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Philippines

Philippine church leaders wary of return of death penalty

Bishops issue warning against capital punishment after new lawmakers voice support for its return

 Leonel Abasola, Manila

Leonel Abasola, Manila

Updated: June 26, 2019 02:21 AM GMT
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Philippine church leaders wary of return of death penalty

Filipino Catholics show support for church leaders’ calls to oppose proposals to revive capital punishment during a 'Walk for Life' event in Manila. (Photo by Angie de Silva) 

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Church leaders in the Philippines have warned against any moves to pass a law that will revive the imposition of capital punishment.

The Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care issued a statement this week reminding newly elected legislators of their responsibility "to defend human life."

Moves to revive the death penalty failed in the last Congress, but church leaders said recent statements made by new legislators on the re-imposition of the death penalty are "disturbing."

"They have a grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that attacks human life," said Rodolfo Diamante, executive secretary of the commission of the Philippine bishops' conference.

"We argue that there are other more deeply-rooted reasons for a lack of peace and order in our society that leaders have failed to appreciate and acknowledge," Diamante said.

He said church leaders maintain that capital punishment is "an affront to the human dignity of both those on whom it is inflicted and that in whose name it is employed."

Diamante appealed to legislators to resolve to live the "Gospel of Life fully and faithfully."

Political leaders, however, expressed optimism that the death penalty will make a comeback in the next Congress.

"In the new Senate, there’s a possibility of 13 [votes for the death penalty] for high-level drug trafficking alone," said Senate President Vicente Sotto III in a statement.

Allies of President Rodrigo Duterte in Congress have consistently pressed for the reinstatement of capital punishment.

Opposition Senator Leila de lima, however, said the solution in fighting criminality should be done through legislation and judicial reform.

"In these times where great powers are concentrated on a single human being who with mere words — God forbid — can masterfully orchestrate a holocaust, we should be ever vigilant, ever firm with our stand against its re-imposition," said the legislator.

De Lima’s statement was read as church leaders marked the 13th anniversary of the abolition of the death penalty in the Philippines last week.

"In a country where the poor outnumber the wealthy by a mile, socio-economic realities have skewed the implementation of the law on death penalty against the former," she said.

She pointed out that despite seven executions from 1998 to 1999, the crime rate increased by 15.3 percent.

The senator also said that even the Philippine Supreme Court has admitted that the courts have committed a judicial error rate of 71.77 percent when the death penalty was still imposed.

The death penalty was abolished under the 1986 constitution, but the charter gave Congress the power to reinstate it for heinous crimes.

Capital punishment returned under the administration of former president Fidel Ramos, but was abolished again under president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The Philippines is also a signatory to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which commits countries to abolishing the death penalty.

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