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:

Spanish Period (1521-1898)

  • Spanish colonizers brought with them medieval Europe’s penal system, including executions.
  • Capital punishment during the early Spanish Period took various forms including burning, decapitation, drowning, flaying, garrote, hanging, shooting, stabbing and others.
  • Capital punishment was enshrined in the 1848 Spanish Codigo Penal and was only imposed on locals who challenged the established authority of the colonizers.
  • Between 1840-1857, recorded death sentences totaled 1,703 with 46 actual executions.
  • 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)

  • The American colonizers, adopting most of the provisions under the Codigo Penal of 1848, retain the death penalty.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Macario Sakay was one of those sentenced to die for leading a resistance group. He was sentenced to die by public hanging.
  • 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

  • Espionage is added to the list of capital offenses.
  • The Anti-Subversion Law called for the death penalty for all Communist leaders. However, no executions were recorded for any captured communist leader.
  • 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)

  • “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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Nineteen executions took place during the Pre-Martial Law period. Twelve were executed during Martial Law.
  • Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr. was sentenced to die by firing squad for charges of murder, subversion and illegal possession of firearm in 1977.
  • The last judicial execution under the Marcos years was in October 1976 when Marcelo San Jose was executed by electrocution.
  • 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)

  • The Death Penalty was “abolished” under the 1987 Constitution.
  • The Philippines became the first Asian country to abolish the death penalty for all crimes.
  • All death sentences were reduced to reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment.
  • 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)

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Death Penalty Law lists a total of 46 crimes punishable by death; 25 of these are death mandatory while 21 are death eligible.
  • Republic Act No. 8177 mandates that a death sentence shall be carried out through lethal injection.

President Joseph Ejercito Estrada (1998-2001)

  • Leo Echegaray was executed in February 1999 and was followed by six other executions for various heinous crimes.
  • 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).
  • 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)

  • Arroyo publicly stated that she is not in favor of executions.
  • 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.”
  • Arroyo lifted the de facto moratorium issued by Estrada on December 5, 2003.
  • 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.
  • Since then, the administration has been issuing reprieves on scheduled executions without actually issuing a moratorium.
  • 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.

8 Responses to A timeline of death penalty in the Philippines


Cecile Impens

April 20th, 2006 at 5:00 am

Historical data presented us some sad realities concerning the death-penalty. But is there a sure way to give this issue a fair jugdment without hurting anyone? We must accept that a lot of people are imprisonned without the benefits of a lawyer simply because they are poor. That some had been wrongly accused of the crime they never done. That is dramatic, that is human-rights violation! But how about the case of the harden criminals: the terrorists, the rapists, the killers? Shall we be clements to them? I don’t think so! Once a crime is committed against an individual, the civil society demands to sanction the eering party. That is democracy! The commutation of this will only results to more crowded prison cells, and will not promise us better justice system!
Another dangerous potion concocted by Arroyo. Maybe a defense weapon she will be using for herself SOON. The day after her ousting!


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January 13th, 2013 at 8:10 pm

That’s why Crime in the Philippines is becoming more beacuse there is no more death penalties.


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