THE REVIVAL of the death penalty is high in the agenda as the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) tackles the socio-political landscape on the third day of its biannual plenary assembly.
The Church hierarchy will likely issue a strong statement against a bill reintroducing capital punishment for heinous crimes, sources at the CBCP said, in a prelude to a looming clash with the Duterte administration that has pledged to wipe out crime and illegal drugs in three to six months.
On Sunday, an anti-death penalty lawmaker warned that reimposing the death penalty would hurt the Philippine government’s efforts in pleading for the lives of overseas Filipino workers on death row in other countries.
At least 88 Filipinos are facing the death penalty abroad, mostly on drug-related cases, including 31-year-old Mary Jane Veloso, who was supposed to be executed by firing squad by the Indonesian government last year, but got a last-minute reprieve upon appeal of the previous Aquino administration.
“Without the death penalty, the Philippine government has great moral authority to invoke humanitarian grounds and implore foreign governments for them to show mercy to Filipinos who are about to be put to death,” Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza said in a statement.
But for Ako Bicol party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe, not every Filipino on death row abroad were victims like Veloso who should be spared from death penalty.
“Saving OFWs from death row should only be made on meritorious cases. Certainly, there is no reason for us to save a notorious Filipino drug trafficker from death row,” Batocabe told The Manila Times.
Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez, President Rodrigo Duterte’s choice for the next Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro have filed a bill seeking the death penalty by lethal injection for heinous crimes including illegal drugs, plunder and car theft.
Duterte, however, wants death penalty by hanging.
Church teaching, strictly speaking, does not exclude the death penalty.
But the Catechism of the Catholic Church holds that executing offenders is no longer an absolute necessity, as the modern state already has various means to protect human lives and prevent crimes.
At the opening of the three-day CBCP plenary assembly at Pope Pius XII Catholic Center in Manila on Saturday, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said the Church will maintain its moral stance even if it ended up “alone in the wilderness.”
Villegas, the CBCP president, clashed with Duterte during the election campaign over the former Davao City mayor’s unconventional rhetoric.
Upon election, Duterte lashed out at the Church, calling it the “most hypocritical institution” and the bishops as “sons of whores.”
Villegas indicated that looming clashes with the new government over moral issues like the death penalty would be nothing new.
The passage of the Reproductive Health bill in 2012 was a “turning point to the wilderness” for the hierarchy that held sway on moral issues after the 1986 People Power revolt, he said.
“It felt like we were voices in the wilderness proclaiming a teaching that our people could not identify with. Our pastoral letters were unheeded, mocked and ignored,” Villegas added.
“We were speaking a language that our flock could not understand. When we appealed for morality, our people laughed at vulgarity. When we challenged indecency, we were despised and ridiculed as archaic,” he said.
But the Church’s mission is “not to be successful but to be faithful.”
“We will stand up for the moral right. We will resist the moral wrong. We will stand and defend every person’s life and dignity. We will shield the weak from harm. We will protect the confused from error,” Villegas added.