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Philippine clerics attack Duterte's death penalty plans

True justice is never punitive, bishop tells president after he proposes reviving capital punishment for drug offenses

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Philippine clerics attack Duterte's death penalty plans

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte delivers his annual State of the Nation Address in Congress in Manila on July 27. (Photo: AFP/Robinson Ninal/Philippines’ Presidential Photographers Division)

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At least two Catholic bishops and a Jesuit priest have attacked a claim made by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in his State of the Nation Address that the death penalty is the solution to the country’s drug problem.

In his address to Congress on July 27, Duterte said reviving the death penalty for drug trafficking and other heinous crimes would instill fear among criminals.

The death penalty was suspended in the Philippines in 2006 when former president Gloria Arroyo approved a moratorium that was continued by her successor Benigno Aquino.

Bishop Joel Baylon of Legazpi, chairman of the bishops’ Commission on Prison Pastoral Care, however, said the perceived effects of the death penalty had been “repeatedly debunked” in various studies.

“The Church has always maintained that capital punishment, in whatever form it comes, is never a deterrent to crime. Studies have proven this time and again,” he said in a statement.

Bishop Baylon also said that instead of reviving the death penalty, the Duterte administration should focus on more dignified options.

“With the death penalty, justice is nothing but punishment and never a way to reform the offender. But true justice is restorative, never punitive,” Bishop Baylon said.

Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga said reviving the death penalty would weaken the Philippines’ bargaining chips in negotiating for Filipinos on death row abroad.

“With the death penalty, we lose moral authority and credibility to beg for life, to save lives of our imprisoned overseas Filipino workers,” Bishop Santos said.

“We convince countries like Saudi Arabia that the Philippines is a Catholic country whose people are life-loving. We believe that people change for the better. With the death penalty, we lose authority in saying the same to countries that impose the death penalty.” 

Jesuit Father Silvino Borres, president of the Coalition Against Death Penalty, said criminals had an “affirmative right to rehabilitation.”

“Whenever you call for the death of another person, even just in thoughts, we are already sinning against the Lord who calls everyone to life. Even if he calls for justice for sinners and those who committed crimes, he calls for them to live and be rehabilitated because the Lord does not delight in the death of the wicked,” said Father Borres in a homily during a Mass following the president’s address.

He said that despite the death penalty being suspended in the Philippines, the culture of death was flourishing.

“Be also mindful that even though, legally speaking, there is no state-sanctioned killing, we know that a culture of death is still here among us,” Father Borres added.

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