It is the day after and the death penalty is dead. The bicameral conference committee of the Senate (led by Senator Joker Arroyo—one of my former clients) and the House (led by Representative Edcel Lagman—another of my former clients) concluded its deliberation in record time and finally ended the reign of the death penalty in the Philippines.
All that it is needed is Gloria’s signature. And with all her political maneuverings, I have no doubt she’ll sign it—she needs the endorsement of the Catholic church and other pro-life denominations, particularly because she is currently so in love with mining (which the Church opposes).
From 1994, a few minutes after the ink dried on the Death Penalty Law, abolition has been one of my issues, one that has occupied top tier in my agenda; it has given me so many experiences and has made me many friends as well as enemies. It is hard to believe that it is finally over.
I won’t miss it—the death penalty, that is.
The death penalty issue has made me grow up a lot—in many ways.
As a lawyer, I have grown up in ways that I could never imagine; from arguing my very first Supreme Court orals at the ripe old age of 30; witnessing two executions in the same year—Leo Echegaray on February 5, 1999 and Pablito Andan on October 26, 1999; presenting position papers and engaging experts in round-table discussions here and abroad; learning new things (such as use of DNA forensic technology in criminal cases) and being looked upon as the savior, hero and role model (three roles that I am absolutely uncomfortable with).
As a person, I have become more open to many new ideas and to new ways of invigorating old ideas; I’ve also learned what’s truly important: a healthy acknowledgment of just how weak we all are, just how human, just how imperfect but also a healthy realization that, despite our weakness and our frailty, we are called to do extraordinary things by simpy living our ordinary lives.
As a Christian, my brushes with death on those two occasions when Leo and Pablito were executed right before my very eyes have shown me just how much love is missing in our lives right now; when the ultimate cruelty of man can be used to justify a perfect justice that only God is capable of, the issue of life and death takes on new meaning. My journey towards abolition has also led me back into a journey with the Lord who has given me everything, and, truly, it was only by His grace that I, and my companions on this journey, were able to accomplish so much. To Him is the glory.
I will miss it—not the death penalty but the campaign and the many friends and comrades who have enriched my life through the years. Through the years in the campaign, these were the lives who touched mine and I salute them: my colleagues from FLAG, Cookie, Chel, Arno, Pablito, Ed, Jun V., Milabel, Bombi, Chito, Ida, Weng, Glenda, Gilda, Leo, Domy, Ming and all the FLAG lawyers; my colleagues from the FLAG ANTI-DEATH PENALTY TASK FORCE: Fr. Jun Jun Borres, SJ, Fr. Roy Cosca, SJ, Fr. Robert Reyes, (Bishop) Rudy Diamante, (Cardinal) Tax Tan, Lydia and Dolly Pangilinan and everyone from Samahan ng mga Pamilya sa Death Row (SPDR), Brenda, all our clients from ALIS-DR, Maricel, Bing, Precy, Mike, Cora De Ungria and her staff at the DNA Lab; Racquel Fortun, our friends from the PAO Appeals Division; our volunteer lawyers who signed up for the TASK FORCE: Karreen, Ella, Jig, Lourie, Joji, Rhon, Lezyl, Jun, Dondon, Tel, Fe and many others whose names I don’t remember at the moment. I salute all of you and thank you. May we have many more journeys towards the attainment of fundamental freedoms together.