The issue on the imposition of the death penalty is again upon us as the Committee on Justice of the Lower House of Congress approved a bill seeking to restore it last 07 December 2016. Protests, public discussions, and debates are expected to inflame our from both the pro and anti. Republic Act No. 9346 which was signed into law on June 24, 2006 prohibits the imposition of the death penalty and it also repealed Republic Act No. 8177 otherwise known as the Act Designating Death by Lethal Injection. R.A. 7659 or the Death Penalty Law was also repealed.
Unfortunately, the repeal of the death penalty was too late for Leo Echegaray who was executed through lethal injection on 05 February 1999 but it is believed that his death was one of the main reasons why R.A. 9346 was passed. Seventeen years after Echegaray, our government is again considering the imposition of the dreaded penalty of death.
Death penalty is also referred to as Capital Punishment which traces its origin from the Latin word capitalis (“of the head”, referring to execution by beheading) [Kronenwetter, Michael (2001). Capital punishment: a reference handbook (2nd ed.). ABC-CLIO. ISBN 1-57607-432-3.] which was a common form of death penalty even among kings queens during the middle ages. Those who are against it believe that the death penalty is cruel, unusual, unnecessary because it does not deter the commission of crimes.
Echegaray, on his appeal to the Supreme Court made the argument that his sentence of death is cruel and unusual therefore violative of the Constitution. Is the death penalty cruel and unusual?
The Leo Echegaray Case
Leo Echegaray was sentenced by the trial court for raping his the 10 year-old daughter and his went to the Supreme Court on automatic review (G.R. No. 117472 February 7, 1997). His case was closely followed by the media and once again split the nation in two between those against and in favour of the penalty.
The Church and government came face to face in a battle of monumental proportion on whether the imposition of the death penalty is morally correct or not. Leo argued among others that the imposition of the death penalty was cruel and unusual which is prohibited by the Bill of Rights in our Constitution.
The High Court in a per curiam (those pro or against the decision were not listed in the decision not even the author) denied Echegaray’s plea and said that the death penalty is not cruel and unusual therefore its imposition does not violate the Constitution.
The Court did not consider the argument of the accused that the penalty of death is disproportionate to the crime of rape since since the victim was not killed. The SC said that the purpose of imposing the penalty is not the “biblical notion of retributive justice of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”. The Court said: “the death penalty is imposed in heinous crimes because the perpetrators thereof have committed unforgivably execrable acts that have so deeply dehumanized a person or criminal acts with severely destructive effects on the national efforts to lift the masses from abject poverty through organized governmental strategies based on a disciplined and honest citizenry, and because they have so caused irreparable and substantial injury to both their victim and the society and a repetition of their acts would pose actual threat to the safety of individuals and the survival of government, they must be permanently prevented from doing so”.
The Supreme Court ultimately justified its decision with these: “We are not unaware that for all the legal posturings we have so essayed here, at the heart of the issue of capital punishment is the wistful, sentimental life-and-death question to which all of us, without thinking, would answer, “life, of course, over death”.
But dealing with the fundamental question of death provides a context for struggling with even more basic questions, for to grapple with the meaning of death is, in an indirect way, to ask the meaning of life. Otherwise put, to ask what the rights are of the dying is to ask what the rights are of the living.” With the denial of his appeal, Leo Echegaray was put to death by lethal injection.