2 December 2016
Message of Vice President Leni Robredo delivered by Atty. Jazmin Banal, Legal Head of the Office of the Vice President, at the Forum on the Right to Life & The Death Penalty, UP Law Center, Malcolm Theater, UP Diliman, Quezon City, December 2, 2016
I assume that you are all Law students. Your family tree might have a lawyer or two in it, or perhaps you’re going to be the first.
Or maybe you realized that the law could be an instrument for good, that it could be a tool for positive social change and governance reform.
In other words, reflection and discernment must always precede action. When I was your age, many, many years ago, I also thought hard about what I wanted to do and what I wanted to become.
My father was a long-time judge who always sought to honor the spirit of the law, and his work inspired me to pursue the same career.
It took me a while, before I proceeded to Law School. By the time I studied law, I was already married and raising a family and holding a full-time job. I was then a professor of economics in Naga City.
I was a teacher during the day and a law school student at night and I was married with children. It wasn’t easy, and I’ve wrestled with some tremendous disappointments. What helped me overcome each setback was this conviction: that the law should be on the side of those who are vulnerable to its maneuverings. And the most vulnerable are always the poorest, those who occupy the fringes of our society.
After I passed the bar, I joined the Public Attorney’s Office, defending the rights of indigent clients. Thereafter, I joined SALIGAN, it’s an acronym for Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligal, a nonprofit organization composed of lawyers.
I am sorry to say it’s based in Ateneo, on the wrong side of Diiman.
Together, we gave free advice to farmers and fisherfolk involved in legal disputes, so that no one could use their poverty and lack of education against them.
While working with these communities, I remember that my colleagues and I would sleep in makeshift huts, sometimes in boats when the fishermen would take a break. It was rough work and we lost our own share of cases, but every win was true and fulfilling, and every win meant the world to people we helped.
I wanted to tell you all of these, because as lawyers, we must look beyond the textbooks and into the lives of the people we serve. The Filipino poor are not faceless facts. Only by respecting the dignity of each person can we hope to empower them and transform them into our co-equals in reform.
Each one of you who has intimate knowledge of the law can be an amazing resource in the work of nation building.
Now to the matter at hand. Three days ago, the House Committee on Justice approved the substitute bill reinstating Capital Punishment for heinous crimes in the Philippines.
This move comes 17 years after the last execution was done in our country. The last execution was held in 1999, and the story then is that the commutation of the sentence was a few minutes late.
Thereafter, a moratorium on executions was declared and an eventual repeal of the law allowing for the Death Penalty was signed through Republic Act 9346. This, however, did not end the discussion on the issue. From the time that it was repealed to the present, the national debate on its reposition has been on-going.
This debate is not localized in the Philippines. Almost all nations in the world has had this debate at some point in their histories. Up until the end of the Second World War, capital punishment has been a common trend globally, especially for crimes committed during the time of war. After peace was established, this trend started to wane when Human Rights was put at the forefront of the global discourse.
In 1948, the United Nations adopted the International Declaration on Human Rights – emphasizing the right of every person to life. This was followed by a string of abolitions of capital punishment in European and other western countries.
Today, it is a norm in the European Union to prohibit the Death Penalty among its member states for both wartime and peacetime crimes. According to Amnesty International, 140 countries worldwide are now abolitionists in law or in practice when it comes to Death Penalty.
This begs the question, is capital punishment an effective deterrent to criminality?
Numerous studies have been made, trying to answer this very question. Most of the papers that have come out on the issues show that there is no correlation between lowering of crime rates and the legalization of Capital Punishment.
A study made by Amnesty International compared Singapore and Hong Kong – two states with similar population sizes but different philosophies on Death Penalty. The study showed that Singapore, despite having a very high rate of executions, had little difference to the crime rates of Hong Kong, which does not enforce Capital Punishment.
We are, therefore, left to wonder what is an effective way of deterring crimes? We are of the opinion that the severity of the punishment is not a problem and will not lessen crime in the country. It is the timely and effective delivery of justice that will be a deterrent for criminals.
The certainty of punishment for crimes will ensure that people avoid committing crimes and breaking the law. Once a citizen knows that he or she will be punished for a crime it will prevent them from committing it. The fear of death will not be a hindrance to crime, when we have an imperfect justice system.
In addition, we believe that every person should be given a second chance at life. Convicted criminals should be rehabilitated and given a chance for reintegration. We have heard numerous stories about how a criminal finished school inside the penitentiary and eventually became a productive member of society once they were done serving their sentence.
The right to life is a right that is enjoyed by every person. The government has a duty to protect this right for every citizen – a convicted felon or not.
We should not give up on those who have done wrong and exhaust all means possible to help the rehabilitate and reintegrate into society.
The best deterrents to crime are driven by markets, too. When economies are doing well, poverty is held at bay, and when social safety nets are in place, people are focused on living a good life rather than making life miserable for others. Crime is a multi-dimensional issue that cannot be solved, simply by the threat of capital punishment.
This is why the Office of the Vice President has embarked on a five-prong anti-poverty program called Angat Buhay: Partnerships Against Poverty. We are focusing on rural development, hunger and food security, education, public health and nutrition, and women empowerment.
These five areas, we believe, are the most urgent areas we can work on efficiently and swiftly in the next six years. Through the proper reforms, we hope to eradicate poverty eventually.
It is really the endurance of reform that I hope to bring to this country, so that the fruits of good governance are never beyond the reach of our people.
In a political environment such as ours, the welfare of the ordinary Filipino is often shelved in the most terrible name of greed, in the name of greater wealth and power.
In our history, this manifested most brutally in a dictatorship where rights were disposed of as swiftly as bodies were.
We must not let this happen again.
We must not allow our people—especially the poor—to be rendered disposable, to be degraded as mere numbers in a game of blood and bullets.
No, the Filipino people must always be the fulcrum of our endeavors.
Only then can we aspire for real solutions that actually work.
Only then can we truly say that we hope to serve well, and that we hope to make a difference, however small.
Thank you very much, at mabuhay kayong lahat!