Filipino bishop issues rallying cry against death penalty

Lawmaker urges Catholics to change religion if threatened by church over backing capital punishment
Filipino bishop issues rallying cry against death penalty

Filipino Catholics wear black shirts printed with 'Thou Shall not Kill' during a candle-lighting ceremony in Manila. (Photo by Angie de Silva)

A leading bishop in the Philippines has urged Catholics to take a stand against the proposed revival of capital punishment by joining an anti-death penalty prayer rally on Dec. 12.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas called on "God-loving people" in his archdiocese to resist the "threat of the death penalty in our country."

The prelate said even Pope Francis "blesses us as we rally" because the pontiff has called for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty.

"In resisting the threat of the restoration of the death penalty, we cannot be disunited or indifferent," said Archbishop Villegas who is also president of the Philippine bishops' conference.

"On this pro-life issue let us truly unite. Come out and make a stand," said the prelate, adding that the death penalty is contrary to "Catholic moral life."

The protest rally is organized following the passage on second reading of a bill in congress that will revive capital punishment in the country.

Former president Gloria Arroyo abolished the death penalty in 2006.


Passage of law in congress assured

With 12 congressmen voting, six against, and one abstention, the Committee on Justice in the Philippine House of Representatives approved on Dec. 7 passage of a bill that will re-impose the death penalty on heinous crimes, including those related to illegal drugs.

The move is part of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's war on crime.

The proposed measure will re-impose capital punishment on illegal drugs-related crimes and other heinous crimes like murder, plunder, rape, kidnapping and serious illegal detention, carjacking with homicide, among others.

House Majority leader Rodolfo Farinas said he expects the law to pass by January.

The legislator said congress will not succumb to pressure by Catholic Church leaders.


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Change religion, politician tells Catholics

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, a proponent of the death penalty bill, urged Filipino Catholics to change religion if church leaders threaten to excommunicate those who support the revival of the death penalty.

"What is important is you believe in God," said the politician who hails from the southern region of Mindanao. He said church leaders should respect the separation of powers that the Philippine Constitution guarantees.

"[Bishops] should just do their job and we in government will do ours," said Alvarez, adding that Duterte's administration is doing its best to fight the problem of illegal drugs.

He said the church is not doing anything. He advised priests and bishops to just "keep their silence."

"They should concentrate on helping the poor because a lot of people need their help and many are hungry in the streets," said Alvarez.

Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga, a vocal critic of capital punishment, said changing religion is not like changing clothes. "It involves serious contemplation and discernment," he said.

He said the death penalty issue involves "principles, deeply held values, a system of beliefs."

Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon said Alvarez's advice to Catholics is "horrible."

"He is treating religion like a piece of clothing that can be changed anytime," said the prelate

Bishop Jose Oliveros said the House Speaker only shows his "very shallow understanding of faith and religion." 

Archbishop Ramon Arguelles clarified that Catholic bishops "do not threaten" but instead "teach what is moral and proper and encourage adherence to champion what God's will is which is followed by guided conscience."

"Threats are not part of church practice. Public figures are experts in that," he said.

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