By UCA News
By Joseph Peter Calleja
(UCA News) — Philippine lawmakers on Oct. 5 began tackling a bid to revive the death penalty in the form of a top priority bill presented to the Senate.
The death penalty bill is included in a list of 20 priority pieces of legislation to go before lawmakers.
With the session hall opened, the public can listen to lawmakers debate issues surrounding the death penalty.
“We will once again argue whether the state has the right to take the life of erring individuals. Our nation’s view of morality and how far we’re willing to be affected by it will once again be tested,” Senator Win Gatchalian told reporters on Oct. 5.
He admitted debating the issue would have an effect on how the Church hierarchy would react and treat lawmakers who support the death penalty.
“Of course, lawmakers will always have critics, especially those who will vote in favor. Church opposition is always there. But I think members of the Philippine Senate are mature enough to admit that what is legal is not necessarily moral, and vice versa,” Gatchalian added.
The Philippines was the first Asian country to abolish the death penalty under the 1987 constitution. However, it was re-imposed during the administration of President Fidel Ramos to address a rising crime rate in 1993.
But In 2006, with almost 1,200 inmates on death row, former president, Gloria Arroyo, placed a moratorium on the death penalty — which involved the use of lethal injection — ahead of an audience with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican.
The country also signed and ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty (ICCPR-OP2) on Nov. 20, 2007.
The issue returned before the May 2016 national election, when former president, Rodrigo Duterte, vowed to reintroduce the death penalty to combat drug trafficking in the Philippines.
A bill to revive the death penalty was passed on March 2, 2021, to implement “tougher” punishments for violators of drug laws.
The bill is now in the Senate for deliberation. Once it passes Senate scrutiny, it will be forwarded to President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. for approval.
Church officials are confident senators will junk the bill after deliberation.
“Regardless of political affiliation, we as Filipinos, as one nation, would still agree on the sanctity of life and oppose any form of legislation that threatens it like abortion and the death penalty,” Father Rodil Manto from the Bishops’ Commission on Prison Pastoral Care told UCA News.
Commission chairman, Bishop Joel Baylon, said they were ready “any time” to oppose the revival of the death penalty.
He called on lawmakers to dump the bill for being anti-poor, contrary to the values of Christianity to preserve and respect life.
“Besides being a threat to the sanctity of life given by God, the death penalty will only victimize the poor that have no access to competent legal representation. The death penalty will not work in an imperfect judicial system like ours,” he said in a Facebook post.
“We strongly and unequivocally oppose moves in the present Congress to restore the death penalty… Instead, we call on legislators to pass laws that are more inclusive thereby making our criminal justice system more pro-life and pro-poor.”
Supporters of the bill, however, told Catholic clergymen to “stay out” of the debate and let lawmakers decide on the bill’s merits.
“They should stay away from this and let the legal process take its course. Sovereign states like ours have the right to implement the death penalty. Even our own constitution does not prohibit it,” Manila parishioner and death penalty advocate Tristan Alejandro told UCA News.