It’s finally dead. The death penalty in the Philippines, that is.
Last Saturday, Gloria Arroyo signed into law Republic Act No. 9346 formally ending the regime of capital punishment in the Philippines. A few weeks before the formal signing, the Chief Justice created a stir by announcing publicly that the Supreme Court had committed a grave error by ordering Leo Echegaray to be executed.
Because the death penalty is an issue that I can no longer avoid, I’ve been asked many times by many people how I feel about the repeal of capital punishment and about the Chief Justice’s comments on judicial error.
Honestly, similar to how I felt when I watched Leo Echegaray and Bobby Andan murdered in front of me, I don’t really know how I feel; at least, I can’t really describe it.
I know I should be happy that something I (and my colleagues at FLAG and the FLAG Anti-Death Penalty Task Force) spent more than a decade fighting for has finally happened. Strike that, I know I should be ecstatic. But I actually am not.
Maybe its because the death penalty repeal came many, many years too late; perhaps its because the abolition came seven (7) lives too late. I just cannot get myself to be ecstatic at the repeal because I keep remembering the 7 people whose lives were claimed at the altar of capital punishment and the more than a thousand lives who suffered due to the stigma and the burden of being sentenced to die at the hands of the State.
People ask me if I’m vindicated by the Chief Justice’s comments on the Echegaray conviction; I actually don’t feel vindicated even if that is what we had been saying all along. What good are his words when Leo and six (6) others have already been killed? What good will the acknowledgement of judicial error do when so many people have already been scarred by capital punishment?
People still equate me, 8 years after Leo’s execution, with him and I don’t find that I mind at all. It is my burden to carry his name along with mine; and, in a very strange sort of way, it is an honor.
The death penalty is dead. Long live life.