Manila defies Pope on death penalty

The Philippine government says it will continue in its push to legalise the death penalty, despite Pope Francis’ recent declaration that capital punishment was “unacceptable” in all cases.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said: “It is still the priority of the administration to reimpose the death penalty for serious drug-related offences.”

But he said the parliament must make the decision whether to recall the 1993 law.

Boxing legend, Senator Manny Pacquiao claimed he had biblical and constitutional backing to restore state killing.

“This is not about me or what I want but this is in the Bible and also in our constitution, so there is no problem,” Pacquiao told the media.

The sporting icon has filed three bills to restore the death penalty but he has subsequently agreed to limit the scope to drug trafficking, rape with murder, kidnap for ransom and robbery with murder.

But only three other senators in the 22-member chamber – Jose Victor Ejercito, Sherwin Gatchalian and Cynthia Villar – openly support Duterte on the issue.

The Philippines carried out judicial executions during the 1970s when dictator Fidel Marcos imposed martial law but the 1987 constitution abolished the death penalty. It was reintroduced in 1993 and Leo Echegaray, who was found guilty of raping his 10-year-old stepdaughter, was executed in 1998.

In 2006, the then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo abolished the death penalty again, saying it weakened Manila’s position when asking for Filipino expats to be spared execution overseas.

President Rodrigo Duterte recently said he wanted the death penalty to be reimposed as a deterrent against drug crimes. Legislation passed the lower chamber in March 2017, where Duterte loyalists hold a heavy majority, but needs the senate’s approval.

Duterte has clashed with the church on numerous occasions since taking office in 2016 and his deep-seated loathing for the institution dates back to when he said he was sexually abused by a priest as a child.

In June, Duterte said: “Something terrible happened when we were young. It’s not really that serious. While confessing, we were being fondled.

“So when I graduated, I was no longer a Catholic. I was no longer a Catholic at that age. I was not even in politics then.”

Last week Pope Francis declared the death penalty “inadmissible” under all circumstances, adding that it attacked people’s dignity and the sanctity of life.

The Vatican ruling said: “Today, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes.

“In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.”

Critics say the Duterte administration has been imposing the death penalty since 2016. Picture credit: YouTube