January 09, 2009

No Joking Matter

Comedian Tito Sotto, Chair of the Dangerous Drugs Board, is asking for the death penalty for drugs. The problem with putting comedians in public office is that they start to think their jokes can actually become policy.

The proliferation of drugs in the country is a serious matter and should not be left to comedians--bad ones at that (if you don't believe me, watch Iskul Bukol: The Reunion). The death penalty for drugs is also not a joke and should certainly not be left to comedians like Tito Sotto.

I have witnessed personally two executions--that is why I know it is not a joke. I have gone to death row countless times, interacted with those on death row and their families and have seen their plight--that is why I know it is not a joke. I have also interacted with victims' families and have come to understand that their cry is not for death but for justice and that, because the system is not perfect, the line between justice sometimes bleeds into death. That is why I know that the death penalty is not a joke.

The country has been down this road before. In 1994, the death penalty was restored in the Philippines. From February 5, 1998 to January 4, 1999, seven executions were carried out and nine persons were executed (including a triple execution on the same day; which has to be a dubious record of sorts). In 2006, the death penalty was abolished by law.

Now the comedian Tito Sotto wants the death penalty for drugs back. As if it were some silver bullet that would stop the importation of drugs through ports where money could convince eyes to become temporarily blind, ears to become temporarily death and lips to become silent. As it the death penalty were some magic enchantment that would assure that no one would ever be victimized again by drugs.

I listen to the hearings on the PDEA bribery charges against the DOJ and marvel at the illogic behind the comedian Tito Sotto's conclusion--that the reimposition of the death penalty could have prevented the farce that is now going on.

Even with the death penalty for drugs, you will still have prosecutors who are willing to look the other way, lawyers who will be over zealous for their clients' cause to the extent of writing the decisions themselves, high ranking government officials who cannot be outraged enough at official and evident malfeasance to be trusted with holding sway over the administration of justice. The comedian Tito Sotto's proposal to reimpose the death penalty for drugs cannot answer the evident flaws in the justice system that has become so evident in the past few months--with the Court of Appeals Meralco scandal and the PDEA-DOJ bribery charges.

Death is such a final penalty. After seven executions, nine executed and an official finding by the Supreme Court in People v. Mateo that the judicial review process is not infallible and that, in fact, there is a high error rate in convictions, there is no place for such a final penalty in such an imperfect system.

If there is one thing that I have learned in almost 19 years of practicing law, it is that the facts can be changed, the evidence can be tampered with, witnesses can lie, but death will always be final. And if there is one thing that I have learned in watching comedians, it is that they are always joking but they are not always funny.

The death penalty is no joke and it is no laughing matter. The comedian Tito Sotto should stick to jokes.

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