POLITICAL reform in the Philippines is hounded by high public expectation because of untold amounts of corruption and law-breaking by public officials for years. It is like a mirage that never truly materializes; it recedes the closer we try to get to it.

There are those who maintain a level of cynicism toward the political system and apathy toward political participation because of a negative perception of people who are elected to office. This negative connotation exists because of the few public officials who have abused their power to accomplish personal and selfish pursuits.

The penalization of plunder in the Philippines is only two decades old. Republic Act 7080 or the Anti-Plunder Law was enacted in the wake of former President Ferdinand Marcos’s dictatorship—when he and his cronies allegedly amassed ill-gotten wealth. The law was passed in 1991 to be used as a deterrant to prevent public officials from stealing money from the government.

The law states that plunder is committed by any public officer who, by himself or herself, or in connivance with members of his or her family, relatives by affinity or consanguinity, business associates, subordinates or other persons, amasses, accumulates or acquires ill-gotten wealth through a combination or series of overt or criminals acts as described in Section 1(d) hereof in the aggregate amount or total value of at least Fifty million pesos (P50,000,000.00) shall be guilty of the crime of plunder and shall be punished by reclusion perpetua to death.

A proposed measure to reinstate the death penalty in the country is currently set for plenary debates. Under the proposed measure, three methods may be used in executing the death penalty — hanging, firing squad or lethal injection. Heinous crimes including plunder will be punishable by proposed death penalty.

But during a caucus of the majority coalition members in the House of Representatives, an agreement was reached to exclude plunder from crimes that warrant capital punishment. It was the majority’s agreement to relegate plunder to a serious capital offense only punishable with life imprisonment. Plunder remains on the list unless removed when the death penalty bill is tackled during the period of amendments in the plenary.

Speaker of the House of Representatives Pantaleon Alvarez maintained that there’s more reason to include plunder among heinous crimes punishable by death following alleged irregularities in contracts involving government officials.

Meanwhile, the Senate has suspended public hearings of the death penalty bill over concerns of violations of an international treaty. As a signatory of the Treaty of International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the Philippines is prevented from carrying out execution as a form of punishment.

There are already existing stringent anti-corruption laws that are meant to stem the tide of graft and corrupt officials who brazenly plunder the public treasury.

The cruel penalization of erring public officials may not effectively revive the country’s damaged political existence, but it will ignite zero-tolerance to any form of corruption within the government. This will hold more accountability for people in public office and may pave the way for political stability and sustainable development. (AJPress)

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