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Death Penalty and the Right to Life: A Battle to Defend and Preserve the Filipino Identity
(Speech by Sen. Leila M. de Lima during a forum on “The Right to Life and the Death Penalty” at the Malcolm Theater, UP College of Law, last December 2, 2016)
Good morning! A very invigorating morning to all of you present here today.
I thank you for the invitation, for it is truly a great opportunity for me to be here today to express my views and my solidarity with those who Stand Against the
Death Penalty and, more importantly, for those who defend the sanctity of life.
If I ask everyone here this morning, what do you think is a person’s greatest weapon?
Would you answer his or her knowledge?
If you do answer one of those, you are not entirely wrong, but I have a different take on that question. All of those are weapons, but they are useless without one thing: a person’s identity. Without that self-awareness, a person can have no sense of purpose. Without an identity and a sense of purpose, what use is his or her knowledge, power, wealth or influence? They are but aborted potentials that go to waste, for they are not put to use effectively, efficiently or meaningfully. A waste of potential. A waste of life.
When people know who they are and what they stand for, there are no chains that can bind them.
No walls that can cage them.
No fists that can crush them.
No water that can drown them.
No tanks that can break their ranks as they stand together arm in arm.
No guns that can silence them and no hole in the earth deep enough to bury them – for even that ultimate sacrifice will echo through time as their ghosts point their accusing fingers at their executioners.
But when we can’t even see each other for who we are – when we see factions instead of one nation – when we can’t agree on common interests, let alone common values, this period of time will pass with nothing to show but the death of the Filipino spirit, along with the death of the thousands of possible victims of extrajudicial killings thus far this year. As of December 1, according to the PNP there have been a total of 5,845 of persons killed in connection with the War On Drugs since July 1; 2,004 of which are suspected drug personalities supposedly killed in police operations; and 3,841 victims of extrajudicial or vigilante-style killings, as of November 30.
When we acquiesce to the re-imposition of the Death Penalty, we will not only be signing the death warrant of those who will be killed by judicial fiat or otherwise, we will be signing the death warrant of the Filipino people as a nation – for how can we reconcile sanctioning killing one another in each other’s name?
Thus, that is the question we are here to try to answer today.
It is not simply whether we are pro- or anti-Death Penalty. The question is deeper than that. We have to ask ourselves, what is it that we value above all?
If we care nothing for the sanctity of human lives and our other inherent and inalienable human rights – so be it, let us allow our society to descend into the chaos of a no-man’s land, where every person and his or her possession are fair game, where the very act of stepping out of your home is an invitation to be victimized, and there are no expectations of the protections of due process, equal protection, justice or rule of law. Just every man and woman for themselves, praying that no one envies or hates them enough to put them on some person’s arbitrary hit list.
But if there is still a part of us that values our rights and freedoms – that priceless and precious blessing of democracy of exercising them without the fear that all those can and will be taken away at the whim of so-called authorities who operate on the basis of unverified accusations, personal vendettas and, as the recent deaths of even high-valued inmates who were already in custody have shown, the intent not so much as to ferret out the truth about illegal activities, but, in fact, to inter the truth about possible corruption and complicity of favored government authorities in such illegal activities – we must find the willpower and the courage to fight for them.
And yes, it is, indeed, shaping out to be a fight. But no, not a fight that we are called upon to fight with our fists, or weapons, or even words. It is a fight we must fight in our minds: the fight to resist being psychologically and morally broken down by events, until we are mentally and spiritually weakened enough to accept this Culture of Death that is being forced upon us.
Indeed, it is a systematic and egregiously manipulative psychological warfare that is being waged against us, the Filipino nation.
Step one, sow discord and divisiveness among fellow Filipinos, pitting one against the other with the “if you are not with us, you are against us” mentality, which ignores the need for meaningful discourse and, instead, shoots any attempt at one down to hide the weaknesses and fallacies in their own arguments, aided by the rise of a cyber-trolling and fake news-spreading paid propaganda army.
Step two, spread fear among the populace through the publication of unverified drug hit lists that are so notoriously unreliable, they included individuals who are already dead.
Step three, use the war against drugs to sow even greater fear through the unmitigated and even explicitly emboldened use of fatal force against purported drug suspects, that has killed, not just those suspected of involvement with the illegal trade, but also innocent bystanders, including children and victims of mistaken identity.
Step four, use the war against drugs to slowly chip away the people’s expectation of respect and protection for their rights, including through questionable practices associated with warrantless searches and arrests, and further erosion of such expectation by threats of declaration of a national state of emergency and suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.
Step five, revise the history of Philippine democracy by giving a hero’s burial to the dictator – whose Martial Law regime saw, not just rampant corruption, but also heinous and gross violations of human rights, including thousands of victims of torture, summary execution, enforced disappearances, politically motivated arrests and imprisonment – in an attempt to obscure the line between out-and-out despotism and heroism, thus paving the way for the reemergence of a similar blight to our democratic way of life.
Step six, a series of disturbing events that appear to be paving the way for the declaration of martial law, or at least the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.
All of these things, which by themselves are already far from innocuous, when taken together attain an even greater level of insidiousness that only hints at the true horror that lies in wait for us: they are intended to slowly, but surely break us down. To make as see death as, not just the only workable solution to all of our nation’s woes, but even the “better one”. It is as if they are making us complicit in their crimes by making us accept such an imperfect and truly ineffective, quote-unquote, “solution” as capital punishment is the more acceptable solution than these spate of extrajudicial killings.
By wearing us down with all the killings that are taking place in our midst on an hourly basis – 1.58 deaths every hour or 38 deaths a day to be exact. The more desensitized we are to the death of our fellow human beings. The less shocking these occurrences become, the more accepting we are of “judicial” killings, perhaps thinking that the latter is the lesser of two evils and, hence, acceptable to a civilized and democratic society that is supposedly governed by the Rule of
Make no mistake, however, the revival of the Death Penalty is nothing more than the veritable desperate last stand of a tired, old, narcissist, who likely realizes that his temperament, skills set and parochial approach to governance, which includes his own brand of patronage politics and kumpare system, are ill-suited and, frankly, incapable of finding real and lasting solutions to the problems of the country he swore to serve. Thus, to hide his incompetence and failure, his go-to recourse has been to impose “final solutions” upon the very people he was entrusted to serve and protect, hoping that we are stupid and naive enough to mistake the body count for real accomplishments.
Yet, the primary argument for death fails: it is not a deterrent. To quote FLAG’s own Primer on the Death Penalty, “Deterrence is not a function of the penalty’s severity, but more a function of the certainty of prosecution and punishment. Very few criminals, if any, consider the penalty in the commission of crimes. What they consider is that they are not caught and, if they are caught, that they can be acquitted. The death penalty does not necessarily determine whether the crime will be committed or not, as there are other factors that come into play, such as need brought about by poverty, environment, education and values.”
The Deterrence Effect is not something that will be achieved by slapping the severest punishment on people, it requires effective law enforcement: from heightened crime prevention efforts and, if those fail, successful and effective crime detection, investigation and prosecution. It requires more effort from law enforcers like the police force than just drawing their guns and shooting at criminals point-blank. At the very least, the police should know the elements of the crimes they are preventing and investigating – a basic skill that Senate hearings have shown is deplorably lacking in some members of the police force, including high-ranking officials.
The fact that our so-called leaders are selling it to us as having such non-existent deterrent effect just goes to show the utter laziness that is infecting our leaders. They would rather kill instead of protect. They would rather risk killing the innocent, rather than make the effort to increase police visibility and enhance their investigative prowess. Apparently, that is too much to ask for.
I firmly disagree. I believe it is possible and it is worth it. That is why I am not only fighting the several legislative measures pending before the Senate that will bring back the death penalty, and championing my own alternative bill imposing qualified reclusion perpetua, but also championing other legislative measures that seek to empower, improve and modernize our criminal justice system to make it more effective and responsive to modern times.
Now, if the deterrent effect is a hoax, why then force this upon us? Perhaps, in reality, it is the retributive aspect of it that they are really working towards. But retribution for what?
Disturbingly, the motivation to hide incompetence is perhaps the more innocuous reason for re-imposing the Death Penalty if compared to another one: the motivation to suppress political dissent and seek retribution against political opponents. As much as regimes have touted the alleged deterrent effect of capital punishment against the commission of crime, what they are often, actually frighteningly useful for are as weapons for political oppression and suppression.
We need only look at our history to see that among the most prominent people who have been sentenced to death are those who have done the most unforgiveable of crimes: they fought for the Filipino people’s freedom. Andres and Procopio Bonifacio, Jose Rizal, Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos, Wenceslao Vinzons, among many others.
The death was never as much an effective instrument of justice, as it has been a horrifyingly potent weapon for the politically and militarily powerful to wield against those they seek to oppress and subjugate. Even then, however, seeing as how these victims have gone down in history as heroes and martyrs, death has been quite impotent to suppress their ideals and, to this day, people continue to fight for what is right regardless of the consequences for themselves – as was clearly and heroically displayed during the demonstrations last Wednesday, protesting the burial of Marcos at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani.
But that doesn’t stop autocrats, despots and unhinged narcissists from trying to stamp out the idealism in us.
In other words, the absolute worst part of this systematic psychological pressure cooker our own government is attempting to trap us in is that they see the goodness in our people and, instead of nourishing and making us a better and stronger nation by it, they are manipulating and using our very humanity as a weapon against us.
They are dealing the ultimate blow to us as individuals and as a people: they are stealing our identity and robbing us of our sense of higher purpose. They are committing the biggest crime against democracy – impairing their right to self-determination by disabling them from making informed and well-thought out decisions about their present and their future. It isn’t enough for them to rewrite our past, they want us to write our future in our own blood.
Before that happens, I ask the people here today: do you still know who you are and what your purpose is?
A year ago, I used to know what Filipinos stood for.
I knew if from the fact that, when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was being drafted, we not only took active part through our delegation chaired by none other than Carlos P. Romulo, but our delegate was also credited as “evoking the abuses — and worse — of the Nazi regime in Germany” to argue “forcefully against weakening the Declaration’s prohibition of torture by referring to local cultural customs,” saying that “[d]iluting the ban… could provide cover for those who cloak their abhorrent practices in cultural justification.”
I knew it from the fact that, after decades of suppression under Martial Law rule, our people came together in a peaceful and bloodless revolution that, not only toppled a dictator, but produced a Constitution that embodied human rights and social justice.
I knew it, too, when, seven years ago, we were all collectively outraged by a massacre perpetrated by those who thought that power and influence could give them impunity for killing dozens of innocent people in broad daylight, including women and journalists.
Now, near the end of 2016, after all the deaths and the still rising death toll, after all the wearying news about impunity and misogyny and lack of accountability for deaths happening under highly suspicious circumstances, to say the least: I ask everyone here if they still know who they are and what they stand for. Who do we seek when we look in the mirror? Are we Filipinos who still believe in the worth of Filipino lives – rich or poor? Or are we part of the faceless executioners hiding behind masks of either authority or anonymity?
There are lawyers, media practitioners, human rights advocates, students and public officials present here today. What identity do you assume out in the world? Are you defenders of the Rule of Law? Are you fighters for human rights?
Or are you among those who are already broken down that you are now prepared to surrender your humanity to those who would not just destroy it, but also use it destroy others? Are you, now, just another cog in this murderous machine?
Can you still stand up and say that you are not your government?
Or are you ready to accept defeat?
I know I may likely be preaching to the choir, but that is the crux of the matter isn’t it? If the members of the choir lose their faith, if they lose their identity, who else will go out there and defend the value of human life out in the world?
When we speak of people dying, there can be no passive observers. We must take a stand.
No to death penalty.
No to death.
No more killings. Enough with the lazy short cuts.
We want governance from our government, not executions from butchers.
Let Justice and the Rule of Law have its day.
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