CATHOLIC bishops came out strongly against the death penalty bill anew on Sunday, warning that capital punishment could be used to oppress people and hitting back at those using the bible to justify the measure.
“We know from history how capital punishment has so often been used by repressive governments as a way of stifling dissent, or of eliminating those whom they regarded as threats to their hold on political power,” the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said in a new pastoral letter read all over the country on the third Sunday of Lent.
“Think, for instance why Herod Antipas had John the Baptist beheaded, or why Pilate had Jesus crucified. Think of the thousands of Christian martyrs who were put to death for sheer hatred for the faith,” the bishops said.
Church leaders of the country, which is about 80 percent Catholic, issued the special homily in response to an effort spearheaded by President Rodrigo Duterte to bring back capital punishment, which was abolished in 2006.
Duterte has launched a brutal, but highly popular war against crime which has included a campaign to bring back capital punishment with hanging as his preferred mode of execution.
‘Interpret bible properly’
In an apparent rebuttal to Sen. Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao, the champion boxer who has left Catholicism to become a “born-again” preacher and who justifies the death penalty using bible quotes, the bishops said: “Jesus was never an advocate of any form of ‘legal killing.’ He defended the adulterous woman against those who demanded her blood.”
“To the people who use the Bible to defend death penalty, need we point out how many other crimes against humanity have been justified, using the same Bible? We humbly enjoin them to interpret the Scriptures properly, to read them as a progressive revelation of God’s will to humankind, with its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ, God’s definitive Word to the world. He came ‘not to abolish the law but to bring it to fulfillment,’” the CBCP said.
“No doubt, death penalty has been in existence in many countries all over the world. It is often justified by a principle of justice based on retribution–‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’ (Matthew 5:3), which Jesus challenged and replaced with the higher principle of non-retaliation of evil for evil, with justice founded on mercy (Luke 6:36).”
Following a debacle at the House of Representatives, which passed the bill on third reading last March 7, the CBCP is pinning its hopes on the 24-member Senate, which will tackle the measure after the Lenten break.
The CBCP called on the Catholic faithful to offer prayers of enlightenment for the senators.
“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,” it said.
No deterrent effect
The bishops reiterated anew that even with the best of intentions, capital punishment has never been proven effective as a deterrent to crime.
Worse, only the poor or those who can’t afford a good lawyer will be punished, considering the country’s flawed legal system.
“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,” the CBCP said.
Last week, Duterte’s ruling PDP-Laban party stripped a dozen lawmakers, including former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, of House leadership posts for voting against the death penalty.
On March 7, the House, with 217 “yes” votes, 54 “no” votes, and one abstention, approved House Bill 4727, which seeks to re-impose capital punishment for heinous drug-related offenses.
The bill restoring the death penalty must still be passed by the Senate but Duterte’s allies also make up the majority in that chamber. Duterte is aiming for the death penalty to be re-introduced by May.
After the death penalty, one of Duterte’s top legislative priorities is a bill to lower the age of criminal responsibility from 15 to nine, which is also being opposed by the CBCP.