Philippine bishops stand firm against reviving executions

Congress prepares to deliberate bill seeking to re-introduce death penalty
Philippine bishops stand firm against reviving executions

Life imprisonment is the strictest sentence in the Philippines, but President Rodrigo Duterte has pressed for the re-imposition of the death penalty especially for drug-related crimes. (Photo by Vincent Go)


Philippine Catholic bishops have expressed "regret" over moves to revive capital punishment as legislators started to tackle the issue in Congress on Jan. 31.

"We regret that there are strident efforts to restore the death penalty," read a statement from the bishops' conference.

The bishops stand by their position that "no person is ever beyond redemption" even if one commits a heinous crime. "We have no right ever giving up on any person," said the bishops.

The church leaders released the statement following their three-day bi-annual meeting in Manila and on the eve of plenary debates in Congress over a controversial death penalty bill.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the bishops' conference, said, "the trend against the death penalty is unmistakable" throughout the world.

The prelate said that the Philippines cannot re-impose the death penalty without breaking international law.

In 2007, the Philippines ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which aims to abolish the death penalty.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte vowed that the Philippines "will honor treaties and international obligations" that it has entered into.

"When we condemn violence, we cannot ourselves be its perpetrators, and when we decry murder, we cannot ourselves participate in murder," said Archbishop Villegas.

"We unequivocally oppose proposals and moves to return the death penalty to the Philippine legal system," said the prelate as he called on the government to "champion life for all."


No stopping Congress

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez of the House of Representatives said he is confident that the controversial bill will pass the scrutiny of legislators.

The House leader said the proposal is a priority measure of Duterte's "to reinvigorate the war of his administration against criminality."

"The imposition of the death penalty for heinous crimes and the mode of its implementation, both subjects of repealed laws, are crucial components of an effective dispensation of both reformative and retributive justice," said Alvarez.

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The chairman of the House committee on justice told that he will sponsor the death penalty measure in the House.

Majority Floor Leader Rodolfo Farinas said there is "no turning back" on plenary deliberations.

Members of the "nationalist bloc" of legislators in the House of Representatives said they would oppose the proposed measure "because it is anti-poor."

Rep. Antonio Tinio of the Act Teachers Party said the death penalty is "a historic tool for suppressing political dissent, prone to abuse by corrupt police, military, and other state agents."

"[It is] an ineffective deterrent against criminality, rooted in mass poverty and an unjust social system," said the legislator.

He described the proposed measure as a "guillotine poised over the necks of the poor."

"Given the existing social inequity, combined with our flawed and corrupt justice system, the re-imposition of the death penalty will inflict yet another injustice on the poor and marginalized," said Tinio.

Under the proposed bill, the crimes that will be punishable with death are treason, piracy, and all crimes related to illegal drugs, among others.

The Philippines abolished the death penalty law in 1986 but revived it in 1993.

A moratorium on capital punishment was put in place in 2001, and five years later downgraded the sentences of 1,230 death-row inmates to life imprisonment.

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