‘Thou Shall Not Kill’: Lawyers say death penalty endangers the poor

Feb. 23, 2017

(L-R) Ateneo Human Rights Center Executive Director Atty. Ray Paolo Santiago, Atty. Arnold Abejaron, executive secretary of the Ateneo De Davao University Community Engagement and Advocacy Council, Fr. Orlando Angela, and Rey Andrew Villafuerte, Amnesty International Youth Representative to the Board of Trustees sit side by side during a forum titled “Thou Shall Not Kill: A Forum on Death Penalty,” on Wednesday Feb. 22. (Paulo C. Rizal/davaotoday.com)

DAVAO CITY, Philippines—Lawyers here expressed their objection to the re-imposition of the death penalty in the country, saying that it would endanger and a disadvantage to the poor because of the “corrupt” criminal justice system in the Philippines.

Speaking in a forum titled “Thou Shall Not Kill: A Forum on Death Penalty” held at the Ateneo De Davao University Wednesday, Atty. Arnold Abejaron, executive secretary of the Ateneo De Davao University Community Engagement and Advocacy Council, warned that the imposition of death penalty would be “dangerous.”

“We see it always in the news. We have policemen who are experts in fine arts, ibig sabihin magaling mag drawing, (good in [making up scenarios]) or nag-aral ng agriculture, ibig sabihin magaling mag planting (studied agriculture, meaning good [in planting evidence]),” Abejaron said.

Abejaron also suggested looking into preventing the crime from being committed, saying that many of those who have committed heinous crimes experienced abuses in their childhood.

“The best way really is to address the issue. How do we prevent kids or future adults from committing crimes? That is looking at how we reduce abuses in the family, because many of those who got into crimes have actually been victims of abuse when they were children,” Abejaron said.

For his part, Atty. Ray Paolo Santiago, executive director of the Ateneo Human Rights Center, supported Abejaron’s claim, saying most of those who are languishing in jail are poor and could not afford to hire the best lawyers.

“This is not to say that those who come from the Public Attorney’s office are not good, they are one of the best. But imagine the public attorney who is a government lawyer, pitted against a private lawyer who is solely handling maybe a big case. And then you have a public defender who is handling hundreds of other cases. You divide the time that you can allot,” Santiago said.

Santiago also noted the corruption present in the concerned agencies which further made a poor man’s task of defending oneself in court harder.

“In the justice system, there are different levels. [For example], you have a good law enforcer, a good policeman; gathers all the evidence. And then you have a corrupt prosecutor, what would happen? You have money? Okay I will dismiss the case. Let’s not fool ourselves, because that does happen,” Santiago said.

“It is a reality that those who have lesser in life, have difficult opportunities in defending themselves,” Santiago added.

When asked about the implications of the re -imposition of the death penalty and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of which the Philippines signed as a State Party in 1966, Santiago it will be up to the Supreme Court to settle the matter.

“Atty. Arnold mentioned that it’s embarrassing, particularly the implications internationally. However, we both agree that the President can actually do so,” Santiago pointed out.

“If congress insists, and then the president signs it into law, the next battle there, is not the international community, it’s going to the Supreme Court. The court will now rule whether the re imposition is valid or not under Philippine law,” Santiago said. (davaotoday.com)

  • TomD

    Actually, the Hebrew word “ratsach,” from the biblical Fifth Commandment, is more accurately translated, within the total context of the biblical text, as “murder of the innocent,” or “take life unjustly.” It is not accurately translated as the more broad concept of “kill.”

    Jews and Christians are commanded not to take life unjustly. For example manslaughter (accidently taking the life of the innocent) or murder (intentionally taking the life of the innocent) are prohibited, self-defense is not prohibited. In a sense, taking life “justly” is not prohibited. This is actually what the Catholic Church has always taught.

    The current Catechism of the Catholic Church does say that the death penalty should be used as a last resort by civil authority (CCC 2267); it does not prohibit the use of the death penalty. Those who demand that the death penalty must be prohibited in human society are not reflecting what the Church teaches today and has always taught. It must be used sparingly, but it is not necessarily to be prohibited. Justice calls for instances where the death penalty is enacted.

    The King James Version of the Bible, a very influential English translation of the Bible, effectively mistranslated “ratsach” within the context of the entire text, by translating it as the too broad “kill.” From that, among other things, we have the current confusion about what the Bible teaches about the death penalty.

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