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P. Right against excessive fines and cruel, degrading, and inhuman punishments

P. Right against excessive fines and cruel, degrading, and inhuman punishments

1. CONCEPT

Excessive fines shall not be imposed, nor cruel, degrading or inhuman punishment inflicted. (Section 19[1], Article III, 1987 Constitution)

The employment of physical, psychological, or degrading punishment against any prisoner or detainee or the use of substandard or inadequate penal facilities under subhuman conditions shall be dealt with by law. (Section 19[2], Article III, 1987 Constitution)

These rights – the right against torture, cruel, degrading, and inhuman punishment; and the rights to life and health – are all anchored on the State’s policy to value human dignity and to guarantee full respect for human rights.  (J. Leonen, Separate Opinion in in Re Urget Petition for the Release of Prisoners on Humanitarian Grounds in the midst of the Covid-19 Pandemic, En Banc, G.R. No. 252117, 28 July 2020)

The constitutional rights to life and health, the prohibition against torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, and the State policy to guarantee full respect for human dignity are affirmed in the international laws and standards that bind us. These fundamental rights, anchored on the recognition of the inherent dignity of every human being, have acquired the status of universal application as jus cogens, or “compelling law.” (Ibid.)

Despite a few statutes and rules promoting the rehabilitation of offenders, our criminal justice system is primarily punitive, seeking to deter and penalize felonies and crimes through imprisonment and fines. Thus, the Constitution does not prohibit retributive justice in itself. What it prohibits is cruel, degrading, or inhuman punislunent. (Ibid.)

a. Cruel, degrading, inhuman punishment

Cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment involves causing suffering, gross humiliation, or debasement to a person in custody. (Ibid.)

Punishment is cruel and unusual when the penalties imposed are inhuman, barbarous, and shocking to the conscience. (Ibid.)

Penalties like fines or imprisonment may be cruel, degrading, or inhuman when they are “flagrantly and plainly oppressive and wholly disproportionate to the nature of the offense as to shock the moral sense of the community.” However, if the severe penalty has a legitimate purpose, then the punishment is proportionate and the prohibition is not violated.  (Fuertes v. Senate of the Philippines, En Banc, G.R. No. 208162, 07 January 2020)

The prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments is generally aimed at the form or character of the punishment rather than its severity in respect of duration or amount, and apply to punishment of which public sentiment has regarded as cruel or obsolete, for instance those inflicted at the whipping post, or in the pillory, burning at the stake, breaking on the wheel, disemboweling, and the like. (People v. Dela Cruz, En Banc, G.R. No. L-5790, 17 April 1953)

The adding of “inhuman” and “degrading” to the prohibited punishment reveals that these words are meant to be treated separately from cruel or unusual punishment, and meant to address different circumstances. (J. Leonen, Separate Opinion in in Re Urget Petition for the Release of Prisoners on Humanitarian Grounds in the midst of the Covid-19 Pandemic, supra.)

1) Character, not severity

It is the punishment’s character, not its severity, that makes it cruel and inhuman. It would have to be an infliction of “corporeal or psychological punishment that strips the individual of [their] humanity.” (Ibid.)

b. Fine and imprisonment

Fine and imprisonment would not thus be within the prohibition. (People v. Dela Cruz, supra.)

2. PENALTIES

a. Death penalty

Neither shall death penalty be imposed, unless, for compelling reasons involving heinous crimes, the Congress hereafter provides for it. (Section 19[1], Article III, 1987 Constitution)

Any death penalty already imposed shall be reduced to reclusion perpetua. (Section 19[1], Article III, 1987 Constitution)

1) When there was penalty

The opposition to the death penalty uniformly took the form of a constitutional question of whether or not the death penalty is a cruel, unjust, excessive or unusual punishment in violation of the constitutional proscription against cruel and unusual punishments. The Court unchangingly answered this question in the negative. (People v. Echegaray, En Banc, G.R. No. 117472, 07 February 1997)

b. Life imprisonment or reclusion perpetua

The penalty of life imprisonment or reclusion perpetua does not violate the prohibition.  Even the death penalty in itself was not considered cruel, degrading, or inhuman. (Fuertes v. Senate of the Philippines, supra.)

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