Aaron Abel Mallari


AARON ABEL MALLARI is assistant professor at the Department of History and concurrently assistant college secretary of the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of the Philippines Diliman. He obtained his BA in History cum laude and his MA in History from UP Diliman. For his master’s thesis, he worked on the history of the prison system in the Philippines during the American colonial period. Among his research interests are: crime, punishment, and social control in historical and sociological perspectives; intellectual history and sociology of knowledge; social history; history of science, medicine, and technology; and Southeast Asian studies.

The Death Penalty in the Philippines: Historical Currents and Contexts

In the immediate months after Rodrigo Duterte became Philippine President, a crescendo of policies and pronouncements about criminality brought front and center the need for reflexive discussions on the fundamental notions about justice, crime, and human rights. The commitment of the administration in supporting the reinstitution of capital punishment, once again, divides the nation. While the super majority administration in Congress is poised to pass legislation that would revive the death penalty, the powerful Catholic Church and other civil society groups, on the other hand, are mobilizing and intensifying campaigns to stop this from happening.

This paper takes stock of this renewed debate about the death penalty in the Philippines by reflecting on the experience of the Philippines with this policy across history. This piece looks at the death penalty within particular historical contexts in the Philippines that brought currents that influenced the institution, maintenance, and episodic abolition and revival of the policy. Three periods are considered: (1) the pre-colonial Philippines when the barangays can be viewed in the context of maritime Southeast Asian polities; (2) the colonial period that placed the Philippines in the wider circuit of empires; and (3) the post-Pacific War context that witnessed vacillations in policy as Filipinos grappled with the challenges of dictatorship and democratization. Ultimately, the paper argues that a more nuanced and historically contextualized discourse should inform discussions about the death penalty.