A banner urging Philippine legislators not to vote for the passage of a proposed bill to restore capital punishment in the country hangs outside a Catholic church in the province of Pangasinan. (contributed photo)
Several senators have vowed to kill a proposal to revive the death penalty in the Philippines, citing possible violations of international treaties.
"The death penalty is dead," said Senator Franklin Drilon. "It is clear that we cannot revive it because of our treaty commitments," he said.
The legislator said it would be impossible to justify the revival of capital punishment "in the face of clear international treaty obligations."
Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the Senate committee on justice, suspended further hearings on the proposal on Feb. 7 until the Department of Justice can justify that the Philippines will not violate international treaties if it revives the death penalty.
The Philippines ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which aims to abolish the death penalty, in 2007.
"It would not look good for a nation who signs a treaty to leave it," said Gordon.
Catholic bishops have openly expressed their "regret" over moves in the House of Representatives to revive capital punishment for drug-related and heinous crimes.
In a statement following their bi-annual meeting during the last week of January, the bishops said, "the trend against the death penalty is unmistakable" throughout the world.
They also warned that the Philippines cannot re-impose the death penalty without breaking international law.
The proposal to revive the death penalty for drug-related and heinous crimes came from allies of President Rodrigo Duterte in the House of Representatives.
The re-imposition of capital punishment and the "all-out war" against narcotics were among Duterte's main campaign promises. At least 7,000 suspected drug users and dealers have already been killed in the government's war against drugs.
Reforms in the justice system
A leading House of Representatives member, meanwhile, underscored the urgency of reforming the country’s "undermanned, under-funded, and under-performing" justice system before passing a death penalty law.
Deputy Speaker Rolando Andaya Jr. said tackling measures to reform the "police, prosecution, and prison" institutions must go hand in hand with congressional debates on the re-imposition of capital punishment.
The legislator, however, said that aside from proposals in the House of Representatives, it seems there is no urgency on the part of other institutions to map out reforms, adding that the whole justice system "may need overhauling."
Andaya said that even if the death penalty returns, "criminals will still be emboldened if they know that it will take police hours to respond to distress calls or that they will never come at all."
The legislator said that if the objective is to hold public executions to "shock and stop" criminals, then the thousands of suspected drug dealers killed in police encounters point to the existence of a "de facto death penalty."
Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros also said that countries that imposed the death penalty even on high-level drug traffickers did not curb illegal drug trafficking.
The senator cited the example of Iran where authorities have admitted the death penalty doesn't work, even after executing thousands of drug traffickers.
"In 2015, Iran carried out 829 executions, 571 for drug-related offenses, however, the Iranian government itself admitted that the death penalty has failed to reduce drug trafficking in the country," said Hontiveros.
Hontiveros also cited the experiences of Hong Kong and Singapore that have identical murder rates, despite the former abolishing the death penalty in 1993 and the latter mandatorily imposing the death penalty for murder and other crimes.
The Philippines placed a moratorium on capital punishment in 2001 and five years later downgraded the sentences of 1,230 death-row inmates to life imprisonment in what Amnesty International described as the "largest ever commutation of death sentences."