MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines' Catholic bishops are opposing the cancellation of the moratorium on the death penalty and reaffirmed their stance against capital punishment.
Their position was articulated at a public meeting by Archbishop Fernando Capalla of Davao, president of the bishops' conference, AsiaNews reported.
The bishops voiced their view as news arrived of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's ending of the moratorium. Only a few months ago Arroyo was received by the Pope in the Vatican, where she reiterated her position against capital punishment and promised to abide by moral principles.
"We do not believe it will deter crime unless there is a general breakdown of law and order," said Archbishop Capalla, in a statement issued Monday.
Arroyo lifted the freeze on the death penalty last Friday after a recent rise in kidnappings-for-ransom.
"As much as I am averse to the taking of human lives, as a matter of principle, the president must yield to the higher public interest when dictated by extraordinary circumstances," Arroyo said. She added that she would not oppose prisoner executions scheduled for January.
Two men face execution by lethal injection on Jan. 30, said Dionisio Santiago, warden of the State Bureau of Corrections.
There are 25 criminals on death row, guilty of kidnappings and drug-related crimes, say officials. The Philippines is said to be the Asia's kidnapping capital, with an average of one abduction every three days.
This year alone, 158 incidents have been reported. Some cases remain unreported for fear of retaliation by kidnappers on the victim's families.
Monsignor Rodolfo Diamante, executive secretary for the bishops' Commission on Prison Pastoral Care, believes that Arroyo was pressured into lifting the ban in order to appease the country's Chinese community, whose members have been gravely affected as victims of kidnapping incidents in Manila.
The president's move is purely political while "succumbing to pressure from a group from which she needs assistance," the monsignor said.
Archbishop Capalla said that "as citizens of this country, we respect the president's right and prerogative to protect public order as well as the right to change her mind."
Yet, he said, "the Roman Catholic Church must claim and uphold her right and freedom to speak on moral issues while respecting the rights and freedom of the state government or of anyone dissenting or disagreeing with her."