarily justice?
In many parts of the world, the death penalty has been rejected as a form of punishment. Most societies have a justice system that focuses on the reformation of criminals—for them to ponder what exactly they are in prison for, reform their lives and hopefully become productive individuals whether they are given the chance to rejoin society after their prison terms—or not. To revert to the “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” mentality just does not have a place in these times.
It is said the death penalty will just be imposed on extreme crimes like drug trafficking. All other lesser crimes will merit life imprisonment, at most.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, they say, and the runaway criminality rate definitely falls under the “desperate” category. I join, however, the call that rejects the return of capital punishment, for a mix of the above reasons and because I believe that our justice system is still so imperfect and wanting that it does not have the high ground to impose such extreme punishment on anybody.
In city jails, for instance, there remain thousands of prisoners who languish behind bars for petty crimes just because they do not have cash for bail nor money to pay for lawyers. Sure, there are public lawyers, but they are just swamped with cases that it is difficult for them be diligent with any one case. In the meantime, those who can afford legal help go on with their lives despite the shadow of their misdeeds. 
Evidence gathering and storage also remains murky hereabouts. That cases should be decided by mere testimonies without hard, physical proof is tricky. Witnesses may think they saw something when they could be mistaken, or they could have their own vested agenda in pinning down a suspect while ignoring another. In the meantime, despite the availability of DNA testing in the country, the cost and the access remain prohibitive. 
In the end, if all these gaps in enforcing the law and delivering justice were addressed, and if decisions were handed down within a reasonable amount of time, would that not create conditions that would deter crime even without the fear of being put to death? And then there would be no need for such crude, extreme measure. Death is death, however it is carried out. A lethal injection is just as barbaric as any older method. 
The death penalty should not be an option. Strengthening existing systems should be the priority in curbing crime and making the country safer for its citizens. 

adellechua@gmail.com

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