(New York) – The Philippine House of Representatives should reject a proposal to reinstate the death penalty, Human Rights Watch said today. On November 29, 2016, the Judicial Reforms Subcommittee approved Congress House Bill No. 1 (Death Penalty Law), which would reinstate capital punishment for “heinous crimes,” including murder, piracy, and the trafficking and possession of illegal drugs. A house vote on the bill is likely before the end of 2016.
“The Philippine government should acknowledge the death penalty’s barbarity and reject any moves to reinstate it,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director. “The failure of the death penalty as a crime deterrent is globally recognized and the government should maintain the prohibition on its use.”
In a joint letter drafted by the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), a network of nongovernmental organizations that focuses on issues related to drug production, trafficking, and use, the consortium urged all members of the Philippine House of Representatives and Senate to uphold the right to life enshrined in the 1987 Philippines Constitution. The Philippines is also party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and to the Second Optional Protocol of the ICCPR on the abolishment of the death penalty. The consortium also urged Philippine lawmakers to ensure proportionate sentencing of drug offenses to protect the vulnerable, and invest in harm reduction approaches to protect the health and wellbeing of Filipino people.
The Philippine government abolished the death penalty under article III, section 19 of the 1987 constitution. President Fidel Ramos reimposed the death penalty in 1993 as a “crime control” measure, but President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo reinstated abolition in 2006.
The alleged deterrent effect of the death penalty has been repeatedly debunked. Most recently, on March 4, 2015, the United Nations assistant secretary-general for human rights, Ivan Simonovic, stated that there was “no evidence that the death penalty deters any crime.” Even with respect to murder, an Oxford University analysis concluded that capital punishment does not deter “murder to a marginally greater extent than does the threat and application of the supposedly lesser punishment of life imprisonment.”
Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty.
Reinstating the death penalty would violate the Philippines’ international legal obligations. The Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR states that “no one within the jurisdiction of a State Party to the present Protocol shall be executed” and that “each State Party shall take all necessary measures to abolish the death penalty within its jurisdiction.”
Where the death penalty is permitted, human rights law limits the death penalty to “the most serious crimes,” typically crimes resulting in death or serious bodily harm. In a March 2010 report, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime called for an end to the death penalty and specifically urged member countries to prohibit use of the death penalty for drug-related offenses, while urging countries to take an overall “human rights-based approach to drug and crime control.” In its 2014 annual report, the International Narcotics Control Board, the agency charged with monitoring compliance with UN drug control conventions, encouraged countries to abolish the death penalty for drug offenses. The UN Human Rights Committee and the special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions have concluded that the death penalty for drug offenses fails to meet the condition of “most serious crime.” In September 2015, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reaffirmed that “persons convicted of drug-related offences … should not be subject to the death penalty.”
“Reinstatement of the death penalty won’t solve any drug-related societal problems that Congress House Bill No. 1 seeks to address,” Kine said. “It will only add to the already horrific death toll that President Rodrigo Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ has inflicted on Filipinos since he took office on June 30.”