In politics, two things seem certain: the death penalty and discrimination

Human rights optional.

Bills, bills, bills, and someone needs to pay. In this case, anyone caught in the crossfire of the drug war, or anyone who happens to not be straight. The death penalty and anti-discrimination bills are advocating for two very different causes, but they have one thing in common: human rights, and whether or not they’re optional. Both bills of course are heavily disputed, with a long history of back-and-forth, and debates that don’t always feel like real debates.

Since both have seemingly gone on forever, let’s quickly break down what has happened historically, what’s happening now, and what’s yet to come.

The Anti-Discrimination Bill:

The story of discrimination against LGBT people is as old as the Bible, or so Christian groups and politicians would have you believe. The bill, in its first iteration, was introduced almost two decades ago, but has had trouble finding majority support due to institutional weakness caused by the semi-permeable separation between Church and State. (Read more about the bill’s long history here)

Conservative groups and politicians naturally have the obligatory nightmare scenario at the ready to show how granting a disenfranchised community basic human rights would be incompatible with the lives of faithful Christians, raising children, getting a job, or even using the bathroom. An example would be former President Benigno Aquino saying in 2013: "One side of me says human rights are supposed to be universal. On the other hand, if we go into gay marriages, then of course the next step will be adoption and I don’t know if… I still have to look at it from the child’s perspective." However, if it concerns the human rights of a sizable part of the population, why not actually look at it right there and then, and not conveniently kick the political can of worms down the road for the next administration to worry about. 


The next administration, of course, is this administration, and the problems preventing the bill from passing remain the same. There are advocates like Representative Geraldine Roman and Senator Risa Hontiveros making an eloquent case, while the bill’s opponents these days use obstruction, religion and comedy. At almost 18 years old, one wishes the debate could be conducted more maturely, but currently the strategy seems to be delay, delay, delay, and then to ask for tough-to-stomach religious freedom exceptions. The Supreme Court, too, has in the past listened to the concerns of religious groups so the road ahead appears tough. However, with support in the House of Representatives and the Senate, progress is not impossible.

The Death Penalty Bill:

The death penalty's history is slightly younger but still reaches back almost 500 years to the Spanish colonial rulers, who used the death penalty for one reason: to quell dissent. Human rights were not a thing in those days, as execution methods included burning, decapitation, flaying, hanging and stabbing. In centuries since, the death penalty was used for different purposes, be it to crush the resistance or to calm down a populace scared of seemingly rising crime rates, which would only change in 1986, with the Philippines ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the following year’s abolishment of the death penalty. (You can find a timeline of the death penalty’s history in the Philippines here)

If you thought this was the end of it, you’re as wrong as the reason why the bill is back again. (See controversy surrounding war on drugs.) Compared to the knee-jerk reaction of previous debates, the current call to bring back the death penalty seems positively premeditated but disregards the actual efficiency as a crime deterrent, as well as the daily reality of ‘deaths under investigation.’ In a situation where drug criminals are scared of extra-judicial killings they are likely somewhat less concerned with judicial killings. Unless of course, we were to bring back burning and stabbing as methods of execution.

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With retribution being a good enough reason to bring back the death penalty, and a solid majority supporting its revival, it looks like its supporters have the momentum to fast-track the bill through the approval process, with a second reading already concluded in record time. The bill’s approval will result in the violation of international law, which naturally is not something anyone seems to be concerned with these days.

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Christopher Puhm
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