Sometime in 1999, Leo Echegaray was the first to have gone through lethal injection. He was sentenced to suffer the death penalty for raping his stepdaughter, Baby.
According to Republic Act 7659 or the Death Penalty Law, An Act to Impose Death Penalty on Certain Heinous Crimes, Amending for that Purpose the Revised Penal Laws and for Other Purposes, specifically Art. 335, “The death penalty shall also be imposed if the crime of rape is committed with any of the following attendant circumstances:
1. When the victim is under eighteen (18) years of age and the offender is a parent, ascendant, step-parent, guardian, relative by consanguinity or affinity within the third civil degree, or the common-law spouse of the parent of the victim.
2. …x x x
Because of the foregoing, Echegaray was found guilty.
For death penalty to apply, the offense committed must be a heinous crime which, according to the law, must be grievous, odious and hateful and which, by reason of their inherent or manifest wickedness, viciousness, atrocity and perversity are repugnant and outrageous to the common standards and norms of decency and morality in a just, civilized and ordered society.
It is not only the crime of rape that is punishable by death. Other crimes, depending on their attendant circumstances, like treason, qualified piracy, parricide, murder, kidnapping, robbery and arson also carries with it the penalty of death.
On June 24, 2006, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed Republic Act no. 9346 or “An Act Prohibiting the Imposition of Death Penalty in the
Philippines. Because of this, the Arroyo government has gained criticisms. To the aggrieved parties – condemnation and to the accused and sentenced to death – Hope!
But for me, it is therefore necessary for us to consider both sides of the issues before jumping into a desirable conclusion.
The following are the cited disadvantages of the law: (1) death penalty fails to rehabilitate.
It is not true that when there is “fear of death” it will prevent one from committing a crime because most crimes are done on the “heat of passion”, that is when a person cannot think rationally.
(2) Death penalty failed as a deterrent. Death is one penalty which makes error irreversible and the chance of error is inescapable when based on human judgment. Contrary to public belief, the death penalty does not act as a deterrent to crime based on studies and researches conducted. “Expert after expert and study after study have emphasized and emphasized the lack of correlation between the threat of the death penalty and the occurrence of violent crime”(Meador 69).
Actual statistics about the deterrent value of capital punishment are not available because it is impossible to know who may have been deterred from committing a crime.
(3) Death penalty does not discourage crime. Everyday there are many reports of robbery hold-up, murder and kidnapping. It is noted that what we need is an extreme penalty as a deterrent to crime. This could be a strong argument if it could be proved that the death penalty discourages murderers and kidnappers.
(4) Conviction of the innocent occurs. “It is better to free a criminal than kill an innocent man”. Conviction of the innocent does occur and thus resulted to miscarriage of judgment and it is irrevocable.
(5) Death penalty violates human dignity/rights. An argument against the death penalty is the basic moral issue of conservation of human rights and humanity. The argument of retribution would be even easier to dismiss if it consisted only of a base thirst for revenge. According to the opponents of the death penalty, “it demeans the moral order and execution is not legalized murder – nor is imprisonment legalized kidnapping – but it is the coldest, most premeditated for of homicide of all. It does something almost worse than lowering the state to the moral level of the criminal: it raises the criminal to moral equality with the social order” (Hertzberg, 49). Indeed, one of the ironies of death penalty is that it focuses attention and sympathy on the criminal.
Despite the presence of several disadvantages, the law also has advantages.
(1) Death feared. Most people have a natural fear of death – it’s a trait man have to think about before acting. The death penalty is important because it could save the lives of thousands of potential victims who are at stake. Death is an experience that cannot be experienced and ends all experience. Because it is unknown as it is certain, death is universally feared.
(2) Innocent executed – no proof. According to those who are anti-death penalty law, there were lots of innocent men wrongly executed. But there was no proof to the contrary!
(3) Death penalty saves lives. There is never a chance given to criminals to “pay-back” or commit revenge to the family members of the victims who never stopped until the case is closed. Repeat murders are eliminated and foreseeable murders are deterred. Potential victims are avoided. One must consider the victim as well as the defendant. Hence, the death penalty is vital to protect a person’s right to live!
(4) Death penalty deterrent effect. If we do not know whether the death penalty will deter others from committing a crime, we will be confronted with two uncertainties. If we have the death penalty and achieve no deterrent effect, then, the life of convicted criminals has been expanded in vain. If we have the death sentence, and deter future murderers, we spared the lives of future victims – the prospective murderers gain, too; they are spared from punishment because they were deterred.
Death penalty is not excessive, unnecessary punishment, for those who knowingly and intentionally commits murder in premeditation to take lives of others. Even though it is not used more often, it is still a threat to the criminals.
(5) Less expensive. The belief that execution is more expensive than imprisonment is false. The expenses in maintaining in prison many criminals for almost their lifetime far outweighs the cost of the apparatus and maintenance of the procedures attending the death penalty.
These are only some among the many advantages and disadvantages provided by the proponents and opponents of the death penalty law.
If people will weigh the arguments properly, and have empathy for the victims, they will be more inclined to favor the death penalty. Death penalty help to curtail future murderers thus, can save more lives, more innocent lives. In a moralist point of view, on the other hand, it is a mortal sin to take another’s life. That we need not put the law into our own hands. That there is God who will judge each one on Earth with fairness and equality.
Whether or not death penalty law is enforced, the effectiveness of which depends on its implementation and execution and the quality of our criminal justice system. It is an internal problem. It is to be noted however, that in our society, seldom have we found a rich and wealthy criminal sentenced to death or even sent to jail. Because it is them who can afford to avail the services of a great lawyer who can twist and turn the arguments.
The recent admission of Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban that a “judicial error” has been committed in the conviction and execution of Leo Echegaray has prompted a hail of criticisms regarding the infallibility of the High Court magistrates. According to Panganiban, Echegaray should only be penalized by reclusion perpetua since it was not proven during the trial that he was the father, step-father or grandfather of the victim, a qualifying circumstance for him to have been meted the capital punishment.
The existence or non-existence of a death penalty law is not an accurate measure for one to say that security and peace in the society cannot be fully achieved. It will all depend on us. If we are only God fearing and morally upright, responsible enough to know the consequences of our actions, no penalty of any sort is necessary.
But it is indeed true that there is no perfect society. All we have are only wishes and hopes to at least have a community that supports the needs of the inhabitants in an orderly manner.
Whether or not to abolish the death penalty law is a question that will forever be talked about. One cannot actually say yes to it if he has been a victim or a relative of such injustice, so to speak. Once death penalty it is carried out there is no reversing the outcome. Death penalty is a matter of justice and equality.
Thus, we need to weigh both sides of the arguments carefully and make our decisions based on the action that will serve the best humanitarian purpose of criminal law.