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Philippine Church braces for death penalty, divorce battle

Both contentious issues are back on the agenda with new proposed bills going before legislators

 Joe Torres, Manila

Joe Torres, Manila

Updated: August 08, 2019 03:45 AM GMT
Philippine Church braces for death penalty, divorce battle

Philippine senators on Aug.6 start debating proposals to re-impose capital punishment and to legalize divorce. (Photo by Angie de Silva)

Catholic Church leaders in the Philippines are bracing for what they expect will be an uphill battle against proposals before Congress to reimpose capital punishment and to legalize divorce in the country.

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo admitted that the fight has never been easy. "It will always be a tough battle but we do not give up," he said.

Catholics opposed to the proposed measures may also have to find new ways of lobbying in the Philippine Congress, said Father Melvin Castro.

The priest, who used to be executive secretary of the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, said a lot of legislators only think of "short-term solutions" to social and family issues.

Rodolfo Diamante of the Catholic bishops' Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care agreed to new approaches to presenting the Church's position on issues.
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He said one of the things his commission will do is prepare a statement that will focus on new arguments on the issue of the death penalty.

"We will also provide legislators and policy makers documents and materials on the issue," he said. He said they might bring in international experts to also engage the public on the issue.

Death penalty revival

Senators this week began debates on proposals to revive the death penalty.

In a speech, Senator Emmanuel "Manny" Pacquiao said reviving the death penalty is the most effective way to dealing with heinous crimes and the illegal drug trade.

"Illegal drugs are destroying the lives of our people," he said. "It is high time for the state to step up its game and put these criminals to death through judicial sanction," he added.

Opposition Senator Franklin Drilon countered that reducing the demand for drugs is the solution to the proliferation of narcotics, not killing drug users and dealers.

The death penalty was abolished in the Philippines in 2006, under president Gloria Arroyo.

Several legislators, including Pacquiao, who said he could cite Bible verses to defend his position, have filed their respective bills seeking the revival of the death penalty.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, however, warned against invoking religion in the discussions.

"Please avoid invoking Jesus in the death penalty bill," he said. "The Bible is a good source of insights. But trying to change the story of Redemption is not fairish," he added.

Divorce proposals

The proponent of a law allowing divorce, meanwhile, said this move in the Senate is "history in the making."

"This marks an important stage in the larger work to have a divorce law in the country," said Senator Risa Hontiveros, principal author of the proposed divorce bill.

"It’s time that we give Filipinos the chance to free themselves from abusive, loveless and unhappy relationships, and to help them find love and start all over again," she said.

She said she believes and supports the institution of marriage but added that she also believes "that Filipinos have the right to second chances to turn the page and live good and happy lives."

Senator Joel Villanueva, however, said he will fight against the proposal because the Philippines is predominantly "a Christian nation."

"We are definitely against any divorce bill. Well, a couple of reasons, but one of the major reasons is, we are a Christian nation," said the son of a Christian evangelist.

"So, divorce — over my dead body — the word divorce, I will really oppose it. I will definitely oppose it," said Villanueva as he expressed support for making the process of annulling marriages more accessible.

Senator Emmanuel "Manny" Pacquiao delivers a speech in the Senate on Aug. 6 defending his proposal to legalize divorce in the Philippines. (Photo by Angie de Silva)


Laws to strengthen family

Bishop Pabillo of Manila expressed hope that legislators will be creative in crafting laws that will strengthen the family.

"What have they done to help families in crisis?" said the prelate.

He said data from other countries shows divorce laws result in "more broken families" while women, children, and the elderly suffer.

In past pronouncements, the bishops' conference has attacked the proposal to legalize divorce in the context that it is an "easy option" out of marriage.

As for the death penalty, church leaders say it will never be a solution to the problems of crime. "It is anti-life, anti-poor, and will enhance only a culture of violence," they said.

President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to restore the death penalty as a deterrent to crime when he campaigned for the presidency in 2016.

In a 2017 poll, 67 percent of Filipinos supported capital punishment.

Filipinos also support a divorce law. Another survey conducted in 2017 showed that 53 percent of Filipinos want to legalize divorce.

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