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Take 'anti-kill bill' crusade to Congress, priests nuns urged

Leading Philippine Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care member issues call to lobby legislators on death penalty

Take 'anti-kill bill' crusade to Congress, priests nuns urged

A Catholic priest joins an anti-death penalty protest demonstration outside the House of Representatives building in Manila on Feb. 14. (Photo by Angie de Silva)

Joe Torres, Manila
Philippines

February 17, 2017

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Catholic priests and nuns who have voiced their opposition to the revival of capital punishment in the Philippines should lobby against the passage of the bill that could bring back the death penalty in Congress, a leading Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care member says.

"When [legislators] see that there are many people in the gallery such as priests and nuns, they won't force a vote on it," Rodolfo Diamante said.

"Let us tell our congressmen not to vote in favor of the death penalty. That is what we can do," said Diamante.

"Tell them not to sacrifice their principles on this issue," he said during a gathering of anti-death penalty advocates in Manila on Feb. 15.

Plenary debates on a bill that proposes the revival of capital punishment for drug-related and heinous crimes are taking place in the House of Representatives. 

Diamante said the presence of priests and nuns during the debates would boost the confidence of legislators who are against the proposed measure.

"Anti-death penalty legislators also asked the help of the church, for us to be there in Congress," he said.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, president of the bishops' conference, has urged bishops, priests, and nuns to attend the congressional hearing.

"But it doesn't mean that they are the only ones who should be there," said Diamante, adding that Catholics as a whole should also make use of the time to pray for the enlightenment of legislators.

Leaders of the House of Representatives have announced that they expect a vote on the proposed measure on March 8.

 

International support

Several parliamentarians from Southeast Asia have joined calls to scrap the proposal to revive capital punishment.

In a statement released on Feb. 15, legislators from across the region said they "stand opposed to the reintroduction of capital punishment in the Philippines."

"We stand shoulder to shoulder with those Philippine legislators who are fighting this bill and support them in their principled struggle, which is based on strong evidence that this policy is wrong for the country," read a statement of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights group.

Cambodian lawmaker Mu Sochua, a board member of the organization, said the Philippines' current position against capital punishment made it a regional leader.

"Abolishing capital punishment was the right choice for the Philippines and for Cambodia. We must move forward as a region, not back," said Mu Sochua.

The bill being debated allows for the death penalty to be imposed for 21 crimes, including some forms of murder and rape, as well as treason, plunder and nine drug offenses. 

If passed and signed into law, critics say it will violate the Philippines' international legal obligations under the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the country ratified in 2007.

The protocol commits the country to the perpetual abolition of capital punishment within its borders.

While the Philippines and Cambodia are the only Southeast Asian countries to have legally abolished capital punishment, three other countries — Laos, Myanmar, and Brunei Darussalam — are considered abolitionist in practice, having not executed anyone in the past 25 years.

Timor-Leste, an observer state of ASEAN, has legally abolished the death penalty. Five ASEAN member states — Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam — retain capital punishment.

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