The World Youth Alliance regrets the passage on second reading of House Bill 4727 to reinstate the death penalty for certain drug and other offenses on Wednesday, March 1, 2017. As the bill was approved by voice vote (viva voce), there is no record of who voted for or against the bill. This raised some concerns as opponents of the bill, such as Rep. Edcel Lagman, had requested a nominal vote, which would yield an exact tally and disclose who or who did not cast a “conscience vote.”.
The passage at second reading (where debates are heard) presages its eventual approval by the Lower House on third reading next week. WYA opposes the reinstatement of the death penalty because every human being has intrinsic and inviolable dignity that begins at conception and ends at natural death. This dignity must be cherished in custom and safeguarded by law. WYA encourages Filipinos to oppose this bill (due for parallel deliberations in the Senate), and make their opposition known to legislators before the third reading on March 8 and if or when it is debated in the Senate.
The challenges of the drug trade are real, and WYA recognizes that the government has the duty and authority to prosecute and penalize drug offenders. However, reinstating the death penalty is a problematic solution that may violate the Philippines’ obligations under international law and raises questions about whether the crimes named in the bill are truly “heinous” and the circumstances “compelling” as required by the Philippine Constitution.
The Philippines ratified a treaty called the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty in 2007. This treaty states that no member, or “state party,” of the treaty will carry out the death penalty within their territory. The treaty is legally binding, and does not have a provision for withdrawing from it. If the Philippines adopts a law that violates the treaty’s provisions it is also violating its obligations under international law. For this reason alone, the bill should fail.
Under the 1987 Constitution of the Philippines, the death penalty can only be imposed for “compelling reasons involving heinous crimes” (Constitution, Art. III § 19(1)). Once a criminal is in custody his or her ability to do harm, which might constitute a “compelling reason,” is greatly reduced. If dangers persist, reforms to the prison system are preferable to ending a human life.
If adopted, this bill will allow for the imposition of the death penalty on those convicted not only of leading drug syndicates but also delivering, giving away, distributing, or transporting any dangerous drug (§ 15 amending the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002). Section 17 of the bill allows the death penalty to be imposed even for simply possessing 10 or more grams of opium, morphine, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine (“shabu”), or similar “hard drugs.” Many of these activities are not the activities of violent “kingpins,” but could be carried out by nonviolent and common street criminals or addicts.
WYA supports efforts to curtail the drug trade and reduce drug crimes. But a legitimate end cannot justify illegitimate means: taking a human life, even when a person is guilty, is wrong. The Philippines recognized this when it committed itself to a treaty prohibiting the use of the death penalty ten years ago, and WYA urges the Philippines to act in accordance with this commitment.
WYA thanks those officials and citizens who continue to defend the dignity of the human person by opposing this bill, and urges all Filipinos to reach out to their elected officials to reject the re-imposition of the death penalty in the Philippines. WYA Asia Pacific (WYAAP) will launch a campaign on March 3rd in opposition to the bill.
Visit WYAAP’s Facebook page to join the campaign. Say yes to dignity and raise your voice now.