The one with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo doing the wrong thing (again)

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has commuted all death penalty sentences to life imprisonment as her Easter gift to the nation.

Clarification: I do not support the death penalty. What I question is the President’s choice of dealing with the law, which is to supercede all previous decisions made by the courts in accordance with the law. I believe that executive decisions like this one should conducted on taken on a case-per-case basis in accordance with law, all so that the country does not get the message that the President can overturn the law according to whim. [Apr 19 ’06]

The decision of GMA to “forgive” convicts on death row by commuting their death sentences to life imprisonment sends a counter-productive mixed message to the nation. Debate on the death penalty is far and between a moot point, and while this post is not meant to stir up debate, I feel that President Arroyo’s decision to commute their sentences just like that *snap* may not have been the best decision to make.

We are told on a daily basis that no one is above the law, and that all changes to the law should be made in accordance with law. We therefore ask this: while it may be lawful for the President to commute the death sentences accorded these criminals, is it morally right to do so on a sweeping scale, given that our current law calls for death for certain crimes? Shouldn’t she at least look at the cases and decide on a case-per-case basis? In making this decision, she holds prisoners’ lives in her hands, as well as the hurt and pain of the victims and their families. In ensuring the fairness of the case to all involved, shouldn’t she take the time to take a look at all the evidence per case?

This is how I feel about her decision:

Commuting the death sentence to criminals en masse is not fair to the victims of the crimes. To my knowledge, criminals who are sent to death row are found guilty of kidnapping, drug trafficking, and pre-meditated murder. Does the President have any idea of the psychological and financial struggle many families go through to see their loved ones receive justice? Do the Church and all these pro-life groups provide any kind of healing or therapy for those traumatized by the violence? Do the families of Charlene Sy and Marc Paglinawan and many other kidnap victims killed in the course of their ordeal get the closure they want? Marc, like a sizable number of other kidnap victims, was abducted and killed by kidnappers who were policemen. He was a batchmate of mine, a high school honor student who was polite, funny and obviously gifted. Charlene Sy, from what I heard, was a sweet girl who wouldn’t hurt a fly. These wonderful people did nothing wrong.

Crime victims literally have to slog through the system, the muck, and mire, in their desire to see these criminals understand the kind of loss they go through. They have to spend their own money to find the criminals; if and when these criminals are found, the crime victims expect some kind of retribution (most of them demanding death). Kidnapping is premeditated crime; these people knew what they were doing. I believe in forgiveness on a personal scale, but I also believe that a society needs to teach offenders who do not respect the sanctity of life, the laws of the society, and the call to earn an honest living not off the pain and torture of others, a lesson.

The Movement for Restoration of Peace and Order says, by making this decision, the President “has not given any consideration at all to victims of terrorism, kidnapping, murder, carjacking, drug pushing, and other heinous crimes.” I agree fully. It simply isn’t fair by the law.

By all means, give criminals opportunities for rehabilitation! It would be heaven if our society can work together towards the rehabilitation of these criminals; I fully believe in restorative justice. However, we have is a law that supports capital punishment, and I think it important to communicate to the nation that we are willing to work with and abide by that law; if the President’s views are different, I think it would be more prudent to work with Congress to change the law, not overturn it whenever she feels like it.

Commuting the death sentence to criminals en masse is an insult to the justice system. To get to Death Row, the Guilty decision on a convict has to go through three judges. It is a long and arduous process. For GMA to overturn years of waiting and deliberation in one fell swoop is an insult to our already ridiculously slow justice system. How do you suppose her decision makes all the judges feel about their decisions, having pored over the cases themselves? We need to work with the law; even if the lawmakers and law enforcers are criminals themselves, the law should still reign.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s decision to commute the penalties smacks of politics, and it stinks. In a society that is already struggling with wanton lawlessness, the decision to commute the death sentence is, ironically, a sign that, at least in this nation, justice is dead, i.e., the law does not matter.

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