The Philippines and Death Penalty – 10 Unexpected Facts

Since we have a new president who agrees to bringing back death penalty, let’s talk about the history of capital punishment in our country.

A number of key historical events involved death penalty, such as Jose Rizal’s firing squad and Gomburza’s garrote. The last colonial-era execution took place under Governor-General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. in February 1932, but there were no executions under Manuel L. Quezon, the second president of the republic. Throughout the 40’s up to the Marco’s era, a few notable people we’re put to death.

After the People Power Revolution in 1986, the newly drafted 1987 Constitution prohibited the death penalty but allowed Congress to reinstate it “hereafter” for “heinous crimes”. This made the Philippines the first Asian country to abolish capital punishment. President Fidel V. Ramos restored it during his term, but it was again suspended via Republic Act No. 9346, which was signed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on 24 June 2006, pardoning thousands of inmates in death row along the way.

Long story short, it was legal, but legislations put a stop to it. Since its suspension, there have been continued public and media calls for its reintroduction, particularly prompted by high-profile murder cases. We seem to be constantly trapped in a never ending whirlpool of debates to whether restore death penalty again or not.

Anyway, below are some surprising facts you probably didn’t know about death penalty in the Philippines.

Ancient Filipinos Practiced It, But Infrequently

Ancient Filipinos Practiced It, But Infrequently

Putting someone to death because of crime in pre-colonial Philippines was being practiced, but it wasn’t an everyday thing. In fact, they tried not to result to it as best as they can. Instead of capital punishment, they regularly choose fines, flogging, or slavery as a sentence. Of the three, slavery was the most common since pre-colonial Filipinos thought it was practical to have slaves working from them, tending to their fields and lands. Also, the unusual and cruel punishments as depicted in the Code of Kalantiaw, such as   thrown in boiling water and being eaten by ants, are in fact, just a hoax (in fact the whole code is fake). If executions were ever done, hanging or decapitation were the most common ways of doing it.


The Spanish Weren’t Really Into It Either

As mentioned, capital punishment changed the course of history a few times in the Philippines. But it’s not as common as many of us think it was. The use of death penalty during the Spanish time is completely blown out of proportions. While executions did happen, they only occurred during uprisings and rebellions. In cases of treason, rebellion, or any other crime which could have scared the Spanish sovereignty, death was given to those involved to suppress the disturbance. In times of peace, the Spanish didn’t even bother employing capital punishment. in fact, out of the 1,700 convicts condemned to death row from 1840 to 1885, only 46 of them were executed. Convicts were kept locked up in jail or banished to never return.

Catholic Church was Once Pro-Death Penalty

Catholic Church was Once Pro-Death Penalty

The irony of it all. Currently, a majority of the church are against death penalty. But in some point in time during the Philippine Revolution, Manila Archbishop Bernardino Nozaleda openly called for Filipino rebels to be exterminated by “fire, sword, and wholesale executions.” The Spanish authorities then regularly conducted public executions of Filipino revolutionaries. Some historians even say that he was indirectly responsible for Jose Rizal’s death, after supporting the dismissal of the peace-minded Governor Ramon Blanco and replacing him with the tough Camilo de Polavieja.

Pro-Death Penalty Club

Pro-Death Penalty Club

During the years when death penalty was still being operated, there was a group of judges who has a strong advocacy towards death penalty and who would gladly give out a verdict for capital punishment. Famously called the Guillotine Club, the group was founded in 1995 by Quezon City judge Maximiano Asuncion. According to him, if criminals can crate syndicates that could terrorize ordinary people, then law-abiding citizens such as judges should be able to create their own groups to scare criminals. judge Asuncion was recorded to have given seven death sentences throughout his career. He was also the presiding judge for the high-profile case of Leo Echegaray, convicted of the crime of raping his own daughter, whom he subsequently sentenced to death. However, he never got to see the sentence carried out. He passed away from a heart attack two years before Echegaray’s execution.

Once Had A Very Large Death Row Population

We Once Had A Very Large Death Row Population

Ether we had a lot of convicts committing heinous crimes, or our judges were giving capital punishment out like candy. Next to China and the Middle East, we had the second largest population of convicts sent to death row, ranging at about 1,200 people. As per Amnesty International, the pardon of these sentences by President Gloria Arroyo during her term was the biggest number of commutations in a single sitting anywhere in the world. Of course, the United States is on top of the list of the largest death row population. Since 1995, they have an average of 3,000 death row convicts per year.

We Executed A Minor

We Executed A Minor

At sixteen, most of us were probably in late high school or first year college, minding our studies and hanging out with our friends. But imagine being sixteen years old and being in death row. Although there is an uproar against the Pangilinan Law which many critics say have allowed minors to commit crimes without fear of consequences, there was a time when the Philippines could legally, and really, executed minors since they were not considered as kids at that time. At the time, the law considered the legal age for men and women to be 16 and 14 respectively. In the case of Marcial “Baby” Ama, he was only 16 years old when he was executed via electric chair. He earned his sentence after organizing one of the biggest jail riots in history, resulting to nine dead inmates, one being decapitated in the event. He was given the death penalty by the Supreme Court after finding him guilty for stabbing to death a man named Almario Bautista during the riot.

Rafael Lacso

A Governor Almost got Executed

We’re known for political dynasties. We’ve had the same family running cities, towns, and even provinces for generations. In what could be biggest upsets against a political dynasty, Rafael Lacson, the governor of Negros Occidental, was THIS close to meet his end by the electric chair. After being found guilty for the death of opposition candidate Moises Padilla, Lacson was sentenced to the electric chair in 1954. Even after the harassments and threats, Padilla continues to run for mayor of Magallon, with the  backing of then-Defense Secretary Ramon Magsaysay. Even though Lacson’s candidate won the elections, he ordered Padilla’s arrest under the grounds of sedition and illegal possession of firearms. A few days later, Padilla’s dead body was found in the town plaza. Padilla’s body was personally picked up by Magsaysay himself and brought to manila for an autopsy and proper burial. Lacson was charged and was sentenced to capital punishment. This, however, was reduced to life imprisonment due to the lack of votes in the Supreme Court.


Auschwitz, Anyone?

We would have taken a whole chapter from Third Reich’s book by using a gas chamber, instead of lethal injection, as a means for capital punishment. When President Fidel Ramos gave a thumbs up to bring the death penalty back in 1993, he was actually thinking of replacing the electric chair with a gas chamber. The Americans rejected his bid to purchase the materials needed, although they did convince him to buy the materials for lethal injection. Well, if you think of it. A gas chamber’s really not the most humane way to take someone’s life (as if there is a humane way to do so). If you’re going to give capital punishment to someone, at least make it fast and easy.


Electric Chairs, Only In The Philippines… And The US

Apparently, we’re there only two countries that use this method of capital punishment. In fact the US still uses it today. We adopted it from the US in 1926 and continued to use it until 1976. We then shifted to other ways, such as the firing squad (how very historic), and during the last approval of capital punishment, the lethal injection. Over its 50 years of service, the electric chain shocked to death 86 death row prisoners, among them Baby Ama, the three rapists of actress Maggie dela Riva, and the would-be assassin of  Manuel Roxas, Julio Guillen.

one call too late

One Call Too Late

While we don’t have any failed execution stories, there was one instance where the busy phone line resulted to the convict’s execution before it could have been postponed. Minutes before convicted rapist Eduardo Agbayani was scheduled to be executed, Bishop Teodoro Bacani, the spiritual adviser of President Joseph Estrada, called him and said that Agbayani’s daughters, who were also his victims, were willing to forgive him. Estrada tried to call to stop the execution, but he only received fax tones and busy signals. At 3:12 PM he managed to connect, only to discover that Agbayani had already died at 3:11 PM.

Those are just a few death sentence stories that we have in the country. What are your thoughts? Do you think it should be brought back? Leave us a comment, as well as your suggestions, below. Don’t forget to share this article.

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