Yesterday, 12 June 2013, Justice Secretary Leila M. De Lima attended the Opening Ceremony of the Fifth World Congress Against Death Penalty in Madrid, Spain, as the official representative of President Benigno S. Aquino III.
During said Opening Ceremony, Secretary De Lima delivered the President's message in front of an international audience composed of dignitaries, delegates and participants, who have traveled from all over the world to join the movement towards the universal abolition of the imposition of state-sponsored killing as a penalty for crimes.
In a strongly worded statement, the President left no room for doubt on his views against the capital punishment. He said that "every person is equal before the law, and that each life holds intrinsic value, which no person - no State - can or should take."
The President also observed that imposing the death penalty cannot fully deter crime. He named a confluence of several factors that are the deterrent to criminality, namely, an empowered citizenry, a skilled and trusted law enforcement sector, an effective prosecutorial service, and an independent judiciary.
Referring to the opening ceremony as an auspicious day for Filipinos around the globe who are celebrating the country's Independence Day, the President underscored that the Philippines, through its presence in the Congress, reaffirms its role in the collective commitment "to uphold the value of life by detesting the implementation of the death penalty."
It may be recalled that the Philippines was the first country in Asia to abolish the death penalty in 1987, when the new Constitution was ratified. It was, however, restored in 1992 through Republic Act No. 759, which cited the deteriorating crime situation then prevailing as compelling reason for its re-imposition. On 24 June 2006, it was again abolished with the enactment of Republic Act No. 9346, which received overwhelming support from members of Congress.
Later, during the same Opening Ceremony, particularly in the course of the Panel Discussion, Secretary De Lima was asked about what would be the focus of future efforts of the Philippine Government, considering that it is the pioneer among Asian countries in the abolition of the imposition of death penalty and, to date, remains one of the few that have done so.
In response, Secretary De Lima expressed, "It has always been the goal of the Philippine Government to be instrumental in the paving of positive changes, especially in the field of human rights - a major aspect of which, it goes without saying, is the protection of the right to life. We are aware that existing mechanisms for cooperation in our region, through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), notably the ASEAN Declaration of Human Rights, gives us the best opportunity to successfully advocate for the abolition of the Death Penalty. However, besides our ideological opposition to the imposition of death as a state-imposed penalty for crimes, we also have a very real, very practical and very urgent reason for working towards its universal abolition: our - concern for the safety and protection of the lives of our people.
"You have to understand that we have Filipino people, particularly our Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), who are currently living and working all over the world. In 2010, the number has been estimated at about 9.5Million, which accounts for about 10% of our entire population. Some have had the misfortune of getting entangled in criminal cases in foreign jurisdictions, which include those that impose death penalty, where they are at a distinct disadvantage due to certain factors, such as language barriers and social or cultural differences. Thus, our immediate focus is to ceaselessly advocate for the abolition of the death penalty, not just in our immediate vicinity in Asia, but all over the world. At the same time, we aim to take steps to ensure that our people are always assured of receiving adequate and competent legal representation and support for the defense of their rights," said Secretary De Lima.
The World Congress was attended by about 1,500 participants, composing of members and representatives of international civil society groups, politicians, jurists and government officials of various countries. It ends on Saturday, June 15th•
The countries of Norway, Switzerland, France and Spain sponsored the 5th World Congress. During the Opening Ceremony, the participants of the Congress also heard messages from Ban Ki-moon, United Nations Secretary-General, Thorborn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.
Along with Justice Secretary De Lima, Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Norway, Switzerland, France, Spain and Benin, as well as the Minister of Justice of Iraq, also addressed the participants and took part in the Panel Discussions of the Opening Ceremony of the World Congress.