MANILA, Philippines – The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) yesterday called on the Filipino faithful to stand up against the imminent restoration of the death penalty.
“Dear sisters and brothers in Christ – let us not allow our wells to be poisoned by bitter water; let us uphold the sanctity of life and make a stand against death penalty,” the pastoral letter, signed by CBCP president and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, read in masses nationwide on the third Sunday of Lent stated.
The prelates stressed that while victims of heinous crimes deserve justice and reparations, criminals remain “children of God” who should be given a chance to repent and reform.
“We are not deaf to the cries of the victims of heinous crimes. The victims and their victimizers are both our brothers and sisters. The victim and the oppressor are both children of God. To the guilty, we offer a challenge to repent and repair the harm of their sins. To the grieving victims, we offer our love, our compassion, our hope,” they stressed.
Citing the parable of the Samaritan woman from the Gospel of John and the stubborn Israelites dying of thirst in the desert who were led to a rock, the CBCP said Christ had given a “life-giving water, making it possible for God’s people to cross over the barren desert of hatred, sin and death into the promised land of fullness of life.
“Retributive justice as stated also in the Bible (An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth – Matthew 5:3) was challenged and replaced by Jesus Christ “with the higher principle of non-retaliation of evil for evil, with justice founded on mercy (Luke 6:36),” according to the prelates. They also recalled how death penalty has been historically used by repressive governments as a means to eliminate dissent or threats to political power.
“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 letter pointed out.
The CBCP again argued that capital punishment has never been proven effective as a deterrent to crime – and will never work in a flawed legal system.
“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. As a law, death penalty directly contradicts the principle of inalienability of the basic human right to life, which is enshrined in most constitutions of countries that signed the universal declaration of human rights,” they lamented.
For the first time collegially, the CBCP slammed members of the House of Representatives for approving House Bill 4727 last March 7.
The bishops have found ironic that many lawmakers were caught on television voting for the bill for the restoration of the death penalty in second reading last Ash Wednesday with crosses from ashes marked on their foreheads.
“Could they have forgotten what that cross meant? Could they have missed out the contradiction between their vote and the crosses on their foreheads, which were supposed to serve as a loud statement of faith in the God who, for love of us, chose to give up his life for our salvation, rather than see us perish (John 3:16)?” they said.
In the same letter, the bishops also rebutted defenders of death penalty who use the Bible to defend their positions, including Sen. Manny Pacquiao, a born again Christian.
“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,” they lamented.
Believing that the fight against the death penalty’s revival is not yet over as it brings the campaign to the Senate, which will deliberate next on the measure, the CBCP sought fervent prayers from the faithful for the legislators who are slated to tackle the controversial bill.
Letter to senators
This week, Villegas will send individual letters to senators to appeal to their conscience to reject the re-imposition of the death penalty, following the House of Representatives’ recent approval of the bill, “with undue haste and under intense pressure.”
“We deeply regret this development, and we ask you to consider rejecting the re-instatement of capital punishment in our country,” Villegas wrote in his letter.
If the death penalty is restored, Villegas said “we must answer dispassionately whether: 1) it is necessary; 2 it will be helpful; and 3) it is a move toward greater justice.
“Through his letter, Villegas is offering the CBCP’s position as its own answers to the questions, primarily stating that the restoration of the death penalty is not necessary.
“For – as has been repeatedly said – no study has shown that the imposition of the death penalty is an effective deterrent to the commission of crimes,” the letter said. “Besides, police records have shown that crime incidents have been dropping (if we exclude the killings related to the anti-drug war of the government).”
Thumbs down from Sweden
Meanwhile, Swedish Ambassador Harald Fries has conveyed his country’s disapproval of the reinstatement of the death penalty in the Philippines.
“Yes, I have done that (convey sentiment against death penalty) in private meetings. I raised it with some lawmakers and also government representatives,” Fries, who said he is aware of President Duterte’s position on the death penalty, told reporters.
He cited three reasons the death penalty is facing opposition: it goes against the right of all people to life, that is a human right for everyone regardless of what one has done; it does not decrease heinous crime, as research have shown, “so it doesn’t help in fighting crime”; and it has the terrible risk of killing someone who might be innocent, as shown in many countries that have strong judicial system. – With Ding Cervantes, Pia Lee-Brago
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