Death penalty and Sara Duterte: The somber and the bizarre

Death penalty and Sara Duterte: The somber and the bizarre Featured

THE past two weeks’ op-ed pages, TV talking heads, social media blogs and comments echoed the SONA interpretations of the President’s intent or non-intent. Their critique and follow-up stories, both constructive and negative, were roughly split in two major categories — the somber and the bizarre. An example of the former dealt with the instructions by the Deegong to his subalterns in Congress to reinstate the death penalty covering crimes involving illegal drugs. The bizarre involves the President’s daughter imploring God for signs for her next political moves. But I am getting ahead of my narrative.

A cursory reading of the pros and cons were argued from the point of view of how President Duterte sits with the proponents. The DDS and fist pumpers epitomized by the newly minted senator Bato de la Rosa, architect of Duterte’s bloody campaign of the dreaded “tokhang” that resulted in thousands of deaths, will be filing a bill in Congress to reinstate the death penalty. Incongruously, he declared that as a devout Catholic, he goes through “…confession to seek forgiveness after he has killed criminals.” His doppelganger, Sen. Bong Go goes further to include “…heinous crimes such as illegal drugs and corruption… and plunder convicts.” If passed by both houses, we will soon see legal executions not seen perhaps since the French guillotine was devised. Some cynics view the reinstatement of the death penalty as simply the formalization of what DU30’s government is being accused of — extrajudicial killings (EJK).

But one anti-death penalty columnist carried the cudgels for the opposing side and argued on the “cost-benefit” of a death sentence. He posits that the appeal of the classic deterrent effect of a death sentence is not due to its severity but on the certainty and consistency of carrying out a severe punishment. Death itself does not deter crimes but when punishment comes swiftly, consistently and inexorably, then perhaps the deterrent appeal (of a death sentence) could be effective. He may be right, particularly in the Philippines where statistics bear him out. Despite years of capital punishment protocol, statistics show heinous crimes have not declined. This is attributable to the uncertainty of punishment where the rich can get away with crime, the poor don’t, and the justice system sucks.

On the other hand, the proponent of capital punishment argues in a linear manner. You kill a murderer legally so he may not kill again. You kill a rapist so he will not rape again. You kill a plunderer so he will not plunder again, ever. Period! This could be akin to a child who touches a hot oven. The punishment is instant, severe and deadly. This will deter the child from touching a hot oven ever again. Lesson learned.

This killing ethos nurtured by our President is perhaps a reflection of his success as a local executive in what was once a lawless city, a laboratory of the communist pogrom in Davao in the 1970s and 1980s; or a flaw in his character as simply a manifestation of his alpha proclivities. Therefore, I shall not pass judgment on the man as even the Catholic hierarchy has its tail between the legs when confronted by the Deegong’s public moral outrages.

Be that as it may, the arguments for and against capital punishment have been debated internationally for years. Until 1986, the Philippines had capital punishment in its statutes, but a moratorium was imposed by the Cory regime as an affirmation of the country’s Catholic heritage. In 1993, President FVR reimposed the death penalty and executions were resumed during President Erap’s time in 1999. And towards the end of President GMA’s term, Congress passed a law abolishing capital punishment. But the debate goes on and on, and this “urong-sulong” may yet take another turn, if DU30’s minions will carry the day in Congress. My take on this is somewhat altruistic. Capital punishment is a cry for society’s collective desire for revenge for a wrong done. In the olden days, this was embedded in the concept of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” But our culture will no longer permit individual revenge — as this too is a crime if resulting in murder or death. So civilized society concocted capital punishment, translating the individual’s lust for vengeance into civil and collective catharsis.

Now back to the bizarre. One such ridiculous digression from the country’s pressing concerns is Apollo Quiboloy interviewing Sara Duterte on her political plans for 2022. Sara intimated that she was praying for guidance, allowing God a target date for His signs to appear by January 2020. Very considerate of her, yet superfluous as she was in fact already talking to the “appointed son of God.” True enough, Quiboloy has anointed her as the next president of the republic. We will either waste energy speculating on Sara’s ascendancy to the throne upon the instance of an influential charlatan and the subsequent appearance and distractions of other wannabees contesting her; or buckle down to work in the next three years advancing the tattered remains of DU30’s legacy.

I am wary about leaders consulting God publicly on their political plans. This may have been acceptable in ancient times when the Deity was believed to intervene in the affairs of men and give instructions to prophets from behind burning bushes. Certainly, it is stretching imagination too far when political leaders, as they have been wont to do during election season, trek to prayer mountains or their personal Mount Sinai to seek and receive affirmation of their political agenda.

If one recalls, in 2009, Mar Roxas was the Liberal Party’s niño bonito and was the leading presidential contender until Tita Cory with exquisite timing exited the scene. And the son, PNoy, thereafter decided to seek God’s guidance and discern what the almighty’s plans were for him. Looking back, God must have cringed at the effrontery of this heir presumptive supplicating divine aid to become president. And since “vox populi vox dei,” God must have made a mistake.

But I want us to go back to the realities at hand and what the Deegong articulately put:

“Though we cannot change the past, we will not squander the future. I will push harder in the pursuit of programs that we have started, but always within the parameters of the law. I will not merely coast along or while away my time during the remaining years of my administration. It ain’t my style. But I will not stop until I reach the finish line. Then and only then shall I call it a day.

“Our goal for the next three years is clear: a comfortable life for everybody, all Filipinos. We have made significant strides and accomplished signal milestones as a nation in the past three years. This momentum must continue with greater fervor in the next three years and beyond.”

So, stop this prattle about Sara becoming the next president. We still have this unenviable task of making this current president become truly a president for all.000
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