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Death penalty opponents issue warning in the Philippines

Group says legal system is flawed as calls mount for executions to resume

Death penalty opponents issue warning in the Philippines

Life imprisonment is the strictest sentence in the Philippines but there are rising calls to reinstate executions (AFP photo/Nicolas Asfouri) reporter, Manila

February 4, 2014

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Death penalty opponents have hit out at a senator’s attempt to restore capital punishment, saying many innocent people would be executed as a result of the Philippines’ flawed legal system.


The Coalition Against the Death Penalty said on Tuesday it plans to highlight the cases of at least 10 people it says were wrongfully convicted as part of its efforts to stop reintroduction of the death penalty.


"There are documents that will detail that these people were wrongfully convicted," Rodolfo Diamante, a coalition member and executive secretary of the Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care, said at a media forum in Manila.


Senator Vicente Sotto III last week filed a bill seeking the revival of the Death Penalty Law that allows the use of lethal injection for judicial executions.


The House of Representatives has already approved a bill that would reinstate the death penalty for drug traffickers but the Senate is yet to act on it.


Both houses would need to approve reinstatement for executions to resume.


The Philippines placed a moratorium on capital punishment in 2001 and five years later downgraded the sentences of 1,230 death-row inmates to life imprisonment in what Amnesty International described as the "largest ever commutation of death sentences".


But a series of shocking crimes has sparked calls for capital punishment to be reinstated, polarizing predominantly Catholic Filipino society.


Manila Mayor and former president Joseph Estrada expressed support for the revival of the death penalty after a pedicab driver admitted to the rape and killing of a six-year-old girl in Manila during the Feast of Santa Nino last month.


There have also been increasing calls among the public for the restoration of capital punishment among those who say it would deter serious criminals, while others remain opposed on religious and humanitarian grounds.


President Benigno Aquino has expressed hesitation on restoring capital punishment, saying it needs "extensive consultation”.


"The death penalty is irreversible. Once imposed, you can't overturn it. And then, as we all know, our criminal justice system still has a lot flaws. So, what if we falsely convict?" said Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.


The Church has largely been against reviving capital punishment although there are divisions.


Father Melvin Castro, executive secretary of the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life of the Catholic of the bishops' conference, said the Church supports "restorative justice".


"A life lost due to crime cannot be restored by ending the life of a criminal," he said.


Bishop Efraim Tendero of the Philippine Council for Evangelical Churches has disagreed, arguing that use of the death penalty "is biblical,” but “must be balanced by a reliable judicial system”.

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