Home / News  / Killing in the name of

Killing in the name of

Why is the Duterte administration obsessed with reviving the death penalty?

The Duterte administration has a curious fascination with death – appearing to fancy it as an encompassing solution to many of the country’s problems. While much has been made – and rightfully so – of President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody and illogical “war on drugs,” which has left close to 7,000 (by some estimates) lifeless bodies in just eight months, a question worth asking is why the administration has been so bent on reviving the death penalty.

House priority

Last December, the Duterte-controlled House of Representatives approved at the committee level the bill that would restore death penalty, which paved the way for the measure to be taken up on the plenary floor.

At that time, there were more than 20 crimes punishable by death under the proposed measure, which included qualified piracy, qualified bribery, cultivation or culture of plants classified as dangerous drugs and “carnapping,” among others.

Curiously, despite the plethora of issues the country is facing, what the Congress has deemed a priority is the revival of the death penalty, perhaps under the delusion that the slow and creaky wheels of justice in the country would even reach the point of anyone being sentenced to the death penalty.

As pointed out by house Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, even if Congress passes the bill restoring capital punishment, there is a possibility that Duterte would not be able to use it within his six-year term, citing “the long gestation period of conviction.”

In the second week of February, the administration’s allies in Congress sought to trim the list of offenses punishable by death. Comically enough, one of the crimes they wanted trimmed from the list was plunder.

“This is just a matter of money, anyway, as they say, too lame for others to include,” was Rep. Reynaldo Umali’s justification.

As noted by a Manila Times article, a 2001 study conducted by the World Bank found that an estimated PhP609 billion was lost to corruption.

“I think that will be a severe blow because it basically says the Philippines can walk away from international treaties,” British Ambassador Asif Ahmad recently said, referring to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Second Optional Protocol of the ICCPR on the abolition of the death penalty, of which the Philippines is a signatory.

“Part of the President’s frustration is that the wheels of justice here turn slowly. Basically you need to find a better wheel and more lubricant. You don’t throw the whole thing away – you have to improve the system.”

System failure

Speaking of improving the system, even before he was elected into office, Duterte promised that he would pardon military and police officials who would be indicted for following his orders to combat illegal drugs. Of course, this is the same police institution that has been notoriously mired in deep-seated corruption for decades.

After it was found that members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Anti-Illegal Drugs Group were found to be involved in the kidnapping and killing of South Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo, Malacañang was left scrambling for damage control.

What followed was an announcement that the war on drugs would be halted in favor of the PNP’s internal cleansing – something that should have been done before brazenly empowering its members in the first place.

Since then, there was a televised public scolding (and a public workout by way of performing push-ups in front of the cameras) of Angeles City police who allegedly extorted money from Korean tourists, while 287 “erring” police were reassigned to the conflict-stricken Mindanao island province of Basilan. Unsurprisingly, of the 287 policemen, only 53 showed up for the mass deployment.

Economic fallout

Recently, reports came out that there were a few multinational companies that have postponed their expansion plans in the Philippines, citing the threat of political uncertainty.

As reported by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, European Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines (ECCP) executive director Florian Gottein said that political controversies in the Duterte administration were turning off members of the European business community.

“They were thinking about doubling actually their investment, but the headquarters in Europe decided at the moment to put it on hold,” Gottein told reporters. “There was another company that also wanted to double its investments, then decided to expand operations in Vietnam rather than the country.”

As noted by the report, late last year, ECCP president Guenter Taus said that the drug-related killings created a sense of uncertainty among European investors.