CHR says death penalty an ‘utmost form of torture'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 5) -- In response to President Rodrigo Duterte's call for the reimposition of the death penalty, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Wednesday said that capital punishment is the ultimate form of torture.

At the panel inquiry on the revival of the death penalty at the House of Representatives, the CHR argued that domestic and international laws prohibit torture.

"We believe that death penalty is the utmost form of torture," CHR Commissioner Karen Dumpit said. "We have already enacted an anti-torture act to implement the convention against torture."

Constitutional issues surrounding capital punishment were also raised during the hearing.

Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez said bringing back the death penalty will violate Articles 2 and 3 of the 1987 Constitution.

Rodriguez said that when the Philippines signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), it committed to abolish the death penalty.

Since the Senate concurred to this treaty, Rodriguez said passing a death penalty bill will violate the Doctrine on Incorporation under Article 2 of the Constitution.

"If we are going to impose the death penalty, then we therefore violate not only our Constitution, because it adopts generally accepted principles of international law, which are the treaties signed by many countries...our country would violate customary international law," the Mindanaoan congressman said.

He added that Article 3 of the Philippine Constitution, prohibits physical, psychological and degrading penalties.

But those who favor the death penalty measure insisted that the Constitution also allows its imposition if there is a compelling reason to do so.

Both the Department of Justice and the Public Attorney's Office supported it.

"The Department of Justice sees no legal or constitutional impediment to Congress' reimposition of death penalty,” said Justice Assistant Secretary Nicholas Felix Ty.

“There are two main reasons for this position of the Department of Justice," he said. "The first reason is that the imposition of death penalty is within the powers of Congress and second, the imposition of death penalty is allowed by the Constitution.”

Drug menace as compelling reason to reinstate capital punishment?

Rep. Vicente Veloso, chairman of the House Committee on Justice, said it is Congress that will determine whether or not there is a compelling reason to legislate the death penalty.

He added that the President has the power to veto the bill in case he thinks there is no sufficient reason to enact it.

During his 5th State of the Nation Address (SONA), the President himself asked Congress to reinstate capital punishment by lethal injection for drug-related violations.

But the CHR said there is no need to resurrect it.

"There is no compelling reason, your honor," said Dumpit when Minority Leader Benny Abante--who also filed a bill that will revive capital punishment--asked her if the current drug menace is compelling enough to reinstate the death penalty.

"There is a provision in the Constitution, of course, that says heinous crimes and we equate that to most serious of crimes," she said. "And in the most serious crimes in international law, if you'll have a listing of that, drugs are not found in those list."

Wrong timing

Meanwhile, Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon said it is not the right time to discuss the death penalty with the entire country bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Biazon, who also authored a death penalty bill for drug offenders, asked the committee not to include his bill during Wednesday's House inquiry.

The House of Representatives under the speakership of Pantaleon Alvarez passed the death penalty for drug-related cases in 2019.

The bill, however, was stalled in the Senate.