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Standing staunchly against the death penalty

Graphic: Commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit

The Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines has launched two advocacy tools to strengthen community opposition to the death penalty.

The Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines has launched two advocacy tools to strengthen community understanding and opposition to the reintroduction of the death penalty.

Marking the 18th World Day Against the Death Penalty, CHR Commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit said it was important to "take stock of our responses to the challenge of its reintroduction by the current administration."

She noted that several studies have found that those facing execution are mostly poor, with no access to competent counsel or with an education that empowers them with knowledge about their rights.

"In our National Survey on the Public Perception on the Death Penalty from 2018, 63 per cent of respondents agreed that most people on death row are poor and cannot afford a good lawyer," Commissioner Gomez-Dumpit said,

"This paints a miserable picture where many find themselves on death row—a fact that has been recognized by the Supreme Court through People v. Mateo, where it determined that the error rate in imposing the death sentence is over 70 per cent."

A man sits alone in a prison cell

The global theme for the World Day Against the Death Penalty is "Access to Counsel – A Matter of Life or Death".

It highlights that the right to effective legal representation, during all stages of arrest, detention, trial and post-trial, which is a pillar in the right to a fair trial. Without access to effective legal representation, due process cannot be guaranteed.

Commissioner Gomez-Dumpit said that efforts to bring back the death penalty in the Philippines were ongoing and had to be resisted.

"This is an occasion to once again remind our Legislators to reflect on the consequences of bringing back capital punishment," she said.

She said a number of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) were currently undergoing trial in foreign countries for crimes that could lead to capital punishment, and others who already face the death penalty.

"One of the arguments we have raised in the recent congressional hearings on the death penalty is that it will lead to the weakening of our moral ground to plead for the lives of our OFWs on death row," Commissioner Gomez-Dumpit said.

"It is hypocritical to ask to spare the lives of Filipinos abroad while we move to execute people back home."

Commissioner Gomez-Dumpit noted that legislators have raised several arguments to justify the reintroduction of the death penalty: claiming it is an effective deterrent against criminality; that we can forego our international commitments because of sovereignty; and that effective counsel through the Public Attorney's Office is available for the poor.

"The CHR has taken note of the significance of empirical research to counter these flawed arguments, which is why we have endeavoured to continuously conduct evidence-based research in matters of the death penalty," she said.

The Commission launched two advocacy tools as part of the commemorations: a research paper, 'In Defense of the Right to Life: Analyzing Factors Affecting Filipino Opinion About Death Penalty', and the Right to Life website.

The website contains a wealth of information about the death penalty in the Philippines, including human rights advisories by the Commission and partner organisations, curated international and local news, selected resources relevant to the campaign against the death penalty, international human rights treaties, and Supreme Court jurisprudence.

"We hope that these tools can help expose the ugly truth about death penalty and convey facts that will further persuade the public to reject its reintroduction," Commissioner Gomez-Dumpit said.

Date: 10 October 2020

Source: Commission on Human Rights

Image credits

  1. Commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit - Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines
  2. A man sits alone in a prison cell - APF