PUBLIC AI Index: ASA 35/11/98
EXTRA 84/98 Imminent Execution 17 November 1998
PHILIPPINESLeo Echegaray, aged 38, house painter
Amnesty International fears that Leo Echegaray may imminently be executed
by lethal injection, following the issuing of a death warrant by Judge
Ponferrada of the Quezon City Court. Echegaray’s only hope now lies with
President Estrada, who has the power to grant clemency. If this execution goes
ahead, it will be the first in more than 20 years in the Philippines.
Leo Echegaray was sentenced to death in September 1994 by Quezon City Regional
Trial Court after being convicted of raping his 10-year-old step daughter.
His sentence was confirmed by the Supreme Court in June 1996. Two months later
the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) - a leading association of human rights
lawyers - filed an appeal against Leo Echegaray’s sentence, arguing that his
alleged crime had not been proven beyond reasonable doubt and that his trial
was unfair. In February 1997 the Supreme Court rejected FLAG’s arguments and
subsequently ruled that Leo Echegaray could be executed between 28 February
and 28 August 1998.
In February 1998 FLAG filed another petition, questioning the constitutionality
of execution by lethal injection on the grounds that it is a cruel, inhuman
and degrading punishment which violates the Philippines’ obligations under
the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
However, in rulings on 13 and 21 October 1998 the Supreme Court affirmed the
constitutionality of execution by lethal injection. The Court stated that
international conventions recognized that "capital punishment is an allowable
limitation to life" and that "any infliction of pain in lethal injection is
merely incidental... and does not fall within the constitutional proscription
against cruel, degrading or inhuman punishment".
Flag filed a final petition, asking for Leo Echegaray’s death sentence to be
commuted to life imprisonment on the basis that his execution did not take
place within 12 to 18 months after final confirmation of the sentence, as
prescribed in the death penalty law. However, the Supreme Court dismissed
this appeal and on 16 November 1998 Judge Ponferrada issued a death warrant
for Leo Echegaray. In issuing the death warrant, Judge Ponferrada also denied
Flag’s motion to be notified of the date of execution. Under the death penalty
rules, Leo Echegaray will be informed of his execution only 8 hours before
it is scheduled to take place.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases as a violation
of the right to life and the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or
degrading treatment, as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The death penalty is an inherently unjust and arbitrary punishment, however
heinous the crime for which it is provided. Studies have shown that it is
more likely to be imposed on those who are poorer, less educated and more
vulnerable than average. The risk of error in applying the death penalty is
inescapable, yet it is irrevocable. Furthermore, there is no convincing
evidence that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than other
The Philippines abolished the death penalty in 1987 but reintroduced it in
late 1993, despite opposition from human rights groups and the Catholic Church.