Lawyers' group opposes death penalty, 'shoot-to-kill' policy

MANILA, Philippines – The Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) expressed its alarm over the plans of President-elect Rodrigo Duterte to restore the death penalty and give security forces "shoot-to-kill" orders against organized criminals or those who violently resist arrest.

In a May 20 statement signed by FLAG chair Jose Manuel Diokno, the group said Duterte's proposals are "illegal and unconstitutional", would "render our legal system impotent and meaningless", and would "blatantly violate international law."

The death penalty was abolished in 1986 when President Corazon Aquino took over the reins of power from Ferdinand Marcos. It was reintroduced by President Fidel Ramos in 1993, then suspended again in 2006.

The human rights lawyers organization on Saturday said the poor are vulnerable to the death penalty and a "shoot-to-kill" policy since they lack the resources to hire good lawyers.

For instance, FLAG said that when the death penalty was abolished in 2006, 73% of the 1,121 inmates on death row then earned less than P10,000 a month, while 81% worked in low-income jobs (sales, service, factory, agricultural, transport, construction workers).

The group also cited the Supreme Court which revealed in the landmark People vs Mateo case in 2004 that 71% of death sentences handed down by trial courts "were wrongfully imposed" – meaning, 7 out of 10 convicts on death row "did not deserve to be there."

According to FLAG, most of these convicts are poor.

"If these numbers are any indication, it is those who live in poverty who will suffer the most if the death penalty is restored," the group said in its statement.

FLAG also slammed Duterte's proposal to employ death by hanging "until the head is completely severed from the body". They said the president-elect's proposals "reflect a callous disregard for human dignity not befitting a Chief Executive".

"Advocating state-sanctioned killings is not just anti-poor but anti-life," they said, adding that the country needs a better justice system, not death penalty nor a "shoot-to-kill" policy which "will not deter crime."

What local, international laws say

FLAG also reminded Duterte that the Philippines signed the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on September 20, 2006 and ratified it on November 20, 2007 "without reservation".

"The Second Optional Protocol 'is the only international treaty of worldwide scope to prohibit executions and to provide for total abolition of the death penalty.' States that ratify the Second Optional Protocol 'are required to renounce the use of the death penalty definitively'," the group added.

In its statement, FLAG cited "highly-respected experts on death penalty" – Sir Roger Hood of the University of Oxford, and William Schabas of the Leiden University – who noted that "no State has ever attempted to denounce the Second Optional Protocol. It would be unprecedented. I think it would also be illegal."

"If the Philippines reinstates capital punishment [after having ratified the Second Optional Protocol], the country would be condemned for violating international law. It would be a great stigma," FLAG quoted the experts as saying.

As for the "shoot-to-kill" policy, the group said such proposal disregards rights guaranteed by the Constitution and "gives unbridled discretion to law enforcement officers to take the law into their own hands and act as judge, jury, and executioner."

"FLAG, therefore, calls upon the President-elect to abandon his plans to restore the death penalty and impose a 'shoot-to-kill' policy," the statement read. – Jee Y. Geronimo/Rappler.com