Puneet Varma (Editor)

Capital punishment in the Philippines

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit
Capital punishment in the Philippines

Capital punishment in the Philippines has a varied history and is currently suspended as of 2006. Capital punishment was legal after independence and increased in use under the Ferdinand Marcos regime. After the fall of Marcos, there was a moratorium on capital punishment from 1987–1999, followed by a resumption in executions from 1999–2006, followed by a law ending the practice. The death penalty seems likely to return to the Philippines; President Rodrigo Duterte, elected in 2016, is a vocal supporter of resumption of capital punishment.


Filipinos have mixed opinions about the death penalty, with many opposing it on religious and humanitarian grounds, while advocates see it as a way of deterring crimes.

Spanish and American periods

During Spanish colonial rule, the most common methods of execution were death by firing squad (especially for treason/military crimes, usually reserved for independence fighters) and garrotte (a notable case would be the Gomburza). Death by hanging was another popular method.

A prominent example is the national hero, José Rizal, who was executed by firing squad on the morning of December 30, 1896, in the park that now bears his name.

In 1926, the electric chair (Spanish: silla eléctrica; Filipino: silya eléktrika) was introduced by the United States' colonial Insular Government, making the Philippines the only other country to employ this method. The last colonial-era execution took place under Governor-General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. in February 1932. There were no executions under Manuel L. Quezon, the first President of the Commonwealth.


The capital crimes after regaining full sovereignty in July 1946 were murder, rape and treason. However, no executions took place until April 1950, when Julio Gullien was executed for attempting to assassinate President Manuel Roxas. Other notable cases includes Marciál "Baby" Ama, electrocuted at the age of 16 on October 4, 1961, for murders committed while in prison for lesser charges. Ama notably became the subject of the popular 1976 film, Bitayin si... Baby Ama! (Execute Baby Ama!).

Another famous case was that of former powerful Governor of Negros Occidental Rafael Lacson and 22 of his allies, condemned to die in August 1954 for the murder of a political opponent. Ultimately, Lacson was never executed.

In total, 51 people were electrocuted up to 1961. Execution numbers climbed under President Ferdinand Marcos, who was ironically himself sentenced to death in 1939 for the murder of Julio Nalundasan—the political rival of his father, Mariano; the young Ferdinand was acquitted on appeal. A notorious triple execution took place in May 1972, when Jaime José, Basilio Pineda and Edgardo Aquino were electrocuted for the 1967 abduction and gang-rape of young actress Maggie dela Riva. The state ordered that the executions be broadcast on national television.

Under the Marcos regime, drug trafficking also became punishable by death by firing squad, such as the case with Lim Seng, whose execution in December 1972 was also ordered broadcast on national television. Future President and then Chief of the Philippine Constabulary Gen. Fidel V. Ramos was present at the execution.

The electric chair was used until 1976, when execution by firing squad eventually replaced it as the sole method of execution. Under Marcos' 20-year authoritarian rule, however, countless more people were summarily executed, tortured or simply disappeared for opposition to his rule.

After Marcos was deposed in 1986, the newly drafted 1987 Constitution prohibited the death penalty but allowed the Congress to reinstate it "hereafter" for "heinous crimes"; making the Philippines the first Asian country to abolish capital punishment.

Reinstatement and moratorium

President Fidel V. Ramos promised during his campaign that he would support the re-introduction of the death penalty in response to increasing crime rates. The new law, drafted by Ramos, restored capital punishment by defining "heinous crimes" as everything from murder to stealing a car. This law provided the use of the electric chair until the gas chamber (chosen by the government to replace electrocution) could be installed.

Executions resumed in 1999, starting with Leo Echegaray, who was put to death by lethal injection under Ramos' successor, Joseph Estrada, marking the first execution after the reinstatement of the death penalty. The next execution saw an embarrassing mishap when President Estrada decided to grant a last-minute reprieve, but failed to get through to the prison authorities in time to stop the execution. Following on a personal appeal by his spiritual advisor, Bishop Teodoro Bacani, Estrada called a moratorium in 2000 to honor the bimillenial anniversary of Christ's birth. Executions were resumed a year later.

Estrada's successor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, was a vocal opponent of the death penalty and also approved a moratorium, but later permitted executions and denied pardons.

Second suspension

On 15 April 2006, the sentences of 1,230 death row inmates were commuted to life imprisonment, in what Amnesty International believes to be the "largest ever commutation of death sentences".

Capital punishment was again suspended via Republic Act No. 9346, which was signed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on 24 June 2006. The bill followed a vote held in Congress earlier that month which overwhelmingly supported the abolition of the practice. The penalties of life imprisonment and reclusion perpetua (detention of indefinite length, usually for at least 30 years) replaced the death penalty. Critics of Arroyo's initiative called it a political move meant to placate the Roman Catholic Church, some sectors of which were increasingly vocal in their opposition to her rule.


President Arroyo controversially pardoned many prisoners during her presidency, including a 2009 pardon for all remaining felons convicted for the 1983 assassination of former Senator and opposition leader Benigno Aquino, Jr.

Support for reintroduction of capital punishment

During the 2016 election, presidential candidate and frontrunner, Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte, campaigned to restore the death penalty in the Philippines. During the "Yes or No" segment of the second presidential debate on March 20, 2016, Duterte and Senator Grace Poe were the only candidates who said "Yes" when asked about the restoration of the death penalty in the country, favoring the decision. Duterte, who won the election in May 2016, supports restoration of the death penalty by hanging. It has been reported that he wants capital punishment for criminals involved in illegal drugs, gun-for-hire syndicates and those who commit "heinous crimes" such as rape, robbery or car theft where the victim is murdered, while Poe has stated that the capital punishment should apply to criminals convicted of "drugs and multiple crimes where involved people can no longer be rehabilitated." Duterte has theatrically vowed "to litter Manila Bay with the bodies of criminals." In December 2016, the bill to resume capital punishment for certain "heinous offenses" swiftly passed out of Committee in the House of Representatives, and passage of the law is expected to happen by Christmas.


The Philippines was the only country aside from the United States that used the electric chair, due to its being introduced during the US colonial period. Until its first abolition in 1987, the country reverted to using death by firing squad.

After re-introduction of the death penalty in 1993, the country switched to lethal injection as its sole method of execution.


Capital punishment in the Philippines Wikipedia