[Statement] Senate Urged to Junk Death Penalty Bills to Avert Negative Economic Implications, Deeper Poverty -Lakbay-Buhay

Senate Urged to Junk Death Penalty Bills to Avert Negative Economic Implications, Deeper Poverty

Manila- A major coalition of civil society, faith-based organizations and the Catholic Church  called on Senate Thursday, 24th May to junk all proposed bills filed to reimpose death penalty in the country due to massive social and economic implications that would exacerbate poverty in the country. Rising inequality and a crisis in human rights is a lethal mix that seriously undermines the Philippines’ efforts in making a progressive leap towards a more developed and industrialized nation.

There are some 100 organizations that have banded together to ensure that there will be no law reinstating death penalty. The 1987 Constitution which had a very strong language on human rights and Bill of Rights abolished capital punishment under Art. 3 Section 19, but with an opening for Congress to reinstate it for compelling reasons: “unless for compelling reasons involving heinous crimes.”  Capital Punishment was reimposed in 1999 under former President Fidel Ramos and it was abolished in 2006 under then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Amidst alarming reports of continuing extra-judicial killings perpetrated by State forces and unidentified armed assassins, the House of Representatives approved a special law on capital punishment covering drug related crimes. Despite this, there have been no big drug syndicates targeted in police operations and no suspected high-value targets have been arrested.

The growing alarm at the Duterte administration’s hurried move to revive capital punishment was dramatized in a 19-day march from Cagayan de Oro, Mindanao to Senate by a group representing the vulnerable and marginalized groups such as indigenous peoples, women, youth, farmers and urban poor. They aimed to challenge the survey revealing that three out of five Filipinos favour death penalty.

“Capital punishment is the most inhumane form of human rights violations and this has massive implications on our lives as a people and a nation.  When the Duterte administration started its drug war, it was very evident that only the poor were persecuted through extra-judicial killings. We are alarmed. When death penalty covering drug crimes is institutionalized, we, the poor will be the primary victims. We can never afford to defend ourselves under a very retributive and flawed  justice system that we have at the moment,” Romulo Dumalag Jr. 33,  a pilgrim of LakbayBuhay from Sentro Labor group stated in a press conference.

The group asserts that a Death Penalty law is anti-poor because it discriminates against the poor, the mentally ill and juveniles. It takes a long time to resolve issues in court and cost of defense is very restrictive for the poor. In a study by the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG ), “Back in 2004 the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) did a survey of 890 death row inmates. Among other things, FLAG found that 79% of death row inmates did not reach college and 63% were previously employed in blue-collar work in sectors like agriculture, transport, and construction.” FLAG stated that most of the rich inmates were able to afford decent legal assistance or a battery of lawyers to defend themselves in court.

Senate has yet to discuss the bills filed by Senators Manny Pacquaio, Tito Sotto and PanfiloLacson. “While we get assurance that Senate does not seem keen on passing it, we want to urge Senate to categorically commit to junk the bills. Not only do we have  treaty obligations especially respecting the 2nd Optional Protocols on the UN Convention of International, Civil and Political Rights which abolishes the death penalty but there are grave implications to our GSP+  (Generalized Scheme of Preference) status granted by the EU in 2014. GSP+ provides minimal to zero tariff for our exports to the EU,” NinianSumadia from the youth sector and one of the 15 pilgrims stated.

The GSP+ is usually granted when a country successfully ratifies and implements international conventions relating to human and labour rights, the environment and good governance.  The GSP+ status of the country now covers some 6,274 products boosting economic growth in the export industry and local economy. President Duterte has recently declared that the Philippines is no longer accepting aid from the EU as it has secured new investment pledges from China.

“If we measure the impacts of our current status in the EU while we protect our democratic institutions, it is all worth it to junk the the death penalty proposals. We have protected our rights for a long time and we continue to fight for our economic rights and improvement of our quality of lives. This is why we have marched, ran and journeyed from Cagayan de Oro to the Philippine Senate in Manila to dramatize our plea. We need lands, we need the coco levy funds, decent housing, agricultural productivity and support for the young and women farmers, quality jobs and proper education for our youth. The banner of this movement is economic empowerment- not death,” popular running priest Fr. Robert Reyes, the pilgrims’ spiritual adviser stated.

The 15 pilgrims called on the three Senators to make a choice in favour of protecting people’s lives. The pilgrims called on government to stop treating the drug issue as a mere police problem but a social and medical problem.

“Government should end the language of war and violence, and address the root cause of the drugs issue, including meaningful approaches to the supply side, effective law enforcement in relation to powerful drug lords, and inculcating a comprehensive  anti-poverty program. Criminality will be deterred only if we have a restorative justice system. Let us not lose hope on life, let us not lose hope for the poor. As a representative of the youth, we will not tolerate a culture of killing and impunity, ”Sumadia concluded.

The pilgrimage  backed-up by nationwide civil society and faith-based organizations will vigorously continue a massive popular education and awareness program to make more Filipinos analyze the impact of death penalty in the country.  -30-

Reference:     SocBanzuela 0917 541 0541
Heidi Fernandez 0905 362 2195

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