Philippines: Vote to reinstate death penalty could have lasting economic impact
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Philippines: Vote to reinstate death penalty could have lasting economic impact

A CONTROVERSIAL bill to reinstate the death penalty in the Philippines will likely gain approval at its second round of reading when the House of Representatives votes tomorrow. The outcome of the vote will be indicative of the final result which, if approved, could see the Philippines become the focus of much global condemnation.

In an interview with CNN’s “The Source” (reported by PhilStar), Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said on Monday that the number of lawmakers who will vote to approve House Bill 4727, or the reimposition of the death penalty, has exceeded a simple majority – 50 percent of 292 members plus one.

The vote will be held tomorrow, March 1, with lawmakers being threatened with replacement if they don’t vote in favour of the president-backed bill.

As Alvarez has said, and with the open pressure on lawmakers, the bill will likely pass, and in doing so see the Philippines become the focus of much global condemnation that could stand to further harm their position on the world stage and hinder economic and political progress.

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Both human rights groups and diplomats have come out to condemn the bill.

In a statement, released in cooperation with numerous leading anti-capital punishment charities, Amnesty International declared that the move would “violate the country’s intended obligations under international law” and expressed fear that the death penalty “invariably discriminates against the poor and disadvantaged.”

United Kingdom Ambassador to the Philippines Asif Ahmad also criticised the move to revive capital punishment in the country, calling it a “tragic reversal” of upholding the right to life that would demonstrate the Philippines could easily walk away from international treaties and legal obligations.

Ahmad is referring to the Philippines being party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and to the Second Optional Protocol of the ICCPR on the abolition of the death penalty, that states that “no one within the jurisdiction of a State Party to the present Protocol shall be executed” and that “each State Party shall take all necessary measures to abolish the death penalty within its jurisdiction.”

Voting to reinstate the death penalty will breach these international legal obligations meaning that the Philippines would be in violation of international law.

Ahmad believes that the Philippines, being a signatory to the ICCPR, could not “just walk away from that agreement” and warned that if they were to “it would cause jitters among the British businessmen or the business community.”

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The impact of this shake in confidence is already being seen with Britain and the European Union warning last week that the political controversies in the Philippines were turning off some members of the European business community.

“As harsh as it sounds now, the Philippines is in the European headlines almost on a weekly basis. …it brings in a lot of questions,” said European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP) executive director Florian Gottein, touting the environment of “uncertainty” in the Philippines as the reason businesses were looking elsewhere in the ASEAN (Associated of South East Asian Nations) region to expand.

Furthermore, the Philippines also risks losing its advantage of being able to export a wealth of products to the European Union at zero tariff because of its eligibility to the Generalised System of Preference Plus. This economic benefit is conditional to the government’s compliance with key international covenants, specifically the implementation of international conventions on human rights, that would be in violation should the vote to reimpose the death penalty be successful.

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The Philippine government abolished the death penalty under Article III, Section 19 of the 1987 Constitution. President Fidel Ramos then reimposed the death penalty in 1993 as a “crime control” measure, but it was then abolished once again in 2006 by then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

As the first country in Asia to abolish the death penalty, the Philippines was seen as a forward-thinking regional leader on the topic and played an important role in signalling a move away from pre-modern forms of punishment.

Abolitionists hoped the removal of the death penalty by the country would cause a sort of domino effect with other surrounding ASEAN nations, but the reversal of sentiments that are likely to be carried out with the vote tomorrow are being viewed as a move in the wrong direction, both morally and politically, by charities and politicians alike.

As it stands, it is yet to be seen if the House of Representatives will heed the call of Amnesty International “to ensure its international commitments are respected and the Bill to reintroduce the death penalty is rejected.”