By Blake O’Connor and Ugur Nedim
The death penalty was abolished in the Philippines in 2006, partly due to pressure from the powerful Catholic Church.
However, controversial Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte is reported to have called for the reintroduction of death by hanging in time for the trial of an Australian man accused of sexually assaulting and murdering young children.
Fifty-two year old Melbourne man, Peter Scully, is alleged to be the mastermind behind a worldwide network that produced and sold videos depicting sexual abuse, torture and murder of children and babies.
Prosecutors allege that a twelve-year old girl’s body was found buried beneath the kitchen of an apartment rented by Scully, and that two teenage girls were found chained and naked in another premises he was renting.
Mr Scully is facing a total of 75 criminal charges, the most serious of which include the sexual assault and murder of an eighteen month old girl.
The videos he is alleged to have produced are said to depict him raping and torturing young girls as he makes them dig their own graves, hanging a five year old girl upside down while he sexually assaults and tortures her, and raping a teenage girl before strangling her to death. The videos are said to have brought veteran investigators to tears.
Philippines Chief Prosecutor Jaime Umpa supports the president’s proposal to reinstate the ultimate penalty.
“If I had my choice it would be death for Scully – I want it to happen”, he told reporters. “We have to send a strong message to others that if they come to the Philippines and torture and abuse our children… they will be investigated with the full force of the law”.
But while prosecutors are confident of securing convictions, Mr Scully’s former criminal defence lawyer Alejandra Jose Pallugna believes his ex client could walk free as a result of a fire at the Hall of Justice destroying crucial evidence.
“There is a great possibility that the cases against Scully will be dismissed due to the fact that the physical evidence against him was destroyed”, Mr Pallugna remarked. “Those things are necessary to prove that Scully really had a hand in molesting and torturing the victims”. He added, “If Sully gets a good lawyer, there’s really a chance that he can go out of prison”.
Presumption of innocence and a fair trial
It is important to bear in mind that Mr Scully has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges and is entitled to be presumed innocent until and unless the prosecution is able to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
Given the heinous nature of the allegations, it is vital that fact-finders make a concerted effort to remain objective and not allow their emotions dictate their decision making.
Indeed, there are concerns Scully will be unable to receive a fair trial given the publicity surrounding the case, despite his protestations of innocence and the state of the evidence.
Prisoner exchange program
Mr Scully fled to the Philippines from Australia in 2011 after being charged here with fraud.
If convicted of the sexual assault and/or murder charges and sentenced to life imprisonment, he may be transferred to an Australian prison after serving thirty years of his sentence under prisoner exchange arrangements between the two countries.
Child sex trafficking in the Philippines
The United Nations reports that tens of thousands of children are trafficked every year in the Philippines, an industry estimated to be worth $US1 billion per year.
The industry appears to be growing, with 57 reported live streams of child sexual assault in 2013, 89 in 2014 and 167 in 2015.
The scale of the problem has overwhelmed authorities in several south-east Asian countries, with the number of those involved reported to be on the rise and encryption technologies making it harder for law enforcement to detect and prosecute offenders.