BY AUBREY MAKILAN
Despite President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s moves to abolish the death penalty, human rights lawyers noted that extrajudicial and political killings continue contradicting the image of “kindness and compassion” she wants to portray. Arroyo’s position vs. the death penalty, they said, is but a “desperate effort to save her presidency.”
Lawyers Jose Diokno of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) and Alfonso Cinco IV of the Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights (Karapatan) shared the same view that the continuing extrajudicial killings of activists and those considered as “dissenters” prove that the president’s announcement to commute all death sentences are just for show.
“This is hypocritical,” said Cinco, after receiving a report that another farmer was killed in Bacolod, Negros Occidental.
“She encourages political killings and repression by tolerating it,” Cinco said.
Diokno concurred by saying that “as the Commander-in-Chief, she is responsible for the behavior of her men.”
Based on the records of Karapatan, 558 people had been killed since 2001, the year Macapagal-Arroyo took over the presidency. The list of those killed includes party list activists, union leaders, peasant leaders, youth and women activists, human rights advocates, lawyers, journalists, and church people. The pattern of killings points to police and military death squads as the culprits.
Diokno and Cinco said that the “wholesale” commutation of death sentences to life terms was done hastily thereby creating legal loopholes.
Under the law, only those cases confirmed by the Supreme Court could be commuted to life imprisonment. “Macapagal-Arroyo’s announcement, therefore, is applicable to only a hundred of about 1,200 death convicts,” said Cinco.
Both lawyers also questioned the consistency of Macapagal-Arroyo’s stand regarding the death penalty.
In 1993, she abstained when the senate voted on the death penalty bill. She explained that she voted in accordance with her “conscience and constituency.”
In August, 2001, a few months after assuming the presidency from ousted president Joseph Estrada, Macapagal-Arroyo suspended the implementation of the death penalty.
But by 2003, in her state-of-the-nation address, she warned that no drug lord would be spared from the death penalty. But two months after, she promised the late Pope John Paul II that she will again suspend the death penalty. But just before 2003 ended and cases of kidnappings continued to rise, she announced that convicted kidnappers would face lethal injection.
In February, 2006, she declared that she will certify as urgent a bill that will abolish the death penalty law or Republic Act 7659. She subsequently announced, April 15, that she is commuting all death sentences to life terms. After four days, she certified as urgent House Bill 4826, a consolidated bill of 15 different bills calling for the abolition of RA 7659.
Diokno said that if she really is against the death penalty, she should have a consistent stand since the start of her career as a politician.
“She tries to present herself as a highly moral and compassionate president,” said Cinco, “But she is far from it. She has no credibility after allegations of cheating during the 2004 elections and of her involvement in so many scams surfaced and continues to hound her.”