Death-Penalty Decision Irks Filipino Bishops

Some Lawyers Say President Arroyo Risks Impeachment

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MANILA, Philippines, OCT. 19, 2001 ( Catholic bishops have denounced President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for bringing back the death penalty, and some lawyers have warned it could lead to her impeachment, BBC reported.

Arroyo, a Catholic, came into office opposed to the death penalty. But she reversed her view this week when she said she would order the immediate executions of up to 95 convicted kidnappers after the Supreme Court had reviewed their cases.

She also called for the commuted death sentences of another six kidnappers to be annulled so they could be executed as soon as possible, BBC reported.

Archbishop Oscar Cruz of Lingayen-Dagupan said her decision was tantamount to admitting that police operations were «futile in preventing crime.»

«With this reversal, the president openly surrendered to the reign of crime in the country,» he said.

And the Catholic bishops´ conference urged the president «not to resort to a quick-fix solution on the problem of criminality.»

Lawyers for some of the convicts said any move to reverse commuted death sentences would be unconstitutional.

«The government cannot legally put to death convicts who are no longer sentenced to death,» said Socorro Diokno, secretary-general of a volunteer lawyer´s organization, the Free Legal Assistance Group.

One lawyer for the group, Theodore Te, said if the president «continues with this course of action, then definitely, it will be a culpable violation of the constitution.» He said this could theoretically be grounds for her impeachment.

Arroyo´s predecessor Joseph Estrada was impeached for alleged corruption earlier this year and toppled from power amid popular protests led by the Catholic Church. His government executed seven convicts in 1999 but he declared a moratorium on executions last year after pressure from the Church.

Arroyo´s decision to reinstate the death penalty follows an upsurge in kidnappings this year, with many of the victims being affluent Filipino Chinese or Christian missionaries. Ransoms are often paid secretly amid suspicions that some police officers may be involved in the kidnappings.

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