Rapist-murderer’s near-release, a huge argument for capital punishment

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THE silver lining in the dark cloud that was the near-release of the rapist-murderer, former Calauan mayor Antonio Sanchez, is that the episode is a huge argument for the restoration of the death penalty.

How much more heinous can a crime be than that of Sanchez — a powerful and rich jueteng lord — who for a night’s entertainment raped the 19-year-old Eileen Sarmenta, then had his bodyguards also violate her, and ordered them to shoot her dead — in her face, as it turned out. His bodyguards followed Sanchez’s sadistic ethos, and tortured Sarmenta’s companion, Allan Gomez, before shooting him in the head.

A civilized society must have such a gruesome crime be punished with the severest form of penalty, depriving the perpetrator of his life. Sanchez’s release was under a law passed during former president Benigno Aquino 3rd’s administration, and apparently — to be frank, I’m not sure — would have occurred if not for the public outrage over it.

But how many rapists, murderers, rapist-murderers have been or would be released under that law, without us knowing about it, or just because their crimes weren’t as high-profile as the rape and killing of a University of the Philippines Los Baños student and the murder of another. How many such rapists and murderers committed their crimes, thinking that at worse they’d just serve time, and not lose their life?

Not just because of my Catholic and Jesuit indoctrination but more importantly my wonder over the miracle of the phenomenon of life, I have been staunchly opposed to capital punishment. I believed that no social construct as the State has the right to decide whether a human being is to live or die, to methodically and deliberately snuff out his life as a punishment for a heinous crime.

But then, I have realized that such an argument, in essence is metaphysical — i.e., an abstraction that may or may not be based on reality. How can we make such an important decision such as the necessity or not of capital punishment based on metaphysics? (Its ideological cousin is liberalism — that the rights of an individual are infinitely more important than the need for a society to survive.)

This is the reason why Christianity — a religious system steeped in metaphysics — is so against capital punishment. It was in fact the Catholic Church which pressured the Arroyo administration in 2006 to ban capital punishment in our country. The Church of course was so opportunistic, demanding the repeal in exchange for its support during those years when the Arroyo administration was besieged.

If you have bothered to read on this issue, there is no incontestable evidence for or against the death penalty — whether it is a deterrent or not, for instance. Your choice rests almost entirely on whether you believe in the metaphysical claim that a human being’s life is “sacred” and transcends the needs of the society, without which, however, it could not have grown.

Imagine a small group of people, a tiny tribe in a harsh jungle full of enemies, a nomadic group by necessity in order to find new areas of fruit-bearing trees and easy-to-capture game. One of them turns out to be so anti-social, even psychotic, as to kill another member of the tribe.

Does that tribe have to debate that that criminal’s life is so sacred that he cannot be executed for his crime — even just to make it easier for the tribe to survive in that harsh jungle full of enemies?

Nations are in essence glorified tribes, albeit with sophisticated artifacts of civilization. The primordial task of a tribe or nation is to survive, internally by having strict laws that ensure order, and by having a deterrent against the members of the tribe killing each other.

Economic and societal growth, including military and police forces, would increase a society’s strength that there could be a consensus that capital punishment is unnecessary for its survival and as a deterrent. We certainly haven’t reached that state, and I believe that Sanchez was so powerful and rich that he probably would have bribed his way out of jail after just 27 years there, apparently in comfort.

This is the reason why most advanced countries, especially those in Europe, ban the death penalty, while those only recently developed —China, Russia, Singapore — or are still struggling to get out of its Third World status — us, Pakistan, India — continue to have the death penalty.

This is also the reason why Christianity is against the death penalty, while Islam and Hinduism aren’t. Christianity had become the religion of Western countries, which have become developed economies. Islam has been the religion of mostly still-undeveloped nations.




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