Cardinal Tagle: 'I will not give up on criminals'

MANILA, Philippines – Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle made an impassioned appeal for criminals, including drug addicts, as he denounced the death penalty being pushed by President Rodrigo Duterte and his allies in Congress.

"I will not give up on anyone. I will not give up on anything. I will not give up even on criminals," Tagle said at "The Word Exposed" Advent recollection on Sunday, December 11.

"We hope, intensely hope, for people, especially the youth, who have been drawn into vices, drugs. Others view them as beyond hope. No! With John the Baptist, we declare, we will hope," the cardinal said during the event organized by Jesuit Communications on Sunday.

He said that "we will continue hoping" even if "we do not see now, even now, the fruits of our hope."

"Tao 'yan, buhay 'yan! May pag-asa 'yan. At hindi 'yan dapat ideklara na wala nang pag-asa," Tagle said. (That's a person, that's a life! He has hope. And he shouldn't be declared hopeless.)

He continued: "Kung 'yan ay yayakapin nang may pag-asa at pananampalataya, magugulat tayo. Ang hindi natin inaasahan, baka, wow, a miracle might bloom before our very eyes. Kaya huwag, huwag na huwag lalapastanganin ang isang tao na nagkamali. Sa halip na lapastanganin, umasa!"

(If you will embrace that person with hope and faith, we will be surprised. What we don't expect is that, wow, a miracle might bloom before our very eyes. So do not, do not ever disrespect a person who has made a mistake. Instead of disrespecting him, have hope!)

This is difficult, he said, "but it can happen."

Tagle made these remarks as Duterte wants to reinstate the death penalty. The President wants this as part of his war on drugs that has already killed more than 5,900 people even without the capital punishment.

Duterte even considers drug addicts as beyond redemption because "once you're addicted to shabu, rehabilitation is no longer a viable option." (READ: Inside the brain of a drug user)

The President, in fact, once questioned if drug addicts can be considered human beings.

"Are they humans? What is your definition of a human being? Tell me. Human rights. Use it properly in the right context, if you have the brains," Duterte said at the 10th anniversary of the Eastern Mindanao Command on August 26.

'Keep on hoping'

Tagle, in contrast, believes that "every life has hope."

To illustrate his point, Tagle recounted meeting a deaf and mute street child at Tulay ng Kabataan, the orphanage visited by Pope Francis in January 2015.

"Sabi ng isang tao doon sa shelter, the first month, talagang ang hirap daw talagang alagaan ng bata. Napaka-unruly. Siguro lahat ng negative experiences sa kalye, all the abuse, all the violence, na-imbibe niya," Tagle said.

(According to one person in the shelter, in the first month, the child was really difficult to take care of. He was really unruly. Maybe he had imbibed all the negative experiences on the streets, all the abuse, all the violence.)

"But they provided him with shelter, a community, and love. Hope."

"After one month, sabi nila, he is a changed person. At sabi nila, he is very prayerful. Laging nasa chapel," Tagle said. 

(After one month, they said, he is a changed person. And they said he is very prayerful. He is always in the chapel.)

"Imagine if people had given up on him," the cardinal said. "But now, he is a model of prayer, of sanctity. And we were glad to have seen it. But even if we haven't seen it, that's part of hoping. Do your share. Believe. Whether you see it or not, just do it. Keep on hoping."

'Don't give up on sinners'

After recounting this story, Tagle deplored the act of killing those who have made mistakes in life. 

Killing people, he said, "is an act of hopelessness and despair."

"Ang pag-asa ay nagsasabi, yurak-yurak man ang buhay mo, nagkamali ka man, umaasa kami, mayroong bagong buhay. Mayroong pag-asa," Tagle said.

(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.)

He continued: "At 'pag tinanong tayo, nakikita mo na ba? Hindi ko pa nakikita, pero aasa pa rin ako. Pero 'pag pinatay na, papa'no mo pa makikita ang bagong buhay?" (And when you're asked, do you see it? I do not see it yet, but I will continue to hope. 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."

"In the midst of our doubts, in the midst of our questioning, may our hope remain firm. 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.

Villegas vs death penalty, too

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 is one of the Philippines' two most influential Catholic bishops, the other being Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines. 

In his archdiocese, Villegas led a prayer rally on Monday, December 12, to denounce the death penalty.

Referring to the act of sentencing people to death, Villegas said in a prepared speech: "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.)

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 then made a proposal: "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." – Rappler.com

Paterno R. 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.

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