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MANILA, Philippines – In another denunciation of the House of Representatives’ vote approving the reimposition of capital punishment, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on Sunday, March 19, slammed the use of the Bible to defend the death penalty.
“To the people who use the Bible to defend death penalty, need we point out how many other crimes against humanity have been justified, using the same Bible?” CBCP president Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said in a pastoral statement released on the 3rd Sunday of Lent.
“We humbly enjoin them to interpret the Scriptures properly, to read them as a progressive revelation of God’s will to humankind, with its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ, God’s definitive Word to the world,” he added.
The CBCP statement comes after 217 lawmakers approved on 3rd and final reading the controversial death penalty measure on March 7. House Bill Number 4727 seeks to punish perpetrators of drug-related crimes. (READ: LIST: How congressmen and women voted on the death penalty bill)
The CBCP pastoral letter was set to be read as a homily for Sunday masses in all dioceses. (READ: CBCP on death penalty vote: We shall not be silenced)
Villegas also pointed out that death penalty has often been justified by a principle of justice based on retribution. But, he added, Jesus himself challenged this and replaced it “with the higher principle of non-retaliation of evil for evil, with justice founded on mercy.”
“Jesus was never an advocate of any form of ‘legal killing.’ He defended the adulterous woman against those who demanded her blood and challenged those who were without sin among them to be the first to cast a stone on her (John 8:7),” the CBCP letter said.
Ineffective deterrent to crime
In the letter, Villegas noted that repressive governments have turned to the death penalty to stifle dissent or eliminate those perceived as threats.
“Think, for instance why Herod Antipas had John the Baptist beheaded, or why Pilate had Jesus crucified. Think of the thousands of Christian martyrs who were put to death for sheer hatred for the faith,” he said.
Villegas also said that capital punishment simply eliminates criminals instead of addressing the root causes of criminality, making death penalty an ineffective deterrent.
Coupled with a flawed legal system that bars the poor from getting access to good lawyers and due process, Villegas said that this constitutes a “lethal mix” that also directly contradicts the basic human right to life.
The CBCP president also noted the irony of lawmakers approving the death penalty bill on Ash Wednesday, with television footage catching the lawmakers giving their votes with their foreheads marked with ash crosses.
“Could they have forgotten what that cross meant? Could they have missed out the contradiction between their vote and the crosses on their foreheads, which were supposed to serve as a loud statement of faith in the God who, for love of us, chose to give up his life for our salvation, rather than see us perish (John 3:16)?” Villegas said.
Appeal to senators
In an effort to block the reimposition of the death penalty, the CBCP will send out letters of appeal to senators explaining why they reject the measure.
The CBCP letter cited several reasons why the death penalty should not be reimposed: it is not necessary; it will not be helpful and may weaken the country’s appeal for clemency for Filipinos sentenced to death abroad; and it will not be a move towards greater justice.
“Besides, the trend in dealing with crimes now is towards restorative and not vindictive justice. Restorative justice seeks healing for the victims and their families and reform of offenders. This certainly is what the Lord wills who wants not the death but the conversion of sinners,” the letter read. – Rappler.com