The justice system in the Philippines is mixed legal system of civil, common, Islamic, and customary law. The formal system of trials, appeals, and prisons is similar to that of the United States. Civil code procedures on family and property and the absence of jury trial were attributable to Spanish influences, but most important statutes governing trade and commerce, labor relations, taxation, banking and currency, and governmental operations were of United States derivation, introduced at the beginning of the twentieth century. Most of the laws, official notices and court decisions, including those by the Supreme Court, are in English. Even the Constitution is published more often in English than Tagalog. The bar exams are in English.

The basis of the legal code is primarily Spanish and Anglo-American law. Islamic law applies among Muslims in portions of the southern Philippines. According to the constitution, those accused of crimes have the right to be informed of the charges against them, to be represented by counsel, and to have a speedy and fair public trial. Defendants also enjoy the presumption of innocence and have the right to confront witnesses, present evidence, and appeal convictions. However, the judiciary is said to suffer from corruption and inefficiency, which at times undermine the provision of due process and equal justice. As a result, the Supreme Court has undertaken a five-year program to speed up the judicial process and crack down on corruption. [Source: Library of Congress, 2006]

Judicial institutions in the Philippines are regarded as weak and corrupt and notoriously slow. Skilled lawyers can get their clients off of most charges by bogging down the system with a flood of documents, motions and counter motions and then files for dismissal because their client has been denied the right to a speedy trial. Philippine law calls for compassion for people over 70.

For poor people the justice system operates quite differently than it does for the wealthy and elite. They are most often represented by overworked public defenders who advise their clients to plead guilty to hasten the process and hopefully get off with a light sentence. In many places a system of patronage exists in which justice is defined as having enough money to buy yourself out of any fix.

Judicial Branch in the Philippines

Judicial power is vested in a Supreme Court and in such lower courts as may be established by law. The highest court:Supreme Court (consists of a chief justice and 14 associate justices). Judge selection and term of office: justices are appointed by the president on the recommendation of the Judicial and Bar Council, a constitutionally-created, 6-member body that recommends Supreme Court nominees; justices serve until age 70. Subordinate courts: Court of Appeals; Sandiganbayan (special court for corruption cases of government officials); Court of Tax Appeals; regional, metropolitan, and municipal trial courts; sharia courts. [Source: CIA World Factbook]

The Philippines has an independent judiciary, with the Supreme Court as the highest court of appeal. The Supreme Court also is empowered to review the constitutionality of presidential decrees. The Supreme Court consists of a chief justice and 14 associate justices. It is not necessary for the entire court to convene in all cases. Justices are appointed by the president on the recommendation of the Judicial and Bar Council and serve until 70 years of age. Lower-level courts include a national Court of Appeals divided into 17 divisions, local and regional trial courts, and an informal local system to settle certain disputes outside the formal court system. In 1985 a separate court system founded on Islamic law (sharia) was established in the southern Philippines with jurisdiction over family and contractual relations among Muslims. Three district magistrates and six circuit judges oversee the Islamic law system. A special court—the Sandiganbayan or anti-graft court—focuses exclusively on investigating charges of judicial corruption. [Source: Library of Congress, 2006]

The 1981 Judicial Reorganization Act provides for four main levels of courts and several special courts. At the local level are metropolitan trial courts, municipal trial courts, and municipal circuit trial courts. The next level consists of regional trial courts, one for each of the nation's thirteen political regions, including Manila. Courts at the local level have original jurisdiction over less serious criminal cases while more serious offenses are heard by the regional level courts, which also have appellate jurisdiction. At the national level is the Intermediate Appellate Court, also called the court of appeals. Special courts include Muslim circuit and district courts in Moro (Muslim Filipino) areas, the court of tax appeals, and the Sandiganbayan. The Sandiganbayan tries government officers and employees charged with violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. [Source: Library of Congress, 1991 *]

The armed forces maintain an autonomous military justice system. Military courts are under the authority of the judge advocate general of the armed forces, who is also responsible for the prosecutorial function in the military courts. Military courts operate under their own procedures but are required to accord the accused the same constitutional safeguards received by civilians. Military tribunals have jurisdiction over all activeduty members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. *

Supreme Court of the Philippines

Supreme Court has been set up along the American model. It consists of a chief justice and 14 associate justices. Judge selection and term of office: justices are appointed by the president on the recommendation of the Judicial and Bar Council, a constitutionally-created, 6-member body that recommends Supreme Court nominees. Justices serve until age 70.

The Supreme Court, at the apex of the judicial system, consists of a chief justice and fourteen associate justices. It has original jurisdiction over cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers, and consuls, and over petitions for injunctions and writs of habeas corpus; it has appellate jurisdiction over all cases in which the constitutionality of any treaty, law, presidential decree, proclamation, order, or regulation is questioned. The Supreme Court also may hear appeals in criminal cases involving a sentence of life in prison. Article 3 of the Constitution forbids the death penalty "unless, for compelling reasons involving heinous crimes, the Congress hereafter provides for it." [Source: Library of Congress, 1991 *]

The Supreme Court also regulates the practice of law in the Philippines, promulgates rules on admission to the bar, and disciplines lawyers. To be admitted to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, candidates must pass an examination that is administered once annually. Professional standards are similar to those of the United States; the Integrated Bar Association's code borrows heavily from the American Bar Association's rules. Some 30,000 attorneys practiced law in the Philippines in the mid1980s , more than one-third of them in Manila. Counsel for the indigent, while not always available, is provided by government legal aid offices and various private organizations. Many of the private groups are active in representing "social justice" causes and are staffed by volunteers. *

Members of the Supreme Court and judges of lower courts are appointed by the president from a list of at least three nominees prepared by the Judicial and Bar Council for every vacancy. The Judicial and Bar Council consists of a representative of the Integrated Bar, a law professor, a retired member of the Supreme Court, and a representative of the private sector. Presidential appointments do not require confirmation. Supreme Court justices must be at least forty years of age when appointed and must retire at age seventy. According to Article 11 of the constitution, members of the Supreme Court "may be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust." The House has exclusive power to initiate cases of impeachment. The Senate tries such cases, and two-thirds of the Senate must concur to convict someone. The judiciary is guaranteed fiscal autonomy. *

Problems with the Philippine Justice System

The traditional independence of the courts had been heavily compromised in the Marcos era. Because the 1973 constitution allowed Marcos to fire members of the judiciary, including members of the Supreme Court, at any time, anyone inclined to oppose him was intimidated into either complying or resigning. None of his acts or decrees was declared unconstitutional. The thirteen Marcos-appointed Supreme Court justices resigned after he fled, and Aquino immediately appointed ten new justices. [Source: Library of Congress, 1991 *]

The Philippines has always been a highly litigious society, and the courts often were used to carry on personal vendettas and family feuds. There was widespread public perception that at least some judges could be bought. Public confidence in the judicial system was dealt a particular blow in 1988 when a special prosecutor alleged that six Supreme Court justices had pressured him to "go easy" on their friends. The offended justices threatened to cite the prosecutor for contempt. Aquino did not take sides in this dispute. The net effect was to confirm many Filipinos' cynicism about the impartiality of justice. *

Justice was endlessly delayed in the late 1980s. Court calendars were jammed. Most lower courts lacked stenographers. A former judge reported in 1988 that judges routinely scheduled as many as twenty hearings at the same time in the knowledge that lawyers would show up only to ask for a postponement. One tax case heard in 1988 had been filed 50 years before, and a study of the tax court showed that even if the judges were to work 50 percent faster, it would take them 476 years to catch up. Even in the spectacular case of the 1983 murder of Senator Benigno Aquino, the judicial system did not function speedily or reliably. It took five years to convict some middle-ranking officers, and although the verdict obliquely hinted at then-Chief of Staff General Fabian Ver's ultimate responsibility, the court never directly addressed that question. *

The indictment of former Minister of Defense Enrile on the charge of "rebellion with murder" shows that the courts can be independent of the president, but also that powerful people are handled gently. Enrile was arrested on February 27, 1990, for his alleged role in the December 1989 coup attempt in which more than 100 people died. Because Enrile was powerful, he was given an air-conditioned suite in jail, a telephone, and a computer, and a week later he was released on 100,000 pesos bail. In June 1990, the Supreme Court invalidated the charges against him. A further test of the court system was expected in the 1990s when criminal and civil charges were to be brought against Imelda Marcos. In 1991 Aquino agreed to allow the former first lady, who could not leave New York City without the permission of the United States Department of Justice, to return to the Philippines to face charges of graft and corruption. Swiss banking authorities agreed to return approximately US$350 million to the Philippine government only if Marcos were tried and convicted. Marcos did not seem to be reluctant to face the Philippine courts. *

Corruption and Philippine Judges

There was a drive to impeach Chief Justice Hilario Davide, the Supreme Court justice who swore in President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and played a role in the ouster of President Joseph Estrada in 2001. The impeachment was based on allegations that the judge misused public funds to refurbish court offices. The move was largely seen as pay back for the move against Estrada. Congress voted to impeach him but the Supreme Court voted the impeachment was unconstitutional.

In May 2012, an Arroyo-appointed Supreme Court chief justice was fired by the Philippines Senate in an impeachment trial for failing to declare $2.4 million in bank accounts. Hrvoje Hranjski of Associated Press wrote: “Chief Justice Renato Corona has called the effort to oust him a threat to democracy. He said his omission was not an impeachable offense and that a 1974 bank privacy law protects foreign deposits from disclosure, while prosecutors argued the constitution mandates a full declaration of assets for someone in his position. [Source: Hrvoje Hranjski, Associated Press, May 29, 2012 /*]

“Corona is considered fired and barred from public office after senators voted 20 to 3 to convict him on charges of betraying public trust and violating the constitution. Corona testified that it wasn't only him who is on trial and challenged all 188 lawmakers who impeached him to disclose their dollar accounts — but there were few takers. Reacting to his conviction, Corona said that he was innocent and that "bad politics' prevailed in his trial. But he suggested he was ready to accept his fate. "I have not committed any wrong," he said, but added that "if this will be for the country's good, I am accepting the difficulties we're going through." /*\

“The nationally televised, five-month-long proceedings gripped the nation like a soap opera, with emotional testimony, political grandstanding and a sideshow family drama. Prosecutors, most of whom are Aquino's allies from the lower House of Representatives, argued that Corona concealed his wealth and offered "lame excuses" to avoid public accountability. Corona said he had accumulated his wealth from foreign exchange when he was still a student. Rep. Rodolfo Farinas, one of the prosecutors, ridiculed the 63-year-old justice, saying he "wants us to believe that when he was in the fourth grade in 1959 he was such a visionary that he already started buying dollars." "It is clear that these were excuses and lies made before the Senate and the entire world," Farinas said in Monday's closing arguments, adding that Corona had declared in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth less than 2 percent of what he actually owned. /*\

“The prosecution asked if Corona was so rich, why did he need a loan for a car, and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile quizzed that if Corona had nothing to hide, why the failure to declare all his assets, as mandated by the constitution. Corona's lawyer Serafin Cuevas cited a threat of kidnapping and extortion. Farinas said the big lesson in Corona's conviction was that even the high and mighty in government could fall if they commit any wrongdoing. "This is a victory for justice," he said. /*\

“Aquino’s immediate target in his promise to fight corruption after being elected president in 2010 was former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her inner circle that includes Corona, who was appointed by Arroyo shortly before she stepped down. "This is not about vendetta," said Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, a close adviser to Aquino. "This is about strengthening the institutions of democracy, the institutions of check and balance." He said the conviction "shows that this country can dispense justice. This encourages people to avail of a judicial process that works even if the accused is a big fish." /*\

Corona has already questioned the legality of the charges against him, but the Supreme Court did not rule on it. This is the first impeachment process to be completed in Philippine history. The trial of former President Joseph Estrada on corruption charges in 2001 was cut short when prosecutors walked out and triggered the country's second "people power" revolt, toppling him. /*\

Supreme Court Justice’s Effort to Reform the Philippine Legal System

In 2007, Emily Green wrote in the Washington Post, “The Philippines, scarred by political assassinations and corruption, is looking to its new chief justice for salvation. And in his first nine months in office, Reynato Puno has moved with lightning speed to set up a more independent judiciary charged with enforcing a new code of legal responsibility. Hoping to use the courts to remake Philippine society, Puno has embarked on a campaign to end the widespread assassinations of journalists and political activists. [Source: Emily Green, Washington Post, October 1, 2007 ~]

“Puno is an improbable revolutionary. He was appointed to the bench by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and, at 67, has only three years before reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70. Yet this time limit has only stirred Puno to accelerate the pace of his agenda — to clean up the notoriously corrupt judiciary and create legal accountability for the recent string of political assassinations. In an interview, Puno said the killings are "like a replay of the last years of the Marcos government." ~

“Puno, a man so reserved he barely moves in a lengthy interview, has been agile in pushing all segments of the Philippine government to act. Under his leadership, the Supreme Court has called for the creation of a separate court system to handle assassination cases so that powerful local interests cannot influence judicial outcomes. ~

“In July, the Supreme Court hosted a national summit on the killings. Nearly every high-ranking government bureaucrat and official — including the house speaker and the military chief of staff — attended the two-day event. The Supreme Court justices personally led breakout sessions. The summit made national headlines for its bold recommendations. Summit participants proposed that the government and courts adopt the doctrine of "command responsibility" as described in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The doctrine holds that a military officer is responsible for crimes committed by his subordinates and for failing to prevent or punish those crimes. A second major summit recommendation was to create a law allowing civilian-led searches of military camps, a notion that the military chief also said he considers preposterous. ~

“Puno has also been aggressive in holding colleagues in the judiciary accountable. He has already fired one appeals court judge for gross incompetence and corruption. Other investigations are underway and Puno expects more dismissals soon. Surprisingly, though, finding critics of Puno is not easy. His fellow judges revere him. Justice Consuelo Ynares-Santiago called Puno the best chief justice she has ever seen. Human rights lawyers for the first time have something good to say about the legal system. Even the military chief called Puno a friend. "Any criticism of Puno is not the usual Philippine style — that this guy is corrupt," said Raul Pangalangan, former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Law and a Puno admirer. Instead, most critics focus on Puno's decisions and left-leaning ideology. His decision validating the rights of indigenous people to ancestral claims, for example, was called "quaint" and "idyllic" in one critical blog. ~

Life of Reformist Philippines Supreme Court Justice

In 2007, Emily Green wrote in the Washington Post, “Puno's choice of a role model — Earl Warren, chief justice of the United States from 1953 to 1969 — is not entirely surprising, given Puno's ties to the United States. After attending law school in the Philippines, Puno won a scholarship for post-graduate studies at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and later attended the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Illinois. [Source: Emily Green, Washington Post, October 1, 2007 ~]

“Upon his return to the Philippines, Puno joined his older brother Isaac in private practice as a labor lawyer. But in 1971, Puno struck out on a career of government service from which he has never veered. As a lawyer in the office of the solicitor general, he helped open the way in 1973 for the extension of the Marcos presidency and later the Marcos dictatorship. In 1980, Marcos appointed Puno, then 40, to the Court of Appeals. Puno was — and still is — the youngest person ever appointed to that court. He served for 14 years as an associate justice on the Supreme Court before being elevated to chief justice. In the interview, Puno said his connection with the Marcos administration never affected his independence as a judge. "If you belong to the executive department, you do your job as an executive official. You get transferred to the judiciary, you forget about your past connection to the executive." ~

“Despite his dispassionate demeanor, there is no doubt that Puno's background now drives his actions regarding political assassinations. In 1977, Puno's brother was killed by communist insurgents. When the perpetrators were let free during the mid-1990s under a national amnesty program, his mother was "particularly disappointed," Puno said. ~

Puno's most famous decision, and his most controversial, involved the "resignation" of President Joseph Estrada in 2001, when public outrage over corruption forced him to flee the presidential palace. During the turmoil, then-Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo assumed the presidency and Estrada went to the Supreme Court, claiming he had never resigned and was still president. Puno wrote a unanimous decision for the court majority, concluding that based on Estrada's "state of mind" and other factors, he had "constructively resigned," even if he never officially did so. The decision legitimized Arroyo's presidency, thereby avoiding a national crisis and the slippery slope of a judicial rationale authorizing the overthrow of presidents based on popular discontent. "He is a very shrewd man, very intelligent," former dean Pangalangan said. "For me, that decision encapsulates it." ~

Death Penalty in the Philippines

The death penalty in the Philippines was abolished under Aquino in 1987 and reinstated by Ramos in 1994 after a rise in crime, banned by Estrada in 2000 after strong lobbying by the church, the European Union and human rights groups and brought back by Arroyo and then abolished by again by her in 2006. According to informal surveys in the late 1990s, about 70 percent of all Filipinos said they supported the death penalty, partly because they felt something had to be done about the appalling crime rate. The Catholic Church is opposed to the death penalty. Nuns and priests have held vigils outside of prisons of condemned prisoners.

Executions in the Philippines were carried out by a lethal injection. Among the crimes that carried the death penalty were economic plunder, murder, incest and kidnapping. In some cases minors were put on death row because no one bothered to check their age and it was assumed they were over 18.

In the late 1990s seven executions were carried out by lethal injection. In June 1999, Leo Echegaray, a 38-year-old house painter was executed with a lethel injection for raping his step daughter five times when she was ten. It was their the first execution in the Philippines in 23 years. In July, three Filipinos convicted of killing a policeman, were put to death. More were executed in 2000. In 2004, two kidnappers were supposed to be executed but the action was stopped by Supreme Court order that said their cases should be reviewed.

Philippines Stops Death Penalty in 2006

In June 2006, Philippines President Gloria Arroyo signed a law abolishing the death penalty just two weeks after Congress passed the legislation. Sarah Toms of the BBC wrote: “As a result the sentences of the 1,200 inmates on death row will be now be commuted to life imprisonment. Mrs Arroyo said she welcomed the change but insists she is not softening her stance on fighting crime or terrorism. Mrs Arroyo has been under pressure from the influential Roman Catholic church to scrap capital punishment. The signing comes as she prepares to head to Rome for an audience with Pope Benedict XVI. [Source: Sarah Toms, BBC, June 24, 2006]

Earlier this month legislators in the Philippines, a mainly Catholic country, voted overwhelmingly to abolish capital punishment. By Philippine standards the bill was pushed through in record time. In a speech Mrs Arroyo said "we yield to the high moral imperative dictated by God to walk away from capital punishment".

The Philippines is plagued by violent crime with guns readily available and used in even minor disputes. Supporters of capital punishment say they fear the repeal will result in more crime. The repeal comes just days before Mrs Arroyo visits the Vatican for an audience with Pope Benedict XVI. Some analysts see the repeal of the death penalty as an attempt to win support from bishops for the president's plan to move to a parliamentary system of government. Others say Mrs Arroyo is trying to diffuse opposition from the church to the government's efforts to revive mining.

History of the Death Penalty in the Philippines

According to the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism: The imposition of the death penalty in the country has had a repressive history. For the most part (from 1848 to 1987), it was used to curtail the liberties, freedoms and rights of the Filipino people. In recent history, however, the death penalty was reimposed as a knee-jerk response to what has largely been seen as rising criminality in the country. The following, with help from the Mamamayang Tutol sa Bitay-Movement for Restorative Justice, traces the death penalty’s historical roots and context in Philippine society: [Source: Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, pcij.org]

Spanish Period (1521-1898): 1) Spanish colonizers brought with them medieval Europe’s penal system, including executions. 2) Capital punishment during the early Spanish Period took various forms including burning, decapitation, drowning, flaying, garrote, hanging, shooting, stabbing and others. 3) Capital punishment was enshrined in the 1848 Spanish Codigo Penal and was only imposed on locals who challenged the established authority of the colonizers. 4) Between 1840-1857, recorded death sentences totaled 1,703 with 46 actual executions. 5) Filipinos who were meted the death penalty include Magat Salamat (1587); the native clergies Gomez, Burgos and Zamora who were garroted in 1872; and Dr. Jose Rizal, executed on December 30, 1896. All of them are now enshrined as heroes.

American Period (1898-1934): 1) The American colonizers, adopting most of the provisions under the Codigo Penal of 1848, retain the death penalty. 2) The Codigo Penal was revised in 1932. Treason, parricide, piracy, kidnapping, murder, rape, and robbery with homicide were considered capital offenses and warranted the death penalty. 3) The Sedition Law (1901); Brigandage Act (1902); Reconcentration Act (1903); and Flag Law (1907) were enacted to sanction the use of force, including death, against all nationalist Filipinos. 4) Macario Sakay was one of those sentenced to die for leading a resistance group. He was sentenced to die by public hanging. 5) The capital punishment continued to be an integral part of the pacification process of the country, to suppress any resistance to American authority. Japanese Occupation (1941-1945): There are no recorded or documented cases of executions through the death penalty during this period simply because extrajudicial executions were widely practised as part of the pacification of the country.

Post-World War II: 1) Espionage is added to the list of capital offenses. 2) The Anti-Subversion Law called for the death penalty for all Communist leaders. However, no executions were recorded for any captured communist leader. 3) For the period of 1946-1965, 35 people were executed for offenses that the Supreme Court labeled as “crimes of senseless depravity or extreme criminal perversity.”

The Marcos Years (1965-1986): 1) “Deterrence” became the official justification for the imposition of the death penalty. This is the same justification used for the declaration of Martial Law in 1972. 2) The number of capital crimes increased to a total of 24. Some crimes which were made punishable by death through laws and decrees during the Marcos period were subversion, possession of firearms, arson, hijacking, embezzlement, drug-related offenses, unlawful possession of firearms, illegal fishing and cattle rustling. 3) Jaime Jose, Basilio Pineda, and Edgardo Aquino were executed for the gang rape of movie star Maggie dela Riva in 1972. Despite prohibitions against public executions, the execution of the three was done in full view of the public. 4) Nineteen executions took place during the Pre-Martial Law period. Twelve were executed during Martial Law. 5) Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr. was sentenced to die by firing squad for charges of murder, subversion and illegal possession of firearm in 1977. 6) The last judicial execution under the Marcos years was in October 1976 when Marcelo San Jose was executed by electrocution. 7) Similar to the reasons for the imposition of capital punishment during the Colonial Periods, the death penalty during the Marcos Regime was imposed to quell rebellion and social unrest.

President Corazon Cojuangco Aquino (1986-1992): 1) The Death Penalty was “abolished” under the 1987 Constitution. 2) The Philippines became the first Asian country to abolish the death penalty for all crimes. 3) All death sentences were reduced to reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment. 4) In 1988, the military started lobbying for the imposition of the death penalty for crimes committed by the CPP-NPA.

President Fidel Valdez Ramos (1993-1998): 1) A series of high profile crimes during this period, including the murder of Eileen Sarmenta and Allan Gomez, created public impression that heinous crimes were on the rise. 2) The Ramos administration reimposed the death penalty by virtue of Republic Act No. 7659 in December 1993 to address the rising criminality and incidence of heinous crimes. 3) The Death Penalty Law lists a total of 46 crimes punishable by death; 25 of these are death mandatory while 21 are death eligible. 4) Republic Act No. 8177 mandates that a death sentence shall be carried out through lethal injection.

President Joseph Ejercito Estrada (1998-2001): 1) Leo Echegaray was executed in February 1999 and was followed by six other executions for various heinous crimes. 2) In 1999, the bumper year for executions, the national crime volume, instead of abating, ironically increased by 15.3 percent or a total of 82,538 (from 71,527 crimes in the previous year). 3) Estrada issued a de facto moratorium on executions in the face of church-led campaigns to abolish the death penalty and in observance of the Jubilee Year.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (2001-present): 1) Arroyo publicly stated that she is not in favor of executions. 2) Due to the rise in crimes related to drugs and kidnappings that targeted the Filipino-Chinese community, she announced that she would resume executions “to sow fear into the hearts of criminals.” 3) Arroyo lifted the de facto moratorium issued by Estrada on December 5, 2003. 4) Even as executions were set to resume on January 2004, this did not push through by virtue of a Supreme Court decision to reopen the Lara-Licayan case. 5) Since then, the administration has been issuing reprieves on scheduled executions without actually issuing a moratorium. 6) With the amendment of Republic Act No. 8353 (Anti-Rape Law of 1997) and Republic Act No. 9165 (Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs act of 2002), there are now 52 capital offenses, 30 of which are death mandatory and 22 are death eligible.

Aquino Rejects Bid to Revive Death Penalty

In January 2014, Delon Porcalla wrote in the Philippine Star, “For the nth time, President Aquino yesterday thumbed down proposals to revive the death penalty following the spate of crimes in the country. Aquino said the country’s justice system is far from perfect, citing cases of innocent people found guilty of crimes they did not commit only because they were unable to hire good lawyers.The President reiterated that he would not allow capital punishment to be reimposed unless there is certainty that only those proven guilty will be punished and the innocent set free. [Source: Delon Porcalla, Philippine Star, January 30, 2014 ]

“Remember that if one is sentenced to death, there is no taking it back,” he said. “As to deterrence, that will not be fully realized, and this is not the only solution to deter crimes. Perhaps there will be more deterrence if we can assure that criminals will be caught and jailed,” he added. Sen. Vicente Sotto has filed Senate Bill 2080 seeking the revival of the death penalty. Sotto expressed alarm that the penalty of life imprisonment has failed to deter criminals from committing heinous crimes such as rape and drug trafficking.

“He cited the case of Chinese drug trafficker Lim Seng, who was executed by firing squad in the early 1970s. This had effectively eliminated the illegal drug trade in the country for at least 10 years, the senator said. Sotto noted that the Constitution allows Congress to reinstate the death penalty as long as there are compelling reasons to support this. He called for the use of lethal injection as the means to carry out the death penalty.

Rape and Rape Laws in the Philippines

Dr. Jose Florante J. Leyson wrote in the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: “The seriousness of rape against an individual female was brought to the public eye by the media when a famous actress was “gang raped” in the mid-1960s. The public demanded the severest punishment, the death penalty, and they got it. Execution by hanging, electrocution, or lethal injection as a penalty for rape has been on the books since 1924. The death penalty was abolished in 1987 but reinstated in 1994. In 2000, there were about 900 persons on death row, including a former member of Congress convicted in 1998 and awaiting execution for rape. Even though no actual executions for rape have taken place, the law has been instrumental in helping reduce such incidents [Source: Jose Florante J. Leyson, M.D., Encyclopedia of Sexuality, 2001 |~|]

In one particularly egregious rape case, a congressman was accused of raping a girl that he bought from her stepfather. When he was arrested he joked, “When you do it, do you ask for a birth certificate?” He claimed she was at the legal age of consent of 12 (an effort to raise the age of statutory rape to 14 has been unsuccessful).

After nine years of debate, the House of Representatives finally, in 1997, approved the bicameral conference report on a new law that heavily penalizes rape and makes it easier for government prosecutors to prosecute rape cases. This anti-rape law reclassifies rape from “a crime against chastity” to “a crime against a person.” Thus, if the victim is a minor and refuses to accuse the perpetrator, only the minor’s legal guardian or the court can file a suit. This new law also penalizes marital rape, but opens the door for the spouse to forgive her husband, in which case the charge is voided. The new law also redefines the nature of rape, expanding the traditional definition of forced penile insertion in the vagina to include unwanted insertion of the penis, or any object or instrument, in any bodily orifice of another person. These “other acts” are now part of “sexual assault.” The law in the Revised Penal Code also eliminates the gender bias, so that a woman can now be charged with raping a man. Finally, the law makes it possible to present evidence in court, in which presumption is created in favor of a rape victim, so that any overt physical act manifesting resistance in any degree can now be accepted as evidence of rape. Similarly, evidence that the victim was in a situation where she/he was incapable of giving valid consent can now be accepted as evidence of rape. |~|

For many years, the law against rape in the Philippines was described as a law against chastity. This meant that sexually experienced woman often difficulty proving they were raped because they were not virgins. Defense lawyers routinely had rape cases thrown out by arguing the victims was promiscuous because she wasn't a virgin and therefore her chastity was not harmed.

In the mid 1990s, rape-reform became hot topic as reformers attempted to get the law changed so that rape victims were rape victims regardless of whether they were virgins, chaste or no chaste or married. Reformers also wanted to expand the definition of rape from penile penetration to oral and anal penetration with hand and other objects.

The Philippines used to have the death penalty for rape. No rapist however was executed. One lawmaker suggested in 1995 that convicted rapists should have their penises amputated. "Considering the chauvinistic attitude of most Filipino males, having one's sexual organ cut off is worse than death itself," the lawmaker said.

Incest: A Death Penalty Crime in the Philippines

Dr. Jose Florante J. Leyson wrote in the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Incest is punished severely if the victim is younger than fifteen years old. Capital punishment by lethal injection was restored during the Ramos administration. Six executions of men convicted of incest have taken place since 1998. [Source: Jose Florante J. Leyson, M.D., Encyclopedia of Sexuality, 2001 |~|]

There are no statistics on the incidence of incest in the Philippines. However, it is quietly known that adolescent girls are often raped by older male family members, and fathers often use them as sexual objects after the death of the mother, or when the wife’s work takes her outside the home for long periods. Abusive males are usually unemployed people with a past history of family violence, high consumption of alcohol, social inadequacy, and impulsive behavior. Although less frequent, cases of incest are also known in which the male is the head of an upper-class household and respected by his community. Cases of incest in middle- and upper-class families seldom surface while the victim is a minor. The trauma may emerge during private sexual therapy with an older woman, but there is a strong reluctance on the part of most victims to make formal charges. Generally, indictment for incest by judicial authorities does not take effect unless a formal complaint has been filed or in cases of public scandal. |~|

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Philippines Department of Tourism, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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