MANILA, Philippines, JAN. 19, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The Philippine bishops’ Commission on Prison Pastoral Care asked presidential election candidates to declare themselves against the death penalty.
Of the five candidates, including President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, only one has signed an appeal to be sent to the commission’s president, Bishop Pedro Arigo. The signer was Senator Raul Roco, an alumnus of the Benedictine-run St. Bede College, according to AsiaNews.
Last Wednesday, members of the commission and of the Anti-Death Penalty Coalition attended a Mass at Chino Roces Bridge, near the presidential palace.
Father Robert Reyes, who has organized marches and events to support the Church’s social teachings on human rights, the environment, land reform and other issues, presided over the liturgy. The Mass was offered for two kidnappers who face execution Jan. 30.
The coalition invited the presidential candidates to sign a document promising not to apply capital punishment, but only one showed up.
During a press conference after the Mass, Bishop Arigo explicitly asked President Arroyo “to stop executions and abolish the death penalty.”
The presidential elections, which will follow national elections, are scheduled for this May. In addition to Arroyo and Roco, the other three hopefuls are Fernando Poe Jr., Senator Panfilo Lacson, and Brother Eddie Villanueva, a charismatic Protestant leader.
Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales of Manila and Archbishop Oscar Cruz of Ligayen-Dagupan, said last Friday that the government’s reinstatement of capital punishment is immoral and inhumane.
In a statement, Archbishop Cruz harshly criticized the government, saying that it is “incapable of keeping law and order” and warned that the reinstatement of capital punishment is a promotion of the “culture of death.”
Archbishop Cruz said that capital punishment must be repealed by all means and urged national leaders to exercise their prerogative to speak out against “abominable” State executions. “It’s not simply a matter of political will but an ethical imperative,” he stressed.
The law on capital punishment was reintroduced in the Philippines in 1993. The first death row inmates were executed in 1999. The last one was executed in January 2000. The then president, Joseph Estrada, ordered a moratorium during the Jubilee Year.
Last year, 158 cases of violent kidnapping were recorded. Then in December, President Arroyo lifted the moratorium in response to pressure from the Chinese-Filipino community, which had suffered many kidnappings and blackmail.
The government hopes the executions planned for Jan. 30 will help to put a stop to such abductions. Archbishop Cruz has criticized the decision, stating that “if but one kidnapping occurs after their scheduled executions, the government had better resign.”
There are 1,005 people on death row in the Philippines: 17 are foreigners, many charged for illegal drug dealings. Twenty-nine are women.