Crimes and the death penalty

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MANILA Mayor Joseph Estrada proposed the restoration of the death penalty last week. He was moved by the gruesome crime committed by a drug addict pedicab driver who raped and then killed a six-year-old girl.

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Whenever heinous crimes proliferate and get broadcast-media attention, calls for the return of the death penalty increase. Also, when the corruption of government officials – of the massiveness and extent of the Napoles PDAF scam—make the people squirm with disgust and scream in anger, more people shout “Execute the plunderers!”

The 1986 Constitution abolishes the death penalty. Guided by the Constitution the state did not execute anyone on death row during the term of President Cory Aquino. But, in the absence of an enabling law to make the Constitutional ban on state executions, President Fidel Ramos restored the death penalty in 1993.

Ironically, Mayor Estrada, who was convicted by the Sandiganbayan of plunder charges (some say these were false accusations supported by fraudulent evidence and mendacious testimonies), could have been executed had Congress not passed a law and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed R.A. 9346 abolishing the death penalty and making life imprisonment the highest punishment.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. opposes the restoration of the death penalty so it does not look like any bill with that aim will reach first base. The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, according to Fr. Melvin Castro, executive secretary of the CBCP Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, continues to oppose the death penalty.

Fr. Castro reminded Mr. Estrada that ending the life of the criminal does not bring back the life taken away. The Church wishes God’s love to govern the treatment of even the worst criminal. Its way is to help criminals become truly contrite, do everything to make up for the evil they have done and lead a life that would henceforth lead them to heaven by being sacrificial in doing good to others.

Innocents sell themselves to murderers
One of the Roman Catholic Church’s reasons for rejecting the death penalty is that in an imperfect judicial system many persons convicted and could be put on death row are innocent. The conviction of the innocent happens in our country not only because of positive efforts of unjust parties to find someone they hate guilty, and not only because some fiscals or judges are incompetent or corrupt. It happens also because of the noble desire of dirt-poor fathers to earn what they think is big money they can leave their families. They own up to murders rich men have committed and what they are paid, a big sum in their poverty-stricken circumstances, is not even half the value of the oldest car the rich murderer owns.

The Church rejoiced when our current, the 1896, Constitution abolished the death penalty for it was, in the words of a former CBCP president, Bishop Carmelo Morelos of the Butuan Diocese in Mindanao, “was a very big step towards a practical recognition of the dignity of every human being created to the image and likeness of God, and of the value of human life from its conception to its natural end.”

The Catholic Church has always taught that poverty, ignorance and lack of education and lack of formation in virtues are the root causes of criminality. If the state pays more attention to these basic needs of human beings there would be less crimes. There would be no need to try scaring criminals into behaving well with the threat of being put to death by the government.

The fact, however, is that no conclusive evidence and statistics have satisfactorily proved that executing criminals deters other criminals. Statistics show that most violent and fatal crimes are committed by persons in a state of irrationality. In other words the criminal is not in his right mind. Therefore, he or she cannot be logically or morally be held accountable for his crime.

We stand with the Church in rejecting the restoration of the death penalty.

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