06/07/2006, 00.00
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Congress approves abolition of death penalty

President Arroyo reassured the people the decision did not signal weakness on crime. She said the parliamentary decree would soon be signed into law, at which point 1,200 people on death row will see their sentences commuted to life imprisonment.

Manila (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The president of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, has congratulated Congress "for passing a bill abolishing the death penalty" and assured the public that the move "does not signal a weakness on crime".

Her statement came today after MPs approved a law abolishing the "heinous crimes" element in a 1994 law, that is, capital punishment for some crimes including kidnapping, murder and drug trafficking.

The president's statement said: "We celebrate the victory of life as I thank Congress for its immediate action in abolishing the death penalty law." Arroyo said "she would soon sign the bill into law" and to reassure the population, she added: "Make no mistake about it: the abolition of the death penalty will be complemented by a stricter and sterner enforcement of the law on all fronts."

There are 1,200 people on death row in the country, including at least 11 terrorists linked to al-Qaeda. Fr Roberto Olaguer said at least 100 faced the prospect of imminent execution. When the bill passes into law, pending sentences will automatically be commuted to life in prison. The Filipino government executed seven people between 1999 and 2000, but shortly afterwards, it declared a moratorium on executions, prompted to do so by the Catholic Church and the European Union.

"We should find other ways of defending society that will obviate the need for the death penalty, which only brings out the worst in us all," Mgr Pedro Arrigo, chairman of the CBCP Commission of the Prison Pastoral Care, has often said. As Christians, he added, "we are convinced lawbreakers should be given a chance to repent, change their lives, their attitudes and truly atone for their actions."

Edcel Lagman, member of parliament, justified the decision of the MPs by pointing to a study "that reveals beyond doubt how the death penalty does not deter crime: I am serene about the country's future."

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Arroyo commutes 1,200 death sentences to life imprisonment
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