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Philippines

Philippine bishops urge rethink on death penalty revival

Lawmakers begin deliberating whether to back Duterte's bid to restore capital punishment for heinous crimes

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Philippine bishops urge rethink on death penalty revival

Lawmakers in Congress have begun deliberating whether to revive the death penalty. (Photo: Angie de Silva)

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The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has urged lawmakers not to back President Rodrigo Duterte’s latest bid to revive the death penalty for heinous crimes.

Duterte’s allies in Congress have begun deliberating whether to revive the death penalty less than two weeks after the president said he wanted to reinstate capital punishment in his State of the Nation Address.

Lawmaker Martin Romualdez told reporters that “thorough debates” would be conducted by fellow lawmakers to “possibly” sentence drug convicts together with criminals guilty of heinous crimes such as rape and murder.

Another lawmaker, Robert Ace Barbers, said death penalty critics must focus on the rights of victims not just criminals.

“Unfortunately, while they [critics] talk about the human rights of offenders, they remarkably skip talking about and defending the human rights of the victims,” he said in a statement.

However, Philippine bishops disagreed, saying the death penalty is against the dignity of a person, no matter how evil a criminal was thought to be.

“The death penalty violates the inherent dignity of a person, which is not lost despite the commission of a crime. No person, no matter how evil … is beyond reformation,” said the bishops in their Aug. 6 statement.

The bishops also reminded churchgoers of Pope Francis’ letter to all the world’s bishops in which he told them that capital punishment was not a tool for justice but for vengeance.

“Pope Francis has clearly and unequivocally exhorted … capital punishment is an offense against the inviolability of life and the dignity of the human person ... and does not render justice to the victims but rather fosters vengeance,” the bishops said.

The bishops also said local and international studies have found no proof that the death penalty deters crime.

“On the contrary, a 2009 study found out that the consensus among criminologists is that the death penalty does not add any significant deterrent effect above that of long-term imprisonment,” said the bishops.

The prelates also said true justice is restorative rather than punitive in nature.

“The death sentence is irrevocable; once carried out, there is no possibility for rectifying an erroneous judgment by an imperfect system. With the death penalty, justice is nothing but punishment. But true justice is restorative, never merely punitive. It gives the person the chance to change, no matter how slim the chance may be.”

On a final note, the bishops highlighted a reality in Philippine society, saying the death penalty was anti-poor because only the rich could afford prominent lawyers for their defense.

“The death penalty is tilted against the most vulnerable sectors of society, the marginalized and the poor. Experience shows that most, if not all, persons meted the death penalty are the poor and uneducated who cannot afford prominent lawyers to defend them.”

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