Thursday, April 5, 2018

Swift justice?

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

I watched a convicted rapist being killed “slowly and gently” by lethal injection. He was strapped onto a gurney a few meters from the viewing room where we journalists sat. That was after lawmakers had brought back the death penalty (no longer by electrocution but by lethal injection) only for it to be scrapped again in a few years and after about a dozen kills.

I do not want to describe here what it was like before, during and after. Suffice it to say that after witnessing a convict being killed by needle, I do not even want to imagine the carrying out of the death penalty by hanging or beheading, as still practiced in other countries. No matter the heinousness of the convicts’ crimes that deserve the most severe of punishments.

News reports said two days ago that the employers-killers of 29-year-old overseas Filipino worker Joanna Demafelis had been tried in absentia, found guilty and meted out the death penalty by a Kuwaiti court. Demafelis’ killers, who were living in Kuwait and had Joanna in their employ, had left her body in their apartment freezer and fled. The corpse remained frozen for about a year until it was discovered on Feb. 4.

The decision on their guilt was made on first hearing and the penalty would be death by hanging. The Inquirer’s banner headline last Tuesday: “Gov’t welcomes death for PH maid’s killers.” It looked like swift justice but … Where are Demafelis’ killers? News reports say the couple, Lebanese Nader Essam Assaf and his Syrian wife Mouna Hassoun, were arrested on Feb. 24 after an Interpol manhunt. The news media in Lebanon reported that Assaf was in custody pending Kuwait’s request of extradition. Hassoun is reportedly in custody in Syria.

Kuwait and thousands of Kuwait-bound Filipino workers are eager to see the lifting of the ban on OFW deployment to that wealthy Gulf state. The “swift justice” could be Kuwait’s way of mollifying the Philippines’ angry president and Filipinos as well. But until we see the killers manacled and we behold the whites of their eyes, there is no reason to believe that justice is about to be served completely. Until the killer couple are extradited and handed over to the Kuwaiti government, there can be no rejoicing. Rejoicing? In the death penalty?

As to death by hanging or whatever means for Demafelis’ killers—that is, for me, something to think about. The Philippines, like many other countries, has done away with the death penalty even as many of our compatriots in prisons in the Middle East and elsewhere are awaiting death by hanging or beheading. Example: the case of alleged drug courier Mary Jane Veloso whose execution by hanging in Indonesia was stayed at the 11th hour because of the intervention of the Aquino administration. For his efforts, President Benigno Aquino III still got a tongue-lashing and threats from the Veloso family. Not a few have quipped, “Mabitay nga sana (I hope she hangs).”

Those who are against the death penalty, while pleased with Kuwait’s brand of swift justice, can shrug and say, “But that’s how justice works over there.” Paraphrased, it is okay for the convicted couple to hang. I, too, am tempted to cry out: “No mercy.” But I shudder when I think of our convicted OFWs awaiting their own punishment. Might they bear the brunt of the couple’s high-profile hanging? Will international humanitarian groups plead for the guilty couple’s lives? Because the death penalty is to be abhorred, outlawed and erased from the face of the earth?

These many decades of the Philippines’ labor diaspora, many of our OFWs — guilty or innocent — have ended up either hanged or beheaded for crimes they were accused of. Rarely have employers been punished for their crimes against Filipinos. The hanging of Demafelis’ employers would be the first of its kind. If and when …
“Mindful Parenting in the Age of Bullying,” conducted by psychotherapist Dr. Ma. Lourdes A. Carandang, is scheduled on April 7, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., at the Henry Sy Sr. Innovation Center, Miriam College, Katipunan Avenue, Quezon City. Call 0926-7539538 or visit