Statement of CHR Commissioner Karen S. Gomez Dumpit, Focal Commissioner on Anti-Death Penalty, on the 18th World Day Against Death Penalty

Statement of CHR Commissioner Karen S. Gomez Dumpit, Focal Commissioner on Anti-Death Penalty, on the 18th World Day Against Death Penalty

Today, 10 October 2020, marks the 18th World Day Against the Death Penalty where we commemorate the victories we have won as well as the battles we continue to pursue in order to abolish the death penalty across the globe. In the Philippines, we take this time to take stock of our responses to the challenge of its reintroduction by the current administration.

With the global theme, “Access to Counsel – A Matter of Life or Death,” the spotlight is on 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.

Several studies have found that those facing execution are mostly from the poor, with no access to competent counsel nor to decent education that empower them with knowledge about their rights. In our National Survey on the Public Perception on the Death Penalty (2018), 63% agree that most people in death row are poor people who cannot afford a good lawyer. 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 71.77%.

While we remain death penalty free so far, efforts to bring back the death penalty have not ceased with its inclusion in the President’s legislative agenda, prompting its vigorous pursuit by the administration’s allies in the Legislature.

This is an occasion to once again remind our Legislators to reflect on the consequences of bringing back capital punishment. Appropriate with this year’s theme is the plight of our Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) currently undergoing trial for crimes that could lead to capital punishment and those 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 in death row. It is hypocritical to ask to spare the lives of Filipinos abroad while we move to execute people back home.

Several arguments have been raised to justify the reintroduction of the death penalty—claiming that it is an effective deterrent against criminality; that we can forego our international commitments because of sovereignty; or that effective counsel through the Public Attorney’s Office is available for the poor.

The Commission has taken note of the significance of empirical research to counter these flawed arguments, which is why we have endeavored to continuously conduct evidence-based research in matters of the death penalty. Today, we are launching two advocacy tools to assist in our fight against the reinstatement of the death penalty—a research entitled, “In Defense of the Right to Life: Analyzing Factors Affecting Filipino Opinion About Death Penalty,” as well as the Right to Life Website, which is an online database containing information about the death penalty in the Philippines, particularly human rights advisories written by the Commission with the assistance of our partners, 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.

Despite formidable efforts to reintroduce the death penalty, we remain steadfast on our resolve to keeping the country death penalty free. It is not only a legal obligation but a moral duty. Death penalty is a false promise. Let us break free from death penalty. No to death penalty! #BreakFreeFromDP

CHR Commissioner Karen S. Gomez Dumpit, Focal Commissioner on Anti-Death Penalty