Edcel Lagman, Albay first district representative, believed the death penalty will prove to become merely an anti-poor measure, together with the proposed lowering of the age of criminal accountability.
In his privilege speech on July 27, Wednesday, dubbed by many as Lagman’s “counter-State of the Nation Address (SONA), Lagman said that “The death penalty is anti-poor because indigent and marginalized litigants could not afford the high cost of top caliber and influential lawyers to secure their acquittal.”
Rep. Lagman is among those who call themselves the “authentic and real minority” in Congress supposedly serving as check and balance of the legislative. In his counter-SONA, he aired his misgivings about President Rodrigo Duterte’s priority thrusts, including his proposed federal form of government with a president as head of state.
Lagman cited a few statistics to back up his opposition: “During the campaign for the abolition of the death penalty, it was shown that 73.1 percent of death row inmates belonged to the lowest and lower income classes, and only 0.8 percent came from the upper socio-economic class,” showing the disparity between rich and poor when it came to issuance of a death sentence.
Moreover, Lagman claimed that the death penalty has failed to deter or stop the commission of heinous crimes not just in the country but as experienced in the world, “as validated by worldwide empirical and scientific studies,” he said.
Instead, he opined that “What deters the commission of crimes are certainty of apprehension, speedy prosecution, and inevitable conviction once warranted.”
Death penalty “illegal and unconstitutional,” says human rights lawyers
“Human justice is fallible….Only God can forfeit life. No human authority has the power to kill, even if judicially mandated as a recompense for another lost life,” Lagman further explained.
And Lagman is not alone in this sentiment. Human rights lawyers’ association Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) released a statement on how Duterte will violate the constitution as well as international law if he revives the death penalty.
“These actions are illegal and unconstitutional, render our legal system impotent and meaningless, and blatantly violate international law,” FLAG chairman Jose Diokno was quoted by The Manila Times.
He also cited Supreme Court data, saying that 71 percent of the death sentences handed down by the trial courts were actually wrongfully imposed, which meant that 7 out of 10 convicts on death row were handed the wrong conviction. Since they are poor, “they have no voice, no money, no power, and lack the resources to hire good lawyers,” Diokno said.
Diokno suggested instead to establish a better justice system, “not a new one based on the barrel of a gun.”
During the first SONA, Duterte pushed for a major shift to federalism along with radical tax reforms, emergency powers to address the worsening traffic situation, and the extension of passport and driver’s license validity, to name a few.
However, it will be noted that Duterte’s SONA did not touch on the revival of the death penalty or the lowering of the age of criminal accountability. But it is common knowledge, however, that these two measures have been the thrust of Duterte’s PDP Laban Party, particularly his party mates House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III.
On lowering the age of criminal liability
Alvarez, Pimentel and other proponents believe that fewer parents will allow their children to be used by crime syndicates if the age of criminal responsibility is lowered from 15 years old to 9 years old. However, Alvarez, having co-authored the bill to lower the age limit, assured that minors involved in crimes and are caught will be rehabilitated instead of being imprisoned with hardened criminals.
However, Lagman refuted this as “retrogression” and no better than the proposed re-imposition of the death penalty. According to the lawmaker, “The correct response is to make the use of children 15 years old and under in criminal activities as an aggravating circumstance which cannot be offset by a mitigating circumstance, and charge parents or guardians with culpable default in due exercise of parental authority and discipline in the rearing of their children.”
In addition, Lagman reminded that Alvarez’s bill actually violates the United Convention on the Rights of a Child and that the Philippines is a signatory to this.
“Lowering the age of culpability to 9 years old is a patent backsliding which is inconsistent with our treaty obligations,” he added.
Lagman also cast doubts on the effectiveness of federalism in the Philippines.
“It appears the centerpiece agenda of the present administration is to convert the Philippines from a unitary to a federal state. However, the anchorage of the proposed federalism is nebulous and the project benefits are grossly tentative,” said Lagman.
Lagman also cited points why federalism won’t work in the Philippines:
- It would worsen regional rivalries.
- Only NCR, Central Luzon and Southern Luzon can be self-sufficient.
- It would confuse jurisdiction between state and national government.
- Bureaucratic would only grow even bigger.
- It would not be enough to satisfy Mindanao separatists.
- Changing to federalism would mean spending billions of pesos.
- Economic and political dynasties would be able to establish themselves more.
Lagman also called on people not to be carried away by what were suggested as federalism’s “superior efficacy and unvalidated benefits.”