Palace ready to carry out executions of convicts

Dec 13, 2003 10:52 AM EST

Malacañang expressed readiness yesterday to carry out executions of convicted rapists and murderers on “a case-to-case” basis despite strong objections by some quarters, notably by the Catholic Church and pro-life advocates.

Presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye said although the Arroyo administration prefers to send convicted kidnappers and drug traffickers to the lethal injection chamber, the government is open to proposals to apply the country’s death penalty law to high-profile cases, which may include, among others, rape and murder.

“The preference is for the two high-profile cases (of kidnapping and drug trafficking). On the other cases, perhaps we will have to look at the prevailing situation. When that time comes, we will assess the situation, and as we often say, we will cross the bridge when we reach it,” he said in a radio interview.

While she has been under relentless pressure from the Catholic Church and pro-life advocates for her decision to lift the moratorium on executions, the President was also criticized for half-heartedly allowing the implementation of the dealth penalty law only to convicted kidnappers and drug traffickers.

Some quarters have been asking the President to take a tougher stance on the death penalty, which, according to them, should not be just limited to convicted kidnappers and drug traffickers, but should also include rapists and murderers, among others.

Bunye said the President’s decision was prompted by “higher public interest” even though it may run contrary to her personal beliefs as a senator and as devout Catholic. Mrs. Arroyo voted against the re-imposition of the country’s death penalty law sometime in 1995 when she was a senator.

“You know, this is a tough issue. And the President really took time and prayed over it, he said, as he appealed to the public for understanding in the wake of the President’s decision to bring back capital punishment.”

Bunye said authorities should now prepare the lethal injection chamber for the execution of two convicted kidnappers scheduled in the last week of January.

“The lethal injection chamber is for those convicted with finality of kidnapping and high-profile drug cases, and lawfully scheduled for execution. This is an integral part of criminal justice that will be carried out as scheduled by the courts,” he said.

Government figures showed that there is a total of 144 kidnapping and drug-related cases that have been affirmed by the Supreme Court, 32 of which have already been granted warrants of execution or schedule for their execution through lethal injection. (Ferdie J. Maglalang)

Bishops disagree

Newly installed Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) president Archbishop Fernando Capalla yesterday reiterated the church’s stand against the lifting of the moratorium on death penalty, saying it will not be a deterrent to crime.

Capalla, who is also the archbishop of Davao, said as a Catholic servant, he and the other bishops found it necessary to voice out their opinion against the death penalty, but as citizens of the country, they also respect President Arroyo’s decision.

“We do not believe that death penalty deters crime unless there is a general breakdown of law and order. But as citizens of this country, we respect the President’s right and prerogative to protect public order,” he said.

Nevertheless, Capalla said they are still hoping that President Arroyo would still change her mind.

The archbishop said that he has already prepared himself for all the criticisms that might be hurled at him for speaking out his mind on the matter.

He said the “Roman Catholic Church must claim and uphold her right and freedom to speak on moral issues while respecting the right and freedom of the State or government or anyone who dissents or disagrees with her.” (Leslie Ann G. Aquino)

EU concern

While the European Union (EU) continues to support the efforts of the Philippine government to fight crime, it conveyed yesterday its concern over the decision to resume the implementation of the death penalty, Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas F. Ople said.

“Italian Ambassador Umberto Colesanti, on behalf of the European Union, called on me this afternoon to convey the EU’s long-standing and firm position against the use of the death penalty,” the Secretary said.

“This demarche was not unexpected. I gave him the opportunity to make his representation, during which time he also reiterated the strong support of the EU for the sincere efforts of our government to fight crime, except of course on the issue of the death penalty,” Ople said.

“It was clear from our discussion that the EU understands, although it disagrees, with our decision to lift the moratorium on the death penalty. It was also clear that the Philippines understands the traditional position of the EU on this matter. It is regrettable that we are in disagreement, but we agreed to continue to keep our lines of communication on this issue open, and to hear out each others’ positions on this issue,” Ople said.

“Like the President, I too am personally adverse, as a matter of moral principle, to the taking of human lives in this manner. However, until there is a clear preemptory norm in the world against the death penalty, it will be up to the state to exercise the prerogatives available to it, and which it sees fit, to fully protect its people,” the secretary said. (David Cagahastian)

Guingona’s thoughts

Vice President and Bangon movement leader Teofisto Guingona Jr. yesterday said he hopes Malacanang’s decision to lift its death penalty moratorium to cover convicted kidnappers and drug traffickers would “now enable social behavior scientists to obtain the proper empirical data and other insights to determine if capital punishment is an effective crime deterrent in the Philippines.”

In an interview, Guingona said President Arroyo should be given the chance to implement the law on the death penalty on cases involving heinous crimes such as kidnap-for-ransom and drug trafficking, because “the nation has a right to defend itself.”

“The (criminals) do violence not only to the victims but also to society and the nation. Therefore the nation has a right to defend itself.” Guingona said.

When he was in the Senate, Guingona recalled, he voted in favor of the imposition of the death penalty on heinous crimes “with the hope that after a certain period of executing death row criminals, behavioral scientists such as psychologists and criminologists would be able to determine whether capital punishment does serve as a deterrent to crime.”

Guingona said President Arroyo should be given the “benefit of the doubt” that her intention of implementing the death penalty was to address the current resurgence of kidnap cases in the country.

“Anything that the President does now can be interpreted one way or another. But we have to give her the benefit of the doubt so far as this issue is concerned. She is the President after all,” Guingona said. (David Cagahastian)