Life is for living

A justice system that is restorative, rather than punitive, has much better results in reducing crime.

Detainees try to rest inside an overcrowded cell in Quezon City jail. (Photo by Vincent Go)
By Father Shay Cullen

The Lower House of Congress in the Philippines has passed a death penalty bill.

Unfortunately, vengeance and revenge for wrongdoing has become the driving force in the thinking of legislators. Compassion, rehabilitation, and eventual mercy and forgiveness are not in their hearts and minds.

The law of the uncivilized jungle is what they want.

But life is for living. It is to experience freedom to love and help others, to be free to grow, and to have a family. To be human is to be free from fear and punishment and ill health, poverty and hunger.

Living is to be free to think, to speak our thoughts, and freely choose good. To be alive is to have justice and dignity and the fullness of existence. To be able to say I am alive and I know that I am is to be aware of life.

But millions are deprived of these basic values of human life. The death penalty is just another way to deprive people of life itself.

Why is it that Filipinos in authority wish to exert power and cause punishment, pain and hurt on helpless and vulnerable people? The death penalty is a cruel and immoral punishment. It is a denial of the dignity and life of a human person.

Every intelligent person knows and accepts the truth that fear and threats of retribution and dire punishment do not deter crime or wrongdoing. It causes more crime.

A justice system that is restorative, rather than punitive, has much better results in reducing crime. Rehabilitation through therapy, compassion, respect and humane treatment of convicted criminals are most effective.

In the Netherlands, the government is closing down several prisons as crime has fallen to such a low level due to kindness rather than cruelness. Where social justice dominates and equality reigns, there is minimal crime.

In the United States, the Philippines, and other countries with punitive social systems, where violence, mockery, racism, stripping, brutality, humiliation, beating and severe punishment of prisoners is the norm, more dangerous criminals return to crimes on release and return to prison within 18 months.

The death penalty is a bridge of no return. It is irrevocable and undoable if new evidence is found proving him or her innocent. It is too late to undo injustice.

Many know that the justice system is flawed, weak and error-prone. A just prosecutor and a skilled honest judge are hard to find these days.

Most of those convicted are the poor who cannot afford skilled lawyers and rely on public defenders who are overburdened with hundreds of cases. The rich get off with murder or drug trafficking.

Since the discovery of DNA as a forensic tool to present incontestable evidence of guilt or innocence, many on death row in the U.S. have been exonerated after having been wrongly convicted and sentenced to death.

In the Philippines, there are those who argue that the death penalty, if done quickly and painless, would be a happy release from intolerable suffering in the hell holes of the Philippine prison system.

Photos have emerged in the media showing prisoners stripped naked in overcrowded cells. (Animals are treated with better respect.)

These unfortunate detainees who are awaiting trial are crammed into overcrowded unsanitary cells in intolerable heat. They are the living dead, and the justice system does not have the capacity or ability to give them a speedy and fair trial.

The intolerance of the rich and powerful, who have never suffered poverty, hunger, want, hardship and pain, can inflict it on others without a compassionate thought.

Another proposed law in the Philippines is the lowering of criminal liability for children to nine years of age.

At present, children are already incarcerated in prison cells and some are even being tortured. They are made to cling to the bars of their cells. Others are beaten or used as slaves or raped continually by older prisoners or guards.

That's the Philippine penal system at work.

We have proven, in many instances in the past, that children treated with respect and dignity in an open beautiful home will stay by free choice and find a life of education filled with hope and dignity. Fear and punishment have no place in the upbringing and recovery of abused children.

Irish Father Shay Cullen, SSC, established the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in 1974 to promote human rights and the rights of children, especially victims of sex abuse.

Source: UCAN

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