Tuesday, 18 April 2006

Philippines: 1,000 death sentences overturned

The President of the Philippines has commuted the death sentences of about 1,000 convicts to life imprisonment.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo announced on 15 April: "On the occasion of Easter, it is my honor to announce our policy to commute the death penalty to life imprisonment."

The move was welcomed by human rights activists and the Catholic Church, but it was criticised by anti-crime groups and political opponents who accused the embattled President of seeking the Church's approval. The Catholic Church, a vocal critic of President Arroyo, has been leading a campaign for the abolition of the death penalty.

'Not political'
A spokesman for the President said the decision was not based on political considerations.

Press Secretary Ignacio R. Bunye said in a statement on Monday: "The President is not seeking nor does she expect any political returns from her decision. In fact, she is taking the heavy flak for it."

"So let's leave politics out of this exercise of a lawful and legitimate exercise of presidential prerogative," he said.

"The President's decision came after deep contemplation and reflection in the field of Christian values. The people's power to forgive under both the Bible and the Constitution can change a nation for good, especially at these times that cry for compassion and reconciliation."

He said the administration understood the "deep hurt inflicted upon the families of the victims of heinous crimes, but the President believes that learning to forgive without compromising criminal justice would be a good start for the nation to move on".

Bunye said even hardened criminals should be given the chance to reform and transform themselves "even as we leave to Congress the final decision on whether or not the death penalty law should be abolished".

"In the meantime, we wish to assure the public that our anti-crime campaign will not relent to clean up the streets and ensure the peace and safety of all law-abiding citizens," he said.

Encouragement for abolition
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) "hailed" the President's announcement, but reiterated its call for the government to abolish the death penalty in legislation.

CBCP President, Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, acknowledged the country was facing rising crime rates but said: "We believe that we should find another way of defending society that will obviate the need for the death penalty, which only brings out the worst in us all."

The Manila Standard Today reports that the President will now certify as urgent a bill to repeal the death penalty, so that debates can begin soon in both chambers of Congress.

According to the newspaper, Presidential chief of staff Michael Defensor said on Monday that the certification for the bill would be issued in a week.

1 comment:

Celia said...

Here's BBC's coverage of Amnesty International's yearly death penalty report: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi//4926224.stm
The real figure for China is likely around 10 times what Amnesty is able to record from public sources, even though China has laws saying that all death sentences must be made public information. (Chinese authorities have themselves at times quoted numbers up to 10,000 people per year.)