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Filipino Catholics in 'show of force' against death penalty

Church leaders, activists up pressure on Senate to vote against capital punishment

Joe Torres, Manila

Joe Torres, Manila

Updated: May 22, 2017 09:43 AM GMT
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Filipino Catholics in 'show of force' against death penalty

Priests, nuns, and rights activists join pilgrims, who walked for 21 days from the southern Philippines to Manila, to dramatize their opposition to the revival of capital punishment in the country on May 21. (Photo by Vincent Go)

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Church leaders in the Philippines admit they need to "make more noise" because "people have not yet awakened" about issues that are contrary to the teachings of their faith.

Priests, nuns, and rights activists joined forces on May 21 in what was supposed to be a "show of force" to block the proposed revival of capital punishment in the Philippines.

A group of pilgrims that embarked on a 21-day cross-country march from the southern Philippines joined the protest march and Mass in Manila.

"This is part of the education of people," said Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Manila. He said people "still don't understand the issue and its relationship to our faith."

Church leaders need to "continue to evangelize [and] to stand to the challenges that the times present to us," the prelate said.

"Let us make a stand and tell the government that the death penalty is not the solution to criminality," said Bishop Pabillo.

Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan exhorted those who attended the Mass to continue opposing "anti-life policies" proposed by the government.


Not against Duterte

Father Edwin Gariguez, executive secretary of the social action secretariat of the Philippine bishops' conference, clarified that the protest march was not aimed against President Duterte.

"This is not anti-Duterte or anything," said Father Gariguez. "This is a stand against death penalty," he said, adding that the intention of the march was to bring the message to senators.

The bill reviving capital punishment for drug-related crimes was passed by the Lower House in March, but Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon said the measure is already "dead" in the Senate.

Father Gariguez, however, said those opposed to the proposed measure "would like to get the support of as many senators as possible."

"We are happy that some senators are supporting us on this," he said. "It goes beyond adhering to the church's position because [opposition to death penalty] is universal," added the priest.


Symbolic gesture

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila earlier urged Filipinos to join the movement to oppose the revival of capital punishment.

He said the "caravan for life" is an "opportunity to find ways of fighting crime ... without resorting to measures that also violate life like capital punishment."

Jesuit Father Jose Ramon Villarin, president of Ateneo de Manila University, said the march was "largely a symbolic gesture" that he hoped will create some waves.

The priest said a legislation that will revive the death penalty is "an additional burdensome law" that will not deter crime and will only be a "temporary solution."

Father Villarin said the caravan of at least 15 pilgrims shows that opposition to the revival of capital punishment is "not an elitist thing."

"The people from the basic sectors are here. These are people from all walks of life and they are speaking about issues that are close to their hearts," he said.

The priest noted that while it might take some time to block the passage of the proposed law, "I think it is important that we have made our voice heard this early."

The Philippine Senate is set to tackle the proposed death penalty law, which was earlier passed by the Lower House of Congress, on May 24.

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