In Memory of the Death Penalty

As reported in BBC News, the United States Supreme Court stopped the execution of a death convict, pending a determination if the chemicals to be used in the execution would cause pain (based on the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment). The challenge, however, is not based on the argument that the death penalty per se is unconstitutional.

The same is true in the Philippines, where the Philippine Supreme Court dismissed questions on the constitutionality of the Death Penalty Law (Republic Act No. 7659), in relation to the Lethal Injection Law (R.A. 8177). However, on 24 June 2006, Pres. Macapagal-Arroyo signed a new law – Republic Act 9346 – which abolished the death penalty.

The debate for and against the death penalty had been vigorous. In fact, in Echegaray vs. Secretary of Justice (Leo Echegaray is the first convict executed after the reimposition of the death penatly), the Philippine Supreme Court noted:

A last note. In 1922, the famous Clarence Darrow predicted that “x x x the question of capital punishment has been the subject of endless discussion and will probably never be settled so long as men believe in punishment.” In our clime and time when heinous crimes continue to be unchecked, the debate on the legal and moral predicates of capital punishment has been regrettably blurred by emotionalism because of the unfaltering faith of the pro and anti-death partisans on the right and righteousness of their postulates. To be sure, any debate, even if it is no more than an exchange of epithets is healthy in a democracy. But when the debate deteriorates to discord due to the overuse of words that wound, when anger threatens to turn the majority rule to tyranny, it is the especial duty of this Court to assure that the guarantees of the Bill of Rights to the minority fully hold. As Justice Brennan reminds us “x x x it is the very purpose of the Constitution – - – and particularly the Bill of Rights – - – to declare certain values transcendent, beyond the reach of temporary political majorities.” Man has yet to invent a better hatchery of justice than the courts. It is a hatchery where justice will bloom only when we can prevent the roots of reason to be blown away by the winds of rage. The flame of the rule of law cannot be ignited by rage, especially the rage of the mob which is the mother of unfairness. The business of courts in rendering justice is to be fair and they can pass their litmus test only when they can be fair to him who is momentarily the most hated by society.

Only recently, years after the Echegaray case was decided by the Supreme, the ruling still evoked controversy when Chief Justice Panganiban stated that the decision was a “judicial error”.

This debate will not end with the repeal of the Death Penalty Law. Let us know what’s on your mind.

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