CBCP: Death penalty ‘easy but wrong’

Paterno Esmaquel II
The Catholic Church says the death penalty will victimize the innocent, and fail to reform the guilty

REVIVE THIS CHAMBER? This is the view from inside the Philippines' lethal injection chamber at the National Penitentiary in Manila on Jan 9, 2004. File photo by Joel Nito/AFP

MANILA, Philippines – Opposing moves to revive the death penalty, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) denounced the “ultimate punishment” inflicted even on innocent men, such as “the man who died on the Cross.”

In a statement on Tuesday, February 4, the CBCP Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care said societies “have not learned their lesson” 2,000 years after Jesus, Christianity’s central figure, “was sentenced to death and crucified on the Cross.”

The CBCP said it opposes the death penalty not only for the innocent, but also for the guilty.

It said the execution of criminals – “whether on the cross, at the gallows, in the gas chamber, on the electric chair, or through any contraption of society’s extreme cruelty to its erring members” – has failed to deter even the most “heinous” crimes.

“Taking away life is an easy, quick but wrong solution. It merely gives the impression that measures are being taken so as to eradicate crime, or that criminality is finally solved. But until such time that the root causes of criminality are aborted, criminality will forever rise. Society itself has implanted those roots,” the CBCP said.

It also condemned the death penalty as “unchristian and inhuman.”

This CBCP said this after Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto – who backs the Catholic Church in opposing the Reproductive Health law – said he wants to revive the death penalty.

The Philippines abolished the death penalty law in 1987, under the term of former president Corazon Aquino, a devout Catholic.

Her successor, Fidel V Ramos, reintroduced it in the 1993. Former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo suspended it again in 2006.

‘Horrible lesson’

The Church said it would rather “explore alternatives.” It added: “For one, it seriously considers – and vigorously advocates – a shift in the paradigm of justice: from litigation to mediation; prosecution to healing; punishment to reform and rehabilitation: from the retributive to the restorative.” 

Rejecting the death penalty, said the CBCP, doesn’t mean letting criminals “go scot-free.”

It said: “The Catholic Church believes in justice and it is ranked high in its hierarchy of values. Those who have transgressed the laws of the land should be held answerable and accountable after a fair trial; otherwise, they become effective endorsers of crime and criminal actions, and strong parody for the ethical adage that ‘crime does not pay.’”

“But taking away the life of someone, whom we have condemned, immobilized, and rendered helpless with contraptions of death is a horrible lesson to teach our children, that human life is as disposable as any contraptions and trimmings of postmodern life,” it added.

Mrs Aquino’s son, President Benigno Aquino III, said he is hesitant to revive capital punishment.

Like him, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, former chair of the Commission on Human Rights, opposed the death penalty.

She said it may kill the innocent in a “flawed” justice system. – Rappler.com

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 pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.