10/15/2004, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Catholics demand the death penalty be abolished

by Sonny Evangelista

More than three death sentences in four are the result of "judicial error".

Manila (AsiaNews) – The Filipino Catholic Church and the Coalition Against the Death Penalty have called on President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo "to abrogate the death penalty" and replace with "a new law providing a penalty that will have the same effect as intended by the death penalty in protecting society."

Fr Robert Reyes, head of the Coalition Against the Death Penalty, has being fighting for the dignity of inmates. In his view, there has been too much "focus on prisoners and how to keep them in prison while hardly any attention ahs been given to what goes on outside in a society of institutionalized injustice and violence," he said.

"Prisoners serving their term, especially those condemned to die, are a most effective testimony to the religion of power and competition," Father Reyes stressed. In comparison, those who have "the right connections [. . .] enjoy virtual immunity and impunity for their own crimes, injustice and blatant abuse."

Although those who have committed crimes must be aware of their guilt, they are still entitled to human rights. For Fr Reyes, "prisoners and the rest of us in society need to live lives of meaning, dignity and integrity. We must fight to abolish the death penalty and pursue a society where prisoners too can lead a life of genuine justice, compassion and dignity."

According to attorney Soccoro Diokno of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), "it has been 10 years since we had the death penalty and nothing much has changed. Crime has not been deterred despite 7 executions and 1,082 people on death row (209 waiting to be executed and 42 set for execution over the next few months). If you exclude Saturdays and Sundays, that's one execution a day." To make matters worse, as Mr Diokno points out, the Supreme Court has conceded that 77 per cent of all cases now before the lower courts are the result of judicial error.

FLAG lawyers have been working on behalf of death row inmates for some time. "The country is facing problem after problem and it [the death penalty bill pending in congress] does not seem to be a priority," Diokno said adding that "the problem is that the government is not looking at the root causes of everything that is going on [. . .] If you want to deal with crime effectively, you cannot deal with it simply by having the death penalty –that has never been the solution."

The death penalty was reinstated on January 1, 1994, for 13 crimes: treason, piracy, corruption, parricide, homicide, infanticide, kidnapping and holding people, armed robbery, arson, rape, fraud (involving sums of US$ 2 million or more), and car theft involving rape and/or murder. Offenders under 18 and over 70 at the time of the crime are excluded.

Human rights groups have charged police and prison institutions with abuses. Several reports indicate that suspects have been tortured to extort confessions.

Some judges have instead created an association –the guillotine club– that has publicly backed the death penalty arguing that it is a deterrent to crime.

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Religious leaders call for the abolition of the death penalty
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