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Crucial times calling for wise decisions

POPE Francis said last Aug. 2 that the death penalty is wrong in all cases, as it is an attack on human dignity. He thus called for a change in the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church which had accepted the death penalty if it is “the only practicable way to defend lives.”

The death penalty has had a colorful history in the Philippines. It was widely used during the Spanish colonial rule, with our national hero Jose Rizal and the priests Gomez, Burgoz, and Zamora (Gomburza) among the famous Filipinos executed by the government. Rizal was killed by firing squad, Gomburza by garrotte.

The electric chair was introduced by the American colonial Insular Government. After independence in 1946, the Philippines had its first execution in 1950 for one who had attempted to assassinate then President Manuel Roxas. Executions continued in succeeding administrations, until the 1987 Constitution banned the death penalty but said Congress may reinstate it for “heinous crimes.” It was reintroduced by law and executions resumed in 1999, then suspended again by another law in 2006 which replaced the death penalty with life imprisonment.

It was also in 2006 that the Philippines signed the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in which it committed to abolish the death penalty. President Gloria Macapagal pardoned many prisoners during her presidency, including those convicted of assassinating opposition leader Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr.

There is today a move to restore the death penalty, led by President Duterte who wants it for those involved in illegal drugs, gun-fo-hire syndicates, and those who commit heinous crimes. When the House of Representatives voted to restore the death penalty in March 2017, then Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez removed from their House positions all those who voted against the bill. Among them was Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who was removed as deputy speaker.

That was 17 months ago but the Senate to this day has not passed a counterpart death penalty bill. In the latest report from the Senate, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he is suggesting an alternative bill to his fellow senators who remain firm against the death penalty. Sotto proposed a maximum-security island prison, like Alcatraz of the United States, for high-level drug offenders.

This is now the state of the effort to restore the death penalty in the Philippines, with the Senate as the last bastion of opposition. It will undoubtedly be encouraged by Pope Francis’ latest statement declaring the death penalty wrong in all cases, considering that 81 percent of Filipinos are Catholic. But President Duterte appears determined to further strengthen the drive on drugs with the death penalty.

These are truly crucial times which call for the wise decisions from all of us.

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