Crimes and punishments

If a criminal still has 30 years to live in this world, each morning he is alive is his penitence for the crime done against people.

September 17, 2022

Recently Senator Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa castigated the current police leadership for lack of toughness on criminals.

Bruiser Mr. De la Rosa, without directly naming the somewhat innocuous Philippine National Police boss Police General Rodolfo Azurin Jr., colloquially painted police operations as “kulang sa asim” (lack of sourness) and “arrive.”

(In case you don’t know, Mr. De la Rosa’s colloquial “arrive” is his bland attempt at transliterating the Tagalog “dating.”)

Reacting to Mr. De la Rosa’s jaw-jutting remarks, the PNP boss had a quirky riposte: Police under his leadership shouldn’t scare criminals.

Taken in context of what he later said, the PNP boss had valid reasons for such a remark.

But his highlighted remark on not scaring criminals elicited not a few head-shakings, particularly vexing the now pastured but still itchy neo-fascist movements.

Such itchy types saw Mr. Azurin Jr.’s remarks heretical to their reactionary dogma of no mercy for criminals.

Intervening on the tiff, I will now pose a question in order to further the issue.

Who between police chief Azurin Jr. and Mr. De la Rosa is the more modern crime fighter?

The quick answer — police boss Azurin Jr.

How can he be? Kindly read on.

Comforting though is our positive declaration for the current PNP boss, it is still cold comfort for him.

Cold comfort since, for one, both he and Mr. De la Rosa agree that the police’s basic function of reigning over our society is in the service of maintaining whoever is in power.

Basically, what I’m saying is that while the contrast between the PNP boss and Mr. De la Rosa is just about different forms of punishing criminals, it is also revealing stuff about power and criminals.

Mr. De la Rosa’s insistence on “toughness” against criminals, for instance, goes back to the ancient “monarchial” theory of power.

What this means is that punishing criminals is mainly all about displaying the king’s or the autocrat’s absolute power.

Here, when an autocrat arouses feelings of terror by spectacles of summarily killing off alleged criminals, he forces people to see the connection between his autocratic power and his sole prerogatives to punish people he dislikes.

Thus, Mr. De la Rosa’s “toughness” plea, for me, sounds as if he still nurses a hangover of a brutish brand of disguised autocracy.

Anyway, kings are now largely gone — though autocrats still flourish — as is the idea of punishment based on “monarchial” power.

In its place, punishment as a means of preventing crime took its modern form as a special concern involving all of society and not just one person.

Now, the striking aspect about modern punishment ideas is society’s acceptance of the prison.

The present PNP boss, without him realizing it, basically understood the point of prisons.

In his responses to De la Rosa, he insisted that when a criminal is summarily killed, “we just ended his suffering at the very instance” of death.

He then argues that legal procedures of investigating, arresting, and jailing criminals are society’s more effective weapons against criminals.

Here, it’s because prison punishment should be based on solid, objective evidence.

Not only because some criminals may be unpunished and some innocent people may be punished, but more importantly because if people cannot associate punishment and crimes with certainty, rendering deterrence is difficult, if not impossible.

Arbitrariness, therefore, has no place in modern punishment.

The PNP boss also further argues that “if a criminal still has 30 years to live in this world, each morning he is alive is his penitence for the crime done against people.”

This again reflects the modern punitive theory that punishment incorporates the notion of debt, meaning that criminals have a debt to society and prison time, not death, is arguably the only effective way to pay back debt.

Other theories regarding modern punishment abound.

But the most intriguing modern theory about punishment is that it’s about deterring citizens from crime, not the criminal himself.

Such is so since modern ideas of punishment subtly shifted from the prevention of crimes toward imposing discipline on people so as to make people more obedient.

With obedience, people supposedly become least costly to rule and more economically productive.

With that point, one can readily see what truly lurks behind the PNP chief’s seemingly tender-minded stance.


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