Women anti-death penalty protesters rally outside a Catholic church in Manila on March 8. (Photo by Angie de Silva)
Philippine bishops are not taking the proposed revival of capital punishment in the country sitting down. On March 19, the prelates went on the offensive, warning against the use of Scriptures to justify the death penalty.
"Need we point out how many other crimes against humanity have been justified using the same Bible?" said the country's bishops in a pastoral statement released on March 18.
As part of the government's intensified anti-narcotics campaign, the Lower House of Congress passed a bill early this month imposing the death penalty on seven drug-related offenses
In the Senate, boxer-turned-senator Manny Pacquaio has been advocating for the re-imposition of capital punishment, saying "even Jesus Christ was sentenced to death by the government."
The eight-division world boxing champion is the staunchest supporter of capital punishment in the Senate and regularly uses religion to defend his stand.
Pacquiao has been vocal about his beliefs after becoming a born-again Christian. In 2016, he lost a sponsorship deal with Nike after describing people in gay relationships as "worse than animals."
"With God, biblically, God allows governments to use capital punishment," the boxer told reporters. "Even Jesus Christ was sentenced to death because the government imposed the rule then," he added.
The senator's comments seemed to have pricked up the ears of Catholic bishops.
"To the people who use the Bible to defend the death penalty we humbly enjoin them to interpret the Scriptures properly," said Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, president of the bishops' conference.
He urged Filipinos to read the Bible "as a progressive revelation of God's will to humankind, with its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ, God's definitive Word to the world."
The archbishop said Jesus was never an advocate of any form of "legal killing."
The prelate cited the story of how Jesus defended an adulterous woman against those who demanded her blood and how he challenged "those who were without sin" to cast the first stone at her.
"We know from history how capital punishment has so often been used by repressive governments as a way of stifling dissent, or of eliminating those whom they regarded as threats to their hold on political power," he said.
The pastoral letter said "capital punishment and a flawed legal system are always a lethal mix."
"There is always the great likelihood that those without capital will get the punishment more quickly because it is they who cannot afford a good lawyer and a guarantee of due process," read the bishops' statement.
"Obviously it is easier to eliminate criminals than to get rid of the root causes of criminality in society," added the pastoral letter that was read during Masses on Sunday.
The bishops called on Catholics to pray for the country's senators "to touch their consciences and lead them to abolish capital punishment once and for all."
The proposed law needs 13 "yes" votes from the country's 24 senators to be approved.
The Philippines abolished capital punishment in 2006.
In 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to restore the death penalty, saying he would execute criminals "every day, five or six" if the death penalty is re-imposed. "That's for real," he said.