Archbishops Tagle, Villegas denounce death penalty

Paterno Esmaquel II
Archbishops Tagle, Villegas denounce death penalty
'Every life has hope,' Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle says, while Archbishop Socrates Villegas pushes to reform the justice system

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines’ two most influential Catholic bishops have spoken.

Both Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas denounced the plan to revive the death penalty as pushed by President Rodrigo Duterte and his allies in Congress. 

In an Advent recollection on Sunday, December 11, Tagle condemned killing people as “an act of hopelessness and despair.”

“A people that has hope will never kill,” Tagle said at the event organized by Jesuit Communications on Sunday.

The cardinal continued: “Ang pag-asa ay nagsasabi, yurak-yurak man ang buhay mo, nagkamali ka man, umaasa kami, mayroong bagong buhay. Mayroong pag-asa. At ‘pag tinanong tayo, nakikita mo na ba? Hindi ko pa nakikita, pero aasa pa rin ako.”

(Hope tells us that while your life might be broken, while you might have made a mistake, we continue to hope that there is new life. There is hope. And when you’re asked, do you see it? I do not see it yet, but I will continue to hope.)

“Pero ‘pag pinatay na,” Tagle said, “papa’no mo pa makikita ang bagong buhay?” (But when you kill the person, how will you see new life?)

The cardinal explained: “Every life has hope. Every life has an opportunity to be transformed, if only we believe, if only we believe. Because the center of faith is not in the accomplishment of things. The center of faith is Jesus.”

“May we not give up especially on human lives, and may we not give up on every single sinner. There is hope for transformation,” he said.

Tagle earlier released a prayer against the death penalty, meant to be said in Masses throughout the Christmas season. The prayer described the capital punishment as “state-sanctioned death,” and criticized “the illusion that one must take life in order to defend it.”

Tagle’s remarks come as lawmakers at the House of Representatives aim to pass a death penalty bill on 3rd and final reading before Christmas. 

‘Can courts make a mistake?’

A day after Tagle spoke in an Advent recollection on Sunday, Villegas led a prayer rally against the death penalty on Monday, December 12, in his archdiocese.

In the message he prepared for Monday’s prayer rally, Villegas explained that it is every Catholic’s duty to help in stopping crime, including the use of illegal drugs. 

Duterte has vowed to reinstate the death penalty to boost his war on drugs that has killed more than 5,900 people.

Villegas, who is also president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), wrote in his speech, “Ang mabubuting Katoliko ay laban sa droga.” (Good Catholics are against drugs.)

He said that this, however, does not justify reviving the capital punishment.

Referring to the act of sentencing people to death, he said: “Sino ang mag-uutos? Ang hukuman. Sino ang hukuman? Tao. May tao bang hindi nagkakamali? Puwede bang magkamali ang hukuman? Katulad ng lahat ng tao, puwedeng magkamali.”

(Who will order it? The courts. And who are the courts? People. Is there a person who does not make mistakes? Can the courts make a mistake? Like all other people, they can make a mistake.)

‘Protesting with an alternative’

Villegas continued: “Paano kung matapos mabitay ay nakitang iba pala ang may kasalanan? Sorry na lang? Gayon ba? Ay mali? Maibabalik ba ang buhay ng nagpakamalang mabitay? Maibabalik ba ang buhay ng binaril na mistaken identity?”

(What if, after being executed, it is found that another person committed the crime? Just say sorry? Is that so? Oh, we made a mistake? Can we bring back the life of one mistakenly executed? Can we bring back the life of one who was shot on a mistaken identity?)

Villegas added that fiscals and judges can also be bribed. 

On top of this, he said the death penalty will victimize mostly the poor who cannot afford good lawyers.

Villegas said: “We are not protesting without a solution. We are protesting with an alternative. Reform the criminal justice system.” (READ: A lethal mix? Death penalty and a ‘flawed, corrupt’ justice system

He added: “The solution is not killing criminals! Our alternative is fullness of life for the guilty and the innocent. Fullness of life for the poor and the rich. Fullness of life for sinners and saints. Christ died for the criminals and the victims. The love of God is for all. Our love should be like God’s love. For all.” 

Pope Francis himself has pushed for the abolition of the death penalty around the world. Francis explained that the capital punishment “does not render justice to victims, but instead fosters vengeance.” (READ: Duterte: Death penalty is retribution)

“The commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ has absolute value and applies both to the innocent and to the guilty,” the Pope said. –

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at