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The death penalty is anti-poor

As the Philippines prepares to reinstate capital punishment, we should remember we are persons of peace

Edita Tronqued-Burgos, Manila

Edita Tronqued-Burgos, Manila

Updated: October 29, 2020 03:54 AM GMT
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The death penalty is anti-poor

Edita Tronqued-Burgos holds a photograph of her missing son, Jonas, during the observance of the 12th year of his disappearance on April 26, 2019. (Photo: Jire Carreon)

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More than 13 years of searching for my missing son have taught me a most important lesson. The oppressors will never be my teachers. A few times during skirmishes, I told some officers that “I cannot be provoked into violence nor intimidated into silence.”  

We are persons of peace and at all times we can and should seek peace. (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church 4, 5). Picture me seated in court when the sentence of my son's suspected abductor was read out. “Not guilty,” I heard. 

I could hear troubled whispers in court when the suspect, a colonel, approached me. The urge was to push him away. Instead I looked him in the eye (eyes don’t lie and I would see the truth) and softly whispered, “If indeed you are not guilty, help me find my Jonas.” He bowed his head and when he looked up our eyes locked for a brief second. Was it fear? Pain? Guilt? I knew I had touched a raw nerve, then I noticed his hands trembling. I felt I was the victor in that encounter.

Today, once again, the Philippines is being threatened by the return of the death penalty. President Rodrigo Duterte, in his State of the Nation Address on July 27, called on Congress to reinstate capital punishment by lethal injection for drug offenders. Within a week of the call, the House Committee on Justice began considering bills to reinstate the death penalty. In the present 18th Philippine Congress, 19 bills seeking to reinstate the death penalty for selected serious crimes were filed in 2019 alone.

The justice committee is likely to support death penalty bills. With an overwhelming majority of Congress members loyal to the president, it is a foregone conclusion that the bill will be passed into law. 

The death penalty is anti-poor. It does not prevent the commission of crimes, nor does it make society safer. Sometimes it is inconsistent with the crime. It threatens innocent life. It disregards the inherent dignity of the human person.

“For human life is sacred and inviolable at every stage and in every situation. It is an indivisible good … The death penalty violates the ethic of being people of life. We need then to show care for all life and for the life of everyone.” (Evangelium vitae 87). “As long as you did it for one of the least of my brethren, you did it for me.” (Matt. 25:40).

The death penalty does not bring healing to victims' families. The long court process only re-traumatizes those families. The death penalty would further enhance the culture of violence, impunity and death we are now experiencing.

With the culture of violence surrounding us, creeping slowly into our innermost being, presenting violence as the solution to survive in this world, we heed Henri Nouwen: “Your first responsibility in the midst of violence is to prevent it from destroying us.” Using violence to achieve peace can never be. Killing will not attain peace.

We enter the battlefield with compassion as our weapon. “Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears.” (Henri Nouwen). With bias towards none, those who need compassion are both the victim of the crime and the guilty. To cure the condemned that he may mend his ways should be the way. We simply remind ourselves that “the great mystery is not the cure, but the infinite compassion which is their source.” (Henri Nouwen).

Semantics that defend the position of those pushing for the return of capital punishment should not cloud or confuse us. We simply look at their motivations.   And where do the motivations originate?

Who would inspire a leader to encourage his agents to kill and to maim? 

Who would inspire a leader to discourage people from praying and attending church services? 

Who inspires a leader to encourage legislators to pass laws that would not only violate the rights of their own people but are an affront to the dignity of the persons they have sworn to serve?  

Wherever we may be, a prayer, a thought, a silent message, a conviction of rejection of violence when owned and contemplated on by all of us who care enough, would generate a prayer that would be heard and answered. St. Teresa of Avila, the doctor of prayer, one of the greatest mystics, said, “You pay God a compliment by asking great things of Him.” 

Let us not be intimidated by the thought that we will be joining a crowd where there will be liars, crooks, and pretenders of every description. In any place, we will meet these same people along with saints and angels. To be part of this world would be to accept that “God hung among thieves” thus “we carry the mantle of both the worst sin and the finest heroism of soul …” (Ronald Rolheiser).

Edita Tronqued-Burgos is a doctor of education and a member of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites. Gunmen believed to be soldiers abducted her son Jonas Burgos in Manila in April 2007. He is still missing. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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