President Duterte Calls to Revive the Death Penalty

The president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, requested to revive the death penalty a few days ago, solely for drug-related crimes.

HIgh level drug offenders could go from prison to the death penalty, if Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte’s call to revive it is sucessful. Jody Davis. CC0.

HIgh level drug offenders could go from prison to the death penalty, if Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte’s call to revive it is sucessful. Jody Davis. CC0.

Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte asked Congress to revive the death penalty for drug-related crimes on July 22, during his State of the Nation Address (SONA).

Speaking before a joint session of Congress, he first brought up the revival as the first priority legislative measure in his fourth Address, according to Rappler. His party, PDP-Laban, currently has a supermajority in the House of Representatives. He mentioned the 5-month siege that evolved between the state and extremists after terrorists held onto drugs in Marawi in May 2017, citing it as a prime example as to why further action and harsher actions were and are necessary.

Duterte’s war on drugs has been ongoing since his candidacy in 2016. He has been calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty for the same length of time. He also requested capital punishment in his 2017 SONA.

Senator Ronald dela Rosa, a trusted aide to the president, won his senatorial election in 2019 on a single promise: to bring back the death penalty for drug-related crimes.

Duterte also effectively began a war on corruption in Filipino society. On July 19, three dozen of Duterte’s critics were charged with sedition and cyber libel after a series of anonymous videos that accuse the president and his family of having monetary links to the illegal drug trade, according to Newsweek

Amnesty International believes the call will only increase the country’s environment of exemption from punishment during the continuous war on drugs.

However, Senate President Vicente Sotto III believes that restricting the reinstatemnt of capital punishment to high-level offenders would be more likely to pass in the Senate. He also mentioned this bill would be among the first to be discussed. Two years ago, the House of Representatives passed a measure for the death penalty for crimes related to drugs.

“The state of our nation is a state of mourning. We should not be burying our children amid deadly and ill-conceived police raids,” said Butch Olano, Section Director for Amnesty International Philippines, according to Amnesty International.

There has been one conviction of police officers, for the killing of a 17-year-old boy. During a police operation in late June 2019, a three-year-old girl and a police officer were killed. The girl’s mother and the government both have different stories about the operation. Overall, so far the Philippine government has noted at least 6,000 killings at the hands of police officers. Amnesty International has found that there are many more unlawful killings, likely done by armed people with ties to the police.

Olano says that, despite being told to file cases before the courts if they feel there has been an unlawful death or that the police have acted illegally, many families are too afraid to speak up. There are also the problems of costs or being unable to secure evidence or the police reports.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is meant to deliver a report in June 2020 on the state of human rights in the Philippines. President Duterte’s remarks didn’t commit to assisting with this report, which was requested last month in a resolution by the UN Human Rights Council, particularly since Duterte has been accused of human rights abuses. 

Duterte has been battling against drugs since before he was elected in 2016. Requesting the revival of the death penalty for drug-related crimes may be extreme, but it isn’t terribly unexpected from this president. If this request passes, Duterte’s war on society’s corruption will most likely increase, as he will have already have gained one victory. Amnesty International’s prediction also seems likely of coming true. However, if this request isn’t passed, it’ll be a blow to Duterte’s war on drugs. The war itself will continue, but this particular battle won’t. The human rights report will be written throughout this year and next, regardless of what happens with the death penalty. President Duterte is already under investigation, though the Philippines will become an even more dangerous place if the death penalty is passed in any form.

NOEMI ARELLANO-SUMMER is a journalist and writer living in Boston, MA. She is a voracious reader and has a fondness for history and art. She is currently at work on her first novel and wants to eventually take a trip across Europe.