Catholic leaders in the Philippines are calling on Catholics and lawmakers to resist President Rodrigo Duterte’s call to revive the death penalty.
The president called for its reinstatement during a lengthy State of the Nation Address in Manila July 22, while activists, clergy, seminarians, and nuns protested the president in the rainy streets, according to UCA News.
Church leaders have said that despite his claims of success, Duterte has helped bring about “the most trying period in the nation’s history.”
“A vision of a country where peace and justice reigns, sovereignty is cherished and human rights are upheld … has been sliding into oblivion,” an ecumenical group said in a statement, according to UCA News.
The country, the group noted, is undergoing a crisis that is not only social and political, but moral and spiritual as well.
“The regression of our country’s democracy, the emboldenment of a tyrannical regime and the oppression of the people are fueling a national catastrophe,” they said.
Rodolfo Diamante, executive secretary of the Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care, urged caution for lawmakers when considering legislation that would reinstate the death penalty.
“We urge them to study the bills thoroughly and determine if they will really address the problems of drug trafficking and plunder,” he said, according to CBCP News.
Diamante also urged lawmakers not to reinstate the death penalty as a quick fix, or in order to appease Duterte.
“They have been elected by the people to work for their welfare, not the President’s,” he said. “Don’t give our people an illusion and a quick fix ‘solution’ to our problems. They deserve something better.”
The death penalty was abolished in the Philippines under the country’s 1987 constitution. In the 1990s, the policy underwent varying periods of moratorium and reinstatement, until it was abolished again under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2006, according to Human Rights Watch.
The last time death penalty legislation was considered by the country’s Congress in 2017, it faced strong opposition from lawmakers, UCA noted.
The Philippines is a majority-Catholic nation, with roughly 86% of the country’s 104.9 million people identifying as Catholic.
In August 2018, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a new draft of the catechism’s paragraph regarding capital punishment. Quoting Pope Francis’ words in a speech of Oct. 11, 2017, the new paragraph states, in part, that “the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,’ and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”
Reasons for changing the teaching, the paragraph says, include: the increasing effectiveness of detention systems, growing understanding of the unchanging dignity of the person, and leaving open the possibility of conversion.
Fr. Thomas Petri, O.P., a moral theologian at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., told CNA at the time of the revision that he thinks this change “further absolutizes the pastoral conclusion made by John Paul II.”
“Nothing in the new wording of paragraph 2267 suggests the death penalty is intrinsically evil. Indeed, nothing could suggest that because it would contradict the firm teaching of the Church,” Fr. Petri added.
Duterte has a rocky relationship with the Catholic bishops and clergy of his country, frequently calling them various names and even calling for them to be killed, in large part because they have resisted his war on drugs, which has lead to a spike in extrajudicial killings since he took office in 2016.
Bishop Antonio Tobias of Novaliches hosted a “Mass for Truth” for activists before Duterte’s SONA address. Tobias, along with two other bishops, was recently charged with libel and sedition for allegedly accusing Duterte’s family of having connections to the illegal drug trade, UCA reported.
Tobias said that the war on drugs was gotten worse since Duterte came to power in 2016, despite his vows to quash it.
“After three years, the number of drug users increased and many have died,” Tobias told UCA News.