Gov’t lawyer fails to defend death penalty bill in Senate

Carmela Fonbuena
Gov’t lawyer fails to defend death penalty bill in Senate
The Philippines ratified in 2007 an international treaty that binds signatories to 'take all necessary measures to abolish the death penalty within its jurisdiction'

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Justice (DOJ) failed to defend proposals to reimpose the death penalty in the face of an oft-repeated argument: that the Philippines cannot revive it against criminals because it is bound by an international treaty. 

Senator Franklin Drilon raised this in a Senate hearing on Tuesday, February 7, citing the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The treaty ratified by the Philippines in 2007 binds signatories to “take all necessary measures to abolish the death penalty within its jurisdiction.”

Namatay po ang death penalty dahilan sa maliwanag naman na hindi natin pwedeng maibalik yung parusang pagpatay dahilan sa ating treaty commitment (We killed death penalty because it is clear that we cannot revive the punishment because oru our treaty commitment),” Drilon told reporters after the Senate hearing.  

Hindi ko alam kung paano i (I don’t know how to) justify na ipapasa ang death penalty bill in the face of this clear international treaty obligation that we cannot impose the death penalty domestically,” Drilon said.

Senior Deputy Prosecutor Richard Fadullon, who represented Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II in the hearing, acknowledged that treaties are considered laws and could not be violated.  

The Senate hearing was deferred after Fadullon failed to argue how the government can opt out of the international treaty. Some critics of the death penalty said the treaty doesn’t have an opt-out provision. 

Drilon: How do we argue ourselves out of this legally binding treaty that the President has ratified and which the Senate has concurred to, which completes the process and therefore is a binding treaty on our country?

Fadullon: Sir, I would be lying if I would be able to tell you exactly how we are going to get out of this bind. However, it is our position that…

Drilon: No, no. You have to tell us because we are debating on whether or not to reinvoke the death penalty and one of  the [arguments is] we are violating our international treaty obligation.

Fadullon: I wish I could say with all candor, Mr Senator, if indeed there are ways by which we can get out of these international commitments or if we can opt out. But I’m not in the position to say that. 

The reimposition of death penalty is one of the measures that President Rodrigo Duterte asked Congress to pass last year. Duterte has repeatedly said the law is needed to help government address crime, especially the use and sale of illegal drugs.

The House of Representatives already began plenary deliberations on it last week

Senate committee on justice and human rights chairman Richard Gordon warned that Duterte could violate the law if he pursues the measure without first opting out of the international treaty.

Fadullon later clarified that the absence of an opt-out provision doesn’t mean this cannot be done. He said he will consult Aguirre on how the government would deal with it.

“Wala naman pong sinasabing hindi pwedeng mag (It is not saying we cannot) opt-out. Ang amin lamang po ay (our position is) probably, taking on the advice of the chairman, I will raise the issue with the secretary of justice, bringing to the table the concerns raised on the international commitment that we have. Indeed, as the chairman said, it would be a violation fo the law if we do not honor the treaty,” Fadullon said. 

The heads of government offices were invited to the Senate hearing but they sent only their staff members. 

The reimposition of the death penalty has always been a controversial measure in the predominantly Catholic country. –

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