While arguments and case studies matter, it is also important to look at the faces behind the issue.
Figure 1. Death Penalty. Behind the Yeas and Nays. Source: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/yMFsBsqOQaU/maxresdefault.jpg
The Reimposition of the death penalty is gaining traction, at least in the House of Representatives. On March 1 2017, the House of Representatives has approved House Bill No. 4727 (Proposed Death Penalty Law) on 2nd reading through a viva voce vote. This despite efforts from the minority bloc in Congress, led by Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman, to pursue amendments in the proposed measure by lowering the penalty to ‘reclusion perpetua’. It is expected though that the Death Penalty Bill will face tougher opposition in the Senate. The reimposition of the Death Penalty is considered one of the priority measures of the Duterte administration.
House Bill No. 4727 zeroes in on the punishment of perpetrators for drug-related offenses as it did not include rape and plunder, among many others in this version of the Death Penalty Bill. Historically, it is important to note that the reimposition of death penalty in 1993, through Republic Act No. 7659, was meant to curb the rising criminality and incidence of heinous crimes following a series of high profile crimes then which included the murder of Eileen Sarmenta and Allan Gomez. It is said that President Duterte won the elections due to his strong pronouncements during the campaign against illegal drugs.
The arguments for or against the reimposition of death penalty have been presented to the public since time memorial. We have seen public debates, read publications and even went through case studies in order to examine its effectivity in curbing criminality across many countries. While arguments and case studies matter, it is also important to look at the faces behind the issue and how this relates to the public's acceptance or rejection of most recent moves to reimpose death penalty in the country.
The move to restore death penalty in the country is led by no less than the President of the country, President Rodrigo Duterte. President Duterte continues to enjoy the trust and confidence of majority of Filipinos, as evidenced by the most recent popularity surveys conducted by both SWS and Pulse Asia. His campaign against illegal drugs, particularly 'Oplan Tokhang', has resonated and marked in every home and community. While many human rights groups and advocates have condemned extra-judicial killings that may have been committed in this campaign, there are still many out there who believe that 'the end justifies the means,' which is to exterminate all drug-related offenders who continue to sow fear and criminality in every neighborhood and community in this country. Despite drawing a mixed reaction on this campaign, the President clearly still enjoys strong support from the people countrywide.
Meanwhile, the opposition to the death penalty is led by Liberal Party stalwarts. Led by Vice President Leni Robredo, public statements have been made left and right by its leaders denouncing recent moves to reimpose the death penalty. It is also important to note that most recently, Sen. Leila De Lima, a known Liberal Party ally and member of the previous Aquino administration, was arrested for charges wherein she allegedly received money from drug dealers inside the Bilibid Prisons. While the cause against the reimposition of death penalty may be legitimate, the motivations of the Liberal Party may be tainting the anti-Death Penalty bloc as it seems it is only out there to seek political vengeance against a group that so handily defeated its standard-bearer in the last elections and to save the life of its fledging member from the death row. The political motivations of the Liberal Party is said to be having an effect on the credibility of moves against the death penalty.
Church leaders, led by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, are also against the reimposition of the death penalty. Strong pronouncements against the death penalty have been heard across all churches and have been delivered through mainstream media. Since the beginning of the Duterte administration, they have been at odds with the President over a lot of issues, particularly on the concept of social justice. But why does it seem there is a huge disconnect now between the Catholic Church and the people? Despite calls to not vote for a murderer in some of the homilies delivered prior to the 2016 Elections, obviously pertaining to now President Duterte, the President won handily over his next predecessor by a wide margin. It seems that the controversial issues surrounding its own backyard have diminished its credibility as the moral vanguard of Philippine Society. Moreover, it is said that the church’s leaders have frequently gone beyond over the line when it comes to its separation with that of the State.
The characters and personalities on the issue of the reimposition of the Death Penalty have a significant effect on the public's perception of the proposed measure. It is impossible to inseparably judge the arguments for or against with that of the personalities. The public lens on the matter is focused both on the arguments and its proponents/opponents. The competition to win over both Senators and the general public's support not only lies in both camps' ability to persuade interested parties with their words but also with their ability to clean their own ranks and prove their credibility. The standards to gain public support on an issue have gone up on a higher ground. People will not only judge an issue today based on the usual standards of an argument's logic and soundness but also on the credibility of the proponents/opponents to carry out their words and promises and translate them into implementable actions. Thus, in order to win the argument for or against death penalty, the characters, personalities and groups leading each side will have to reimpose upon themselves the credibility required to be believable in the eyes of the general public.