Here’s the thing with the death penalty bill as passed by the House of Representatives on Tuesday. It’s so ill-timed, it disallowed debate and discussion, it refused any amendments – unless it’s agreed upon during the majority caucuses – and ultimately it revealed how a majority of our Congress representatives do not represent the people who voted them into power.
Instead they have agreed, as per this death penalty bill, that if any of their constituents are so much as caught with drugs, from cocaine to marijuana, that they must be sentenced to death.
Yes, death for mere possession. You will be killed by the State for possession. It is equal to what a drug lord, dealer, or manufacturer will get under this death penalty law.
Though of course given the current state of affairs, when purported drug suspects are being killed on our streets daily – eight on Tuesday, on the first day of Tokhang 2 – so many might just shrug their shoulders and think: oh well.
But there is nothing to be apathetic about as far as the imposition of the death penalty is concerned. This is not about being afraid only if you’re a criminal – as we’ve heard Duterte supporters dismiss those who are against Tokhang.
This is about admitting the truth that our justice system is not equipped, is not credible enough, is not just enough, for it to decide on the death of any person.
The Philippine Development Plan itself of the Duterte government admits that there is one public attorney for every three courts in the present (page 68). In 2013, the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) found that from 2005 to 2010, lower courts faced a caseload averaging 4,221 cases per working day. This produced a caseload of 1,059,484 cases for each of those six years, yet the resolution of cases throughout those same years were slow, and was even slower by 2012 (Philippine Star, 14 Jun 2013).
Also in 2013, Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno said that “the backlog in the lower courts was more than 600,000 cases” (Business World, 26 June 2015). The Supreme Court itself noted that “80% of the backlog in the first- and second-level courts involve criminal cases, and that delays in those cases are caused mainly by lack of prosecutors, absence of prosecution witnesses, and lack of Public Attorneys’ Office lawyers” (Inquirer.net, 2 Feb 2013).
The 2017 numbers are even more distressing. There is one court for every 50,000 people, says Justice Sereno. If we were still working with the 2005-2010 statistic of more than 4,000 cases daily, that would mean that each judge handles 644 cases annually: almost double the number of days in the year (ASEAN Today, 6 Feb 2017).
The justice system is so unwell, there is so much to fix, and the magnitude of just this backlog is astounding.
We’re not even layering all that with issues of corruption at this point.
There is also no point in insisting – no matter what the President says – that drugs are the root of all evil, and therefore it is what should be kept off our streets and out of our lives.
Because we know of evil in this country. And the face of violence and oppression is not always built upon a relationship with drugs.
There is evil in the countryside, where activists are being picked up and disappeared, where Lumad are being displaced from their homes and murdered. There is evil in oligarchs’ huge plots of lands in the provinces, where peasants are fooled by feudal lords, made to work under inhumane conditions, paid a pittance for land that is rightfully theirs.
There is evil in the plunder of our natural resources, the kind that many large-scale transnational mining companies have done across the country, the kind that so many governments before this one have allowed to happen, even as citizens lose their livelihood and homes, even as fact-finding missions and research have found rivers polluted, mountains chopped off, forests denuded, farmlands gone, people impoverished.
There is evil in the decision to spend P50 million pesos of taxpayers’ money on reviewing the mining audit of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), which will purportedly be objective and fair and scientific – without promising to be transparent about who will make up the review committees, and without ensuring that none of those in the review committee have ever worked for, or have ever been employed, by any of these mines. Ah, but why expect transparency when the one who’s pushing for this review – Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez – has worked for mines himself?
There is evil in governments past – and present! – that will watch wealthy oligarchs get away with large-scale tax evasion, and yet insist on all sorts of taxes that make the poor and middle-income earners suffer more than they already do. There is evil in allowing a foreign factory like HTI get away with recklessly endangering its workers, and refusing an investigation into the reported at least 1,000 dead in that two-day fire.
There is evil in our streets, when we’ve got thousands dead in the name of the war on drugs, many of whom are said to be on drug lists that remain highly questionable, and absolutely incredible, especially when one hears on the ground that it is built upon tsismis: enough people in the neighborhood say your name, and you’re on there.
There is evil here and now, as we’ve had it all these years. And sure, drugs can be an evil, but it is not the end all and be all, and certainly it is not the worst kind of evil out there.
Next time we’re looking at crimes – heinous and otherwise – that deserve death, we should look at a list of our politicians. In fact, let’s start with that Congress majority. ***
Published in The Manila Times, March 9 2017.