President Duterte continues to push for the reintroduction of the death penalty in the Philippines for crimes including rape, murder, and the sale, production or import of narcotics. This is part of a trend of Duterte’s in which he attempts to push through increasingly draconian anti-drug laws, including a bill that proposes to lower the age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 9.
Capital punishment has had a varied history in the Philippines, which was the first country in Asia to abolish the punishment in 1987. It was brought back again in 1993 under President Ramos to help control crime and then suspended again in 2006 by President Macapagal Arroyo. Currently, the public mood amongst Filipinos is firmly against its reinstatement.
Thousands of people took to the streets of Manila in protest of capital punishment. As part of their bid for global attention, they have also begun the hashtag “#NotoDeathPenalty,” which has been trending on Twitter throughout the bill’s passage. This hashtag has been attached to photos of protesters, many of whom are masked for their own safety, posters created by human rights organizations, like Amnesty International or the Human Rights Watch, and thoughts on the subject by Filipino activists.
The phrase “No one is beyond redemption” is frequently quoted on protest boards and in tweets, which was adopted by protesters from a letter written by the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church last month. This letter was read aloud in every Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines and firmly decries Duterte’s attempts to reintroduce the death penalty. “[W]hen we decry murder,” the letter states, “we cannot ourselves participate in murder, no matter that it may be accompanied by the trappings of judicial and legal process.” The Roman Catholic Church, as a whole, has opposed the death penalty worldwide for decades, stating: “No matter how heinous the crime, if society can protect itself without ending a human life, it should do so.”
This line of reasoning is also consistent with the church’s continued opposition of Duterte’s tactics to stamp out drug use in the Philippines. Duterte has been pushing the limits of legality throughout his war on drugs by attempting to introduce far harsher penalties and laws against those involved in the drug trade, as well authorizing police and military action that frequently goes beyond the remit of those organizations. The Human Rights Watch put out a report yesterday confirming that “police routinely kill drug suspects in cold blood and then cover up their crime by planting drugs and guns at the scene.”
The report’s author, Peter Bouckaert, went even further in an interview following its publication, adding that “President Duterte’s role in these killings makes him ultimately responsible for the deaths of thousands.” If this bill gets through one more House and Senate reading and is signed by Duterte, that number could continue to skyrocket, making him ultimately responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of his own citizens.