Church leaders, members of civil and human rights groups, lawmakers and pilgrims have joined forces to block the Senate passage of the death penalty bill.
The group gathered on Sunday at the Welcome Rotunda in Quezon City and marched to the University of Santo Tomas to gather support for the Anti-Death Penalty Movement following the call earlier of Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle.
A group of pilgrims who embarked on a 16-day Church-backed cross-country caravan march from Mindanao to Manila joined the group.
Tagle earlier called on the faithful to join the movement to oppose the proposed reimposition of capital punishment.
He said the rally “gives us an opportunity to find ways of fighting crimes, for all crimes violate life, but without resorting to measures that also violate life like capital punishment.”
Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo said the march amplifies calls on government to strengthen its rehabilitation program, not revive the death penalty.
“Let us make a stand and tell the government that death penalty is not the solution to criminality or our drug problem. What we need is to rehabilitate those who committed a wrongdoing and not punish them with death penalty,” he said.
The Senate is yet to schedule committee deliberations on the measure. Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon last month said the bill was dead in the Senate since 13 senators are expected to vote against the reinstatement of the death penalty.
In March, the House of Representatives approved on third and final reading the death penalty bill through a vote of 217-54 with one abstention.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) hopes that senators will choose life and kill the bill.
CBCP president and Lingayen-Dagupan Archishop Socrates Villegas on Sunday called on the Catholic faithful to offer prayers of enlightenment for the senators, warning that the death penalty can be used to stifle dissent or to eliminate those who are regarded as threats to the seat of power.
“Let us pray fervently for the legislators of our country as they prepare to vote on death penalty in the Philippine Senate. Let us offer all our Masses for them, asking our Crucified Lord who offered his whole life, body and blood, for the salvation of sinners, to touch their consciences and lead them to abolish capital punishment once and for all,” said Villegas in a pastoral statement on death penalty.
In a video message from Lingayen, he exhorted the senators to be the “heroes” in these challenging times.
“In your hands, we put our trust that you will be accountable for our lives and the lives of every Filipino. When someone kills we call him a criminal, when government kills we also call it a criminal. When someone with a sin is killed, we call him a murder victim, when someone who is without sin is killed, we still call him a murder victim,” Villegas said.
Appealing to the good sense of senators, Villegas said even with the best of intentions, capital punishment has never been proven as an effective deterrent to crime.
“Capital punishment and a flawed legal system are always a lethal mix. And since in any human society there is never a guarantee of a flawless legal system, there is always the great likelihood that those without capital will get the punishment more quickly because it is they who cannot afford a good lawyer and a guarantee of due process,” Villegas pointed out.
Not the solution
Sen. Risa Hontiveros said the proposed restoration of the death penalty is not the solution to the country’s crime and drug problem.
In a speech before the anti-death penalty advocates who gathered at the UST grounds, Hontiveros likened the death penalty to the extrajudicial killings happening in the country that only victimized the poor.
“Some are saying that death penalty is not anti-poor because there are no poor drug-lords. But my question to them is where are the drug lords now?” Hontiveros noted.
The senator cited the case of alleged drug lord Peter Lim who was able to visit Malacañang and who remains at large.
“As long as our justice system is corrupt, slow and in favor of the rich, there will be no guarantee that death penalty would provide justice to all,” she said.
The gathering on Sunday was part of Lakbay Buhay, a 21-day cross-country tour by “core pilgrims” which started on May 4. It aims to educate communities on why the death penalty is inhuman and ineffective, illegal and anti-poor.
On May 24, the Lakbay-Buhay advocates will proceed to the Senate to ask the senators not to pass the death penalty bill.