KASAMA Vol. 13 No. 1 / January–February–March 1999 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

Bitay! Death penalty by lethal injection by virtue of Philippine Republic Act 7659, also known as the Death Penalty Law.

The Philippines has brought back the death penalty after 104 countries have already abolished this punishment. Correspondent LEO DE CASTRO in Manila gives his point of view.

The death sentence of Leo Echegaray, a 38–year–old house painter convicted of raping a child, was carried out on February 5, 1999 according to the manual for execution as prescribed by law after 23 years since its abolition. The details of his last day on earth were followed closely by 70 million Filipinos and reported by numerous foreign correspondents.

"Sambayanang Pilipino, patawarin ako sa kasalanang ipinaratang ninyo sa akin. Pilipino, pinatay ng kapwa Pilipino." (Filipino people, forgive me for the crime you have accused me of committing. Filipino, killed by fellow Filipinos.) These were his words before his last breath.

Some described the execution as a "circus" – "It was very peaceful" – "It was very chilling."

We have killed a human being.

Human rights groups claim that 95 percent of death penalty victims have no lawyers of their own choosing.

As of today, there are some 915 people on death row in the Philippines. Of these, three are minors, and 21 are women.

Despite the clamor of human rights groups and pro–life legislators, the Estrada administration remained firm in its commitment to resort to the death penalty by lethal injection. The administration believes that by imposing the death penalty, criminals will now think twice before committing crimes. But it is still largely debatable whether death penalty law is a sufficient deterrent.

Jessica Soto, spokesperson of Amnesty International–Pilipinas said that the Philippines is not only out of step with the international community, it is also at odds with its image of being in the forefront of championing human rights in Asia.

As a church worker, I lay my case. It is better to see a hundred guilty persons set free than for one innocent individual to be pronounced guilty.

Law enforcers have their misgivings before the public. There are cases reported that law enforcers themselves resort to physical violence or coercive force to obtain confessions or evidence from the accused. Evidence is planted to the detriment of the accused.

On the one hand, by massaging statistics on the number of crimes solved, law enforcers improve their public image. While on the other hand, this works positively for the so–called law enforcer to get the much–awaited promotion in rank.

Poor individuals are constrained to seek legal advice and get competent legal help for obvious reasons. The possibility of innocent victims ending up in jail, or having the death penalty imposed upon them, is not too remote at all, thereby causing grave injustice with little or no protection whatsoever.

Thus, if you have no resources or clout in the bureaucracy: you’re dead meat!

There goes the maxim: Those who have less in life must have more before the eyes of the law.

Echegaray’s life may have been just a life lost due to our criminal justice system. He was the first ‘dead man walking’ of my generation.

His name was Leo, he was convicted of raping his 11–year–old stepdaughter. He was formally executed by the state.

As I rest my case, may Leo find his peace.

— Leo de Castro

Background: Leo Echegaray was the first man sent to death row since capital punishment was restored to Philippine law in 1994. Since then, 689 others have since followed him, many of them for rape, as in his case.

The last judicial execution to take place in the Philippines, that of Marcelo San Jose, was carried out by electrocution in October 1976.

In its report of October 1997, Philippines – The Death Penalty: Criminality, Justice and Human Rights, Amnesty International says:

"Death sentences continued to be handed down by the courts until late 1986. In 1987, when the death penalty was finally abolished, over 500 prisoners, many of whom had been sentenced by military tribunals in the martial law period, were still under sentence of death. Following the promulgation of the 1987 Constitution, President Aquino announced that all existing death sentences would be commuted. The announcement backed up the Constitutional provision that ‘any death penalty already imposed be reduced to "reclusion perpetua" (life imprisonment)’.

"Following his election as President in 1992, Fidel Ramos declared in his first State of the Nation address that the restoration of the death penalty would be regarded by his government as a legislative priority.

"…both House and Senate eventually voted in favour of the death penalty. A joint measure, Republic Act 7659, restoring the death penalty was agreed by Congress and signed by President Ramos in December 1993 – taking effect on 1 January 1994."

About the Author: Leo de Castro currently works with the Missionary Society of St Columban in Manila. In July and August of 1994, Leo was in Australia on a four–week lecture tour of Christian Brothers schools in Brisbane organised by the Centre for Justice and Spirituality (CJS). He also visited Sydney.

In KASAMA Vol.8 No.4&5, Leo wrote about the Workers–Churchpeoples Conference and the Philippines’ economy. We are indebted to Leo for his generous donation of materials to the CPCA library and his current email updates and news. We look forward to receiving more articles from Leo for KASAMA.