By Fr. Shay Cullen
Life is for living. It is to experience freedom to love and help others, to be free to grow and have family. To be human is to be free from fear and punishment and ill health, poverty and hunger. Living is to be free to think, to speak our thoughts and freely choose the good. To be alive is to have justice and dignity and the fullness of existence. To be able say I am alive and I know that I am is to be aware of life. But millions are deprived of these basic values of human life. The death penalty is just another way to deprive people of life itself.
Why is it that many officials in authority and power wish to exert that power and cause punishment, pain and hurt on the helpless and the vulnerable people? The death penalty has been judged to be cruel and unusual and immoral punishment. It is a denial of the dignity and life of the human person.
In the Philippines, the lower house of congress has passed a death penalty bill on second reading this past week. It shows that vengeance and revenge for wrongdoing is the driving force in the thinking of the congressmen and those who support such a bill. Compassion, rehabilitation and eventual mercy and forgiveness is not in their hearts and minds. The law of the uncivilized jungle is what they want.
Every intelligent and learned person knows and accepts the truth that fear and threats of retribution and dire punishment does not deter crime or wrongdoing. It causes more crime, not lessens it.
It has been shown that the justice system that is restorative rather than punitive has much better results in reducing crime. Rehabilitation through therapy, compassion, respect and humane treatment of convicted criminals is most effective and reoffending is at a minimum. In the European experience, it is clearly shown. In the Netherlands, the government is closing down several prisons as crime has fallen to such a low level due to kindness rather than cruelness. Where social justice dominates and equality reigns, there is minimal crime.
In the United States and the Philippines and other countries with punitive social systems where violence, mockery, racism, stripping, brutality, humiliation, beating and severe punishment of prisoners is the norm, more dangerous criminals return to crimes on release and return to prison again within eighteen months.
The death penalty is a bridge of no return. It is irrevocable and undoable if new evidence is found proving him or her innocent. It is too late to undo the injustice. Hundreds of prisoners in the USA who were sentenced to death were later proven innocent. Many know that the justice system is flawed, weak and error-prone. A just prosecutor and a skilled honest judge are hard to find these days.
In fact mostly the poor are convicted because they cannot afford skilled lawyers to defend them .They rely on the public defender who is overburdened with hundreds of cases. The rich get off with murder or drug trafficking as they can pay private lawyers and bribe prosecutors and judges.
In fact perhaps some vindictive officials would want this death penalty law passed and to be applied to the jailed Senator Leila De Lima who is charged with drug offences, which she denies, so as to exercise vengeance on her for speaking out and opposing the war-on-drugs.
This is one good reason for the intelligent senators not to approve this proposed law and avoid the eternal shame and ignominy for what would be an unconscionable act. The death penalty law seems to be targeted at individuals.
In the United States where the death penalty is still used in many states, more and more Americans are against it year by year. Since the discovery of DNA as a forensic tool to present incontestable evidence of guilt or innocence, many on death row have been exonerated after having been wrongly convicted and sentenced to death.
In the Philippines there are those that argue that the death penalty, if it was quick and painless for the poor prisoners, would be a happy release from the intolerable suffering they endure twenty-four hours a day in the hell-holes of Philippine prison system. Photos show prisoners stripped naked in Cebu while in Quezon City bodies are shown piled on top of each other in overcrowded cells. Commercial animals are treated with greater respect.
These unfortunate accused prisoners, not yet convicted, awaiting trial for many years are crammed into overcrowded unsanitary cells in intolerable heat and unable to have a tolerable existence. They are not even able to lie down to sleep. They are the living dead, critics call them, and the justice system does not have the capacity or ability to give them a speedy and fair trial.
So the intolerance of the rich and powerful congress people, who have never suffered poverty, hunger, want, hardship and pain, can inflict it on others without a compassionate thought. The other proposed law will make children of nine years old or twelve as criminals before the law. At present they are incarcerated in prison cells and some report being tortured. They are made to cling to the bars of their cells and tied there as punishment. Others are beaten or used as slaves in the jail or raped continually by the older prisoners or guards. That’s the Philippines penal system at work.
As many as forty children in conflict with the law and children-at-risk are rescued by Preda Foundation social workers and are recovering from the harsh prison system. (www.preda.org). We prove that children treated with respect and dignity in an open beautiful home will stay by free choice and find a life of education filled with hope and dignity. Fear and punishment have no place in the upbringing and recovery of abused children.