Tuesday, April 18, 2006

This Easter, Let's Choose Life, not Death.

I must admit that my focus on current national issues last February in this blog exhausted me. I realized afterwards that I did not know how to be distantly cool anymore, or perhaps I never learned to, when fighting for what I believed in. That was probably why I preferred to desist from being an advocate for clients, even for worthwhile causes, although those comprised my idea, when I was growing up, of what a lawyer should do.

Too much of anything is not a good thing. The prince asked Danielle, Drew Barrymore's character from the movie "Ever After", if she ever got tired from having too much passion. My Sikat na Sisters (who used to live in Sikatuna BLISS) said that Danielle reminded them of me as I tended to be passionate about everything I got my little head into.

There was one cause which I took up personally a few years ago, when I was a graduating law student. Considering the news that broke on the night of Easter Vigil, I was brought back to a particular time in my life when everything revolved around the laws of the land for me. These days I prefer to study God's laws and pour my heart, mind, soul and strength into living them out. Somehow there must be a connection between the two in the following topic.

The year was 1999, when the state executed Leo Echegaray, the first person to die under Rep. Act No. 7659, the act that restored the death penalty after it was conditionally removed by the 1987 Constitution. I was supposed to write my Supervised Legal Research paper, together with my law school bosom buddies Karreen and Jig, about an entirely different topic, which I cannot remember anymore, but which was suggested by our adviser as it was quite the rage in the legal circles at that time (unlike the death penalty, that topic must have lost its staying power, for me to forget about it. Or maybe I'm just getting more and more forgetful with age).

After watching the debates which divided the country at that time, however, we could not in all good conscience write about anything else other than a real alternative to capital punishment. Our adviser specifically told us that he could not recommend our paper for an award, as we chose an old and recycled topic, allegedly, despite our insistence that we were coming up with an alternative solution and not merely writing about what had already been said about the death penalty.

In the middle of the semester, therefore, and just a couple of months before our scheduled graduation, we changed topics and concentrated our research and writing skills on an issue we felt passionate about. Of course, the fact that we were law interns being supervised by Atty. Theodore Te, the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) lawyer of Echegaray, gave us access to several documents from FLAG and Amnesty International.

I dropped an elective, Special Topics in Remedial Law under a good professor, Atty. Mario Ongkiko of the Hubert Webb case fame, just to concentrate on our SLR paper. It was not about winning an award but about studying the topic and making a difference, as idealistic law students. We scoured the internet, using dialup connections at a snail's speed, for more materials than what the UP law library provided. We read what the Church had to say, what other countries were doing - which mostly was to abolish their equivalent death penalty laws, how crime victims felt, and how politics played a major part in the presence of capital punishment in a particular country.

We studied constitutional, criminal, and remedial law to offer an alternative to capital punishment, as much as our limited law students' knowledge could muster, and we came up with "life imprisonment without good conduct time allowance and/or with productive labor". I won't discuss our conclusions here, as the paper was published in the Philippine Law Journal, Vol. 73, No. 3, March 1999.

When I passed the bar, I helped FLAG with one death penalty case filed with the Supreme Court. I prayed hard for the victim of the crime for which the accused I was "defending" was convicted, but still I did not believe that the offender's death was the solution, as it only perpetrated the cycle of violence, and in most cases did not even meet the desired closure for crime victims and their families.

Now that Pres. Arroyo, the woman I wrote an emotional open letter to last February following her Proclamation No. 1017, commuted the sentence of over 1,000 convicts, debates would spark once again about this issue that always polarizes any nation that re-examines it. As a pro-abolitionist, I'm very happy with this news. It is politics that played a major role in this exercise of presidential prerogative, most certainly, but as I've said earlier, politicians can't help seeking the public opinion on this matter, and worse, using it to promote their own agenda.

But as a cause, a principle, and an ideal, I can clearly see the Easter message in this matter. My heart goes out to the crime victims who are crying for justice and whose desired solution is death. I am praying for them, to a God who exacts vengeance to defend His people, and in whose hands we are assured of justice, beyond what our eyes could see and our hearts could yearn for.

It is Easter. Christ is Risen. May we choose life in Him, even for our enemies, and trust that He knows best and He will be our Savior, at all times.

No comments: