10 Surprising Facts About Death Penalty In The Philippines
Here are some of the more-interesting stories and facts about our country’s on-and-off brush with the death penalty.
1. The pre-Spanish Filipinos practiced it, albeit infrequently.
While not capital punishment in the sense that it was not rendered for the sake of the state, the pre-Spanish Filipinos did practice the death penalty. However, they practiced it infrequently at best.
Death sentences were regularly commuted to fines, flogging, or slavery. Out of the three, slavery was the most common form of commutation since the pre-Spanish Filipinos found it more practical to have a slave work in their fields and lands.
2. The Spanish also didn’t use it much either.
Another misconception about Spanish rule in the Philippines blown way out of proportion is the implementation of the death penalty during their rule. While executions did indeed happen, they only commonly occurred during rebellions and uprisings.
In cases of treason, rebellion, or any other crime which endangered Spanish sovereignty, the death penalty was frequently employed to quell the disturbance.
3. The Philippines had a club of pro-death penalty judges.
During the periods when the death penalty still operated, there existed a group of judges who strongly advocated capital punishment and who were only too eager to give out the death penalty. Known as the Guillotine Club, the group was founded in 1995 by Quezon City judge Maximiano Asuncion for judges who handed out death sentences.
By his reasoning, if criminals could form syndicates to sow fear among ordinary people, then law-abiding citizens such as judges should be able to put up their own group to scare off criminals.
4. The Catholic church was once pro-death penalty.
There used to be a time when the Catholic Church actively campaigned for the death penalty. During the Philippine Revolution, Manila Archbishop Bernardino Nozaleda openly called for Filipino rebels to be exterminated by “fire, sword, and wholesale executions.”
With his endorsement, Spanish authorities regularly conducted public executions of Filipino revolutionaries. It can be said Nozaleda was also indirectly responsible for Jose Rizal’s death when he orchestrated the ouster of the conciliatory Governor Ramon Blanco with the iron-fisted Camilo de Polavieja.
5. The Philippines had the world’s second largest death row population among democracies.
Outside of such states as China and countries in the Middle East, the Philippines—before it abolished the death penalty in 2006—used to have the world’s second-largest population of death row prisoners, pegged at an estimated 1,200 people.
According to Amnesty International, the commutation of those sentences by former President Gloria Arroyo also gave the Philippines the record of having conducted the biggest number of commutations in a single sitting anywhere in the world.
6. A governor nearly ended up in the electric chair.
Rafael Lacson, the governor of Negros Occidental who ran the province like his own personal fiefdom from 1949 to 1951, was sentenced to the electric chair in 1954. This was after being found guilty for the murder of Moises Padilla, an opposition candidate who ran for mayor in the town of Magallon in 1951.
7. We have executed a minor before.
In this case, the offender was none other than Marcial “Baby” Ama who was only 16 years old when he was executed via electric chair. At the time, the law considered the legal age for men and women to be 16 and 14 respectively.
Ama himself earned his sentence after leading one of the biggest jail riots in history which resulted in the deaths of nine inmates, one of them having been beheaded.
8. We nearly employed the gas chamber instead of lethal injection.
When President Fidel Ramos brought back the death penalty with Republic Act 7659 in 1993, he envisioned the gas chamber to replace the electric chair as stipulated in the third paragraph of Article 81 “as soon as facilities are provided by the Bureau of Prisons.”
However, the Americans—for one reason or another—rejected Ramos’ bid to purchase the necessary materials from them, although they did successfully convince him to buy the equipment for lethal injection instead. As a result, the law had to be changed again to provide for lethal injection as the country’s method of execution.
9. Only the Philippines and the US have ever used the electric chair.
Believe it or not, only two countries in the world have ever used the electric chair—the United States and the Philippines (in fact, it is still being used in certain US states today).
10. A busy phone line led to a convict’s execution.
Minutes before the scheduled execution of convicted rapist Eduardo Agbayani on January 25, 1999, President Joseph Estrada received a call from his spiritual adviser Bishop Teodoro Bacani telling him Agbayani’s three daughters—his victims—were willing to forgive him. Estrada then tried calling prison officials to stop the execution but only received fax tones and busy signals.
It was later discovered that Estrada did not know he was not using a direct line specially installed for the very purpose of stopping an execution. When he did manage to connect at 3:12 PM, Agbayani was unfortunately already dead at 3:11 PM—a mere difference of a single minute.