01/14/2004, 00.00
philippines

Bishops ask presidential candidates to say "no" to death penalty

Manila (AsiaNews) – The Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care asked presidential election candidates to declare themselves against the death penalty. Of the 5 candidates, including current president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, only one has signed an appeal addressed to the commission's president, Bishop Pedro Arigo: Sen. Raul Roco, alumnus of the Benedictine-run San Beda College.

Today members of the commission and Anti-Death Penalty Coalition attended a mass at Chino Roces Bridge, near the presidential palace. The mass was offered for two currently men on death row, who will be executed on Jan. 30. Fr. Robert Reyes, (who in recent years has organized various marches and "runs" to support the Church's social teachings on human rights, the environment, land reform, etc.) presided over the liturgy.

The coalition invited all presidential candidates to come sign a document in which they promise not to apply capital punishment. But only one showed up.

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 in Jan. 2000.  However, President decreed a moratorium during the Jubilee year.

At the beginning of her presidency in 2001, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo made a public statement announcing her position against the law. During her last visit to the Vatican she said she was still in favor of the moratorium. Yet, last December the president decided to lift the moratorium, following pressure from the Chinese-Filipino community which had suffered many kidnappings and blackmail.

Jesuit priest and coalition member, Fr. Silvino Borres, said that the Philippines are sinking ever more into the "culture of death". "As if all the violence and armed conflict bloodying the world were not enough, there is an increasing number in society who tend to end life when it is no longer believed to be useful," he said. The Philippine government holds that the execution of death row inmates, condemned to death for kidnapping, will improve the country's social and economic climate. "This is false. There are other factors making investments unsafe. The greatest cause is government corruption," said Fr. Borres.

Presidential elections will take place from May-June, after the national ones. Candidates for president include Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Fernando Poe Jr., Sen. Panfilo Lacson , Br. Eddie Villanueva (a charismatic Protestant  leader) and Sen. Raul Roco.

At today's press conference after the mass, bishop Pedro Arigo explicitly asked Arroyo to "stop executions and abolish the death penalty." (SE)
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