POSTSCRIPT / January 7, 1999 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Let’s leave out God in death penalty debate

IT’S appalling that even God in Heaven has been dragged into the debate over the stay of the execution of child-rapist Leo Echegaray.

Upon receiving news of the Supreme Court’s giving the doomed rapist a six-month reprieve, several nuns and bleeding hearts clapped and squealed with ecstatic Hallelujahs for God’s allegedly having answered their prayers.

As members of religious societies, nuns and priests should not give the wrong signal to the rest of us that God had taken sides, that He spurned the rape victim and her sympathizers who were also praying for Lechergaray to be put away.

* * *

EQUALLY appalling was a report that the father-confessor of the convicted rapist informed media that the doomed man had told him in the morning of his scheduled execution that he did not rape his daughter.

We’ve been taught and assured by the Church that any statement made by a penitent to his confessor is something strictly between the two of them (and God, of course).

The priest, identified as Bilibid chaplain Roberto Olaguer, should not have divulged to the inquiring press what Echegaray told him — unless the priest, like a number of Catholic bishops, had wanted to influence public opinion in favor of Echegaray and the dropping of the death penalty.

The priest’s disclosure bolstered the contention of anti-death advocates that in this imperfect world, there is always the possibility that an innocent man might be executed by mistake.

* * *

WE thought all along that courts are to base their rulings on pertinent laws and the verified facts of the case, not on speculation or some vague possibility in some future time.

The Supreme Court, the mother of all courts, is no exception. In fact, it should set the example for the lower courts to follow.

But in the Echegaray case, the court was relying on the tenuous line that Congress might just repeal or revise the law imposing the death penalty in a manner that might affect the doomed child-rapist.

Was the high court ever informed officially by Congress of its intention? If not, was the court merely relying on news reports or the allegation of the lawyer of Echegaray?

If it had no formal communication from Congress, it was highly irresponsible for the Supreme Court to issue that controversial Temporary Restraining Order. How can the tribunal now discipline judges who recklessly issue TROs, sometimes for a fee?

* * *

THERE is a Senate resolution, all right, asking President Estrada for a stay of execution. But the Senate is not Congress and the resolution is not addressed to the Supreme Court, but to the President, who happens to be standing firm on Echegaray’s execution.

In the bigger House of Representatives, there is no similar or concurrent resolution.

A resolution sent to Malacañang by the Senate, or from anybody for that matter, on any political issue pending before the President is a normal communication. The sender is free to send it and the President is free to ignore or heed it. No harm is done.

* * *

BUT a similar Senate resolution will not be, because it should not be, sent to the Supreme Court on a case pending before the tribunal. The Senate cannot lawyer for any private party in any case in any court.

There are some measures on the death penalty, among other such bills endlessly churned out by proponents, still languishing in some Senate committees. But they don’t count since they are still mere specks on the legislative horizon.

Even in the unlikely possibility that a law striking down death penalty is passed, President Estrada will veto it anyway. And override of the veto is unlikely.

So where did the honorable justices of the Supreme Court get the far-out idea that Echegaray may just be spared the death penalty by a belated act of Congress?

* * *

IT is entirely possible, although not necessarily probable, that this nation might decide later to do away with the death penalty.

Then, not earlier, convicts of the most heinous crimes — such as the bestial rape of one’s own daughter — would not have to worry about being executed by the state for their crime.

Passing a law to free an unrepentant Echegaray, who had been convicted and whose conviction had been affirmed with finality by the Supreme Court itself, is the height of stupidity.

But whatever some of us think of many lawmakers, we don’t think they are that stupid.

* * *

WE Filipinos do not readily agree on such contentious issues as the imposition of the death penalty. But as we go through some process of evolving a consensus, we know what is good for us.

We don’t need foreign human rights groups to lecture to us and attempt to make us feel that we are barbaric. We resent their presuming to tell us that we’re being left behind in what they claim to be the enlightened trend in other countries of abolishing capital punishment.

Given our peculiar situation and our own values as a people, we keep evolving our own ideas on crime and punishment without need for foreigners and their local collaborators to lecture to us. We know what we’re doing.

Why don’t these foreigners go to Saudi Arabia, for instance, and try telling the Saudis to stop beheading death convicts or cutting off the hands of some criminals?

* * *

IT is noteworthy that on Death Row, of the 865 convicts lined up, 56 percent are rapists.

Since Echegaray flew from the death chamber on the wings of a Supreme Court order, more rape complainants — most of them children — have been trooping to the police to denounce their tormentors.

One disturbing item is the prevalence of cases of young girls being molested by their stepfathers or other members of the family. Incestuous rape cries out to heaven for vengeance we can’t play deaf and blind anymore.

Another angle worth looking into is the statistical point that some 80 percent of death convicts had dabbled in drugs either as pusher or user. Echegaray himself had been arrested on drug charges but had managed to get off the hook.

Crusaders against drug-abuse have raised the specter of drug money now being used to lobby for the removal of capital punishment from the statute books. Some of the death convicts in Muntinlupa are big-time drug merchants, hence their lobby.

 * * *

IT’S unfair to insinuate that President Estrada “rushed” to fill two vacancies in the 15-member Supreme Court so as to tip the balance in favor of death once the tribunal sits down to review the case of Echegaray and other death convicts.

The latest appointees to the high court — Court of Appeals Justices Arturo Buena (presiding justice) and Minerva Gonzaga Reyes—were generally received with approval because of their sterling record and seniority.

Insinuations that they will be presidential pawns in the debate over the death penalty are not fair to the two justices, the President and the Supreme Court.

Incidentally, Justice Antonio Martinez is set to retire at the end of the month, giving President Estrada a chance to put in another appointee.

* * *

FINALLY we saw a plausible explanation for the unusual number of articles the past two weeks on the Y2K or the Year 2000 bug, which may set back some computer networks to 1900 with disastrous effects once their internal clocks tick the first second of the year 2000.

Even writers who might find it difficult absorbing the technical details of the bug were suddenly talking like computer experts.

In the articles about the Millennium Bug, there was always prominent mention of Dr. Amable Aguiluz V as the presidential man leading the campaign to beat the Y2K bug.

Then in the second phase of the press campaign, Amable suddenly emerged as a serious candidate as replacement of retiring Science and Technology Secretary William Padolina.

We are not objecting to Aguiluz’s possible appointment. He must be learned. It’s just that as student of mass media and their manipulation, we were fascinated by his line of campaign using column-feeds in media.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 7, 1999)

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