On Capital Punishment

The re-imposition of capital punishment is again a hot topic. We need a new body of laws that looks at modern crimes in a new light.  

The re-imposition of capital punishment is again a hot topic. Over the years, I have changed my mind about it. I resisted it when I was younger: it is not the way to improve overall justice, criminals can be rehabilitated, and this extreme punishment usually involved the poor. 

I have changed my mind about it, though, because of the emergence of what I call “modern crimes” which involve multiple victims, and which have long-term adverse consequences to society. These are: (a) White-collar crimes (government plunderers, grifters of government funds, scammers with hundreds if not thousands of victims); (b) Crimes that destroy nature and therefore affect present and future generations; and (c) Crimes involving drug lords/syndicates which can turn the country into a narco-state with irreparable damage on the polity, and whose activities maim or kill young Filipinos, with adverse effects on the future of the country. I don’t think perpetrators of these “modern crimes” can be rehabilitated. If imprisoned, they can use their money to get out again, and almost all of them are greedy rich.

I do not favor capital punishment for perpetrators of crimes such as rape, murder, or homicide; I believe these perpetrators can be rehabilitated. Most of these are crimes of passion, or crimes committed under the influence of liquor or illegal drugs, which can be mitigating circumstances. Also, capital punishment, if focused on these crimes, tend to be anti-poor.

The critical distinction I make between those deserving capital punishment or not are: (a) The number of the victim population: We should be extreme on those who victimize not just individuals but the society or community. (b) Damage to the present and future generation: We should be equally extreme on those who do damage not only for the current population but future generation as well. 

We need a new body of laws that looks at modern crimes in a new light. For too long, the penal code has looked only at crimes against individuals, but not so much at crimes against communities and societies. Maybe we should be focusing our attention on the latter.

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About the Author
Mr. Oscar F. Picazo is a retired specialist in health systems, health economics, and social policy. He has worked in 24 countries for the World Bank, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and as an independent consultant. He returned to the Philippines in 2009 and became a senior research consultant for the Philippine Institute of Development Studies.
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