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The Philippines’ Alarming Death Penalty U-Turn

Capital Punishment Bill Could Reach President Duterte’s Desk Soon

The Philippine House of Representatives voted today to reinstate the death penalty for serious drug-related offenses in yet another blow to the country’s deteriorating human rights situation.  

If the Philippine Senate approves a similar bill as expected and President Rodrigo Duterte then signs it into law, it would be a major setback both for human rights in the Philippines and for the global campaign to abolish capital punishment.  

Members of the Philippine Congress attend the third and final reading of the death penalty bill inside the House of the Representatives in Quezon city, metro Manila, Philippines March 7, 2017. © 2017 Reuters

In the past decade, the Philippines has been a regional leader in Southeast Asia in the campaign against capital punishment. In 2007 it ratified the optional protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on the abolishment of the death penalty – the first in the region to do so. Since then, it has supported several United Nations resolutions reaffirming a moratorium on capital punishment around the world. Now the Philippines will have the dubious distinction of becoming the first party to the protocol to restore the death penalty.

Reinstating the death penalty was one of Duterte’s major campaign promises and was the first bill proposed by the legislature after he took office in June 2016. In December, Duterte pledged to execute six criminals a day once the death penalty was reinstated. The speaker of the House of Representatives, Pantaleon Alvarez, has threatened legislators that they would lose positions in congressional committees if they didn’t vote to bring back capital punishment.

Coupled with the Duterte administration’s brutal “war on drugs” in which police and unidentified “vigilantes” have killed nearly 8,000 people since last July, the passage of this law would represent a double-whammy against human rights in the Philippines. Not only is capital punishment an inherently cruel punishment that is invariably imposed unfairly, but – contrary to what Duterte and others claim – it has not been shown to deter crime. Adding a veneer of legality to the bloodbath in the Philippines will make stopping it even harder.

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