Church Applauds Move by Estrada

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MANILA, Philippines, DEC. 12, 2000 (
In a surprise move, impeached Philippine President Joseph Estrada announced that the death sentences of 1,200 convicts will be commuted to life imprisonment, and 200 dissidents will be released as a year-end Jubilee measure.

Estrada made the unexpected announcement after attending Sunday Mass at St. Jude Thaddeus Church in Bacalod City, Negros, according to the international agency Fides.

During the homily, Bishop Emeritus Antony Fortich of Bacalod appealed for the release of all political prisoners, as a Christmas gift. But even the archbishop was taken aback by the president´s decision.

The Philippine bishops´ conference issued a statement describing the decision as a «great step forward in defending life.» The statement said the bishops «choose not to question the motives or implications behind this move but, rather, accept it as a humanitarian gesture to conclude the Great Jubilee.»

Observers commented that, in making this decision, Estrada hopes to soften the stand of the Church in regard to his possible resignation on the grounds of corruption. His trial continues in the Senate.

The Church in the Philippines has supported the abolition of the death penalty for some time; the bishops were successful in having the president agree to suspend all executions during the Jubilee Year.

Bishop Pedro Quitorio, spokesman of the bishops´ conference, reiterated the Church´s position on the abolition of capital punishment. Since its reintroduction in the country, approved last year, seven people have been executed. The first was Leo Echegaray, who was given a lethal injection Feb. 5, 1999.

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