April 17, 2006 · Posted in: In the News

Debate on death penalty rages anew

GLORIA Macapagal-Arroyo’s Easter Sunday announcement commuting all death sentences meted to some 1,200 convicts to life imprisonment has revived the long-standing and often acrimonious debate on the issue of capital punishment, pitting human rights advocates and pro-lifers led by the Catholic Church on one side, and anti-crime advocates and the victims of henious crimes on the other.

But while the Church and human rights groups have welcomed Malacañang’s announcement, both also have expressed their reservations about the presidential prerogative falling short of calls to abolish the death penalty.

Archbishop Amadeo Lagdameo, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) expressed this concern in a statement: “It is therefore our prayer that it will not only be a presidential humanitarian act, but the Congress itself would abolish capital punishment by legislative act.”

With Republic Act No. 7659 (the Death Penalty Law) yet to be repealed, the Mamamayang Tutol sa Bitay-Movement for Restorative Justice (MTB-MRJ) said that Arroyo’s wholesale commutation policy does not guarantee that the sentencing of capital offenses will stop.

A nationwide network of some 150 human rights, sectoral, political, and church groups campaigning for the abolition of the death penalty in the Philippines, MTB-MRJ also claimed that Arroyo’s Easter message, “couched as it is in pious tones, does not recognize the bare fact that the death penalty is a blatant violation of the most basic right: the right to life.”

It added that the commutation does not address the flaws of the criminal justice system as some of the inmates may have been victims of injustice and therefore do not deserve to be on death row.

In fact, the Supreme Court’s review of capital cases up to January 2006 found out that four out of five death inmates have been wrongfully sentenced by the various lower courts. Of the 1,513 cases reviewed, almost half (645) were modified (from death penalty to reclusion perpetua or indeterminate sentence), close to a third (456) were transferred to the Court of Appeals, 69 were acquitted, and 37 were remanded for further proceedings. Only 270 cases (18 percent) were affirmed by the high court.

Malacañang has defended the commutation as a presidential prerogative with legal basis, a decision the Palace has tried to paint as having been arrived at without any political color. But to the Movement for the Restoration of Peace and Order (MRPO) which represents victims of kidnap-for-ransom (KFR) gangs, it was a political gesture that only shows government’s insensitivity and callousness to their plight, especially with the recent resurgence of KFR cases that is averaging at least one incident a week.

The groups also pointed out that the death penalty law still exists and said they expected Arroyo to be “the last person not to respect the law and to just disregard it.”

Below are the text of the statements:


The CBCP welcomes the presidential commutation into life-sentence the judgment on some 280 convicts in the death row. The CBCP has been constantly opposed to death penalty.

According to the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church “The Church sees as a sign of hope a growing public opposition to the death penalty, even when such a penalty is seen as a kind of legislative defense on the part of society. Modern Society in fact has the means of effectively suppressing crime by rendering criminals harmless without definitively denying them the chance to reform… The growing aversion of public opinion towards the death penalty and the various provisions aimed at abolishing it or suspending its application constitute visible manifestation of a heightened moral consciousness” (#405)

It is therefore our prayer that it will not only be a presidential humanitarian act, but the Congress itself would abolish capital punishment by legislative act.

The control of criminality as well as the reform of society is a common responsibility of the government, church and civil society. Corruption, immorality and poverty breed criminality. Therefore, less of these would mean less criminality. Crime breeds crime. The rehabilitation and reformation of pardoned criminals must also be assured for the continuing peace and harmony in society.

+Angel N. Lagdameo
Archbishop of Jaro
President, CBCP
April 16, 2006, Easter Sunday


Statement on the Death Penalty
April 16, 2006

We, victims of kidnap-for-ransom gangs, are dismayed, shocked and saddened by President Gloria M. Arroyo’s announcement commuting all death penalty sentences to life imprisonment. It shows the height of insensitivity and callousness of this government to victims of heinous crimes, especially kidnapping, that have long traumatized our citizenry.

The announcement is not only ill-advised but also comes at a very bad time because of the recent resurgence of KFR cases, averaging at least one incident a week. There were even weeks when we have two or three incidents.

While the President gave hardened criminals a reprieve as a political gesture this Easter, she has not given any consideration at all to victims of terrorism, kidnapping, murder, carjacking, drug pushing, and other heinous crimes. It gives a bad signal that the government is softening on hardened, heartless criminals.

Last week, the two Riños brothers arrested by the police were responsible for at least 16 KFR cases, including kidnap-murder. Innocent children are not spared. This shows how incorrigible and notorious these criminals are and they deserve death penalty no less.

The death penalty law exists and until it is repealed, President Arroyo is the last person we expect NOT TO respect the law and to just disregard it.

More than the criminals, we deserve protection and consideration also from our government.

(Signed) – Signatures on Separate sheet




Press Statement on President Arroyo’s Easter Sunday Commutation of Death Sentences

We from the Mamamayang Tutol sa Bitay-Movement for Restorative Justice (MTB-MRJ) certainly laud President Arroyo’s Easter Sunday announcement to commute the death sentences to life imprisonment of some 1,205 inmates. Having been campaigning against the death penalty for several years now, we hope that the president’s action will pave the way for the abolition of RA 7659, or the Death Penalty Law.

But MTB-MRJ believes that commutation of death sentences does not fully address our call for the abolition of the death penalty:

  1. It does not address the fact that some of these inmates may have been victims of injustice and therefore do not deserve to be in death row; mere commutation of their sentences will be another injustice to them. This policy does not address the flaws of the criminal justice system, where the poor and uneducated are more often meted out with harsh penalties while the rich and powerful can go scot-free.
  2. While Arroyo’s statement touches on correcting the wrongs one has committed (which is obviously self-referential), it makes no mention of the human rights issues surrounding death penalty. President Arroyo’s Easter message, couched as it is in pious tones, does not recognize the bare fact that the death penalty is a blatant violation of the most basic right: the right to life. Also, it does not recognize that the death penalty has not, and will not be, the solution to crime and criminality in the country.
  3. Worse, it does not mention the abolition of RA 7659. While there is indeed a presidential prerogative to commute affirmed death sentences, this policy of wholesale commutation does not adequately answer our call, which is the abolition and repeal of the Death Penalty Law. Moreover, since this policy contravenes an existing law; it is not an assurance therefore that the sentencing of capital offenses will stop. As long as RA 7659 is in effect, death sentences will continue to be handed down by Philippine courts. What will happen then to those who will be sentenced to death after April 16, 2006?

President Arroyo must stop this hemming and hawing. Beyond mere commutation, she must now certify as urgent House Bill 4826 (“An Act Prohibiting the Imposition of the Death Penalty in the Philippines”) which has already been approved by the House Committee on Revision of Laws as early as October 2005.

The adverse reactions to President Arroyo’s commutation of death sentences only reminds us that human rights education among Filipinos needs to be widened and deepened; the angry and bitter voices, especially from the families of crime victims, is a challenge to those of us advocating for a better criminal justice system – one that is restorative and healing, rather than retributive and punitive.

All sectors of society, especially the government, should strive for a justice system that:

  • makes the real offenders accountable for their wrong-doings;
  • works towards genuine rehabilitation and eventual reintegration of offenders; and
  • at the same time helps the victims of crimes recover from the harm that had been done to them.

Such a justice system must also recognize that crimes are bred within certain socio-economic and cultural contexts, and that the solution to criminality must go beyond mere knee-jerk reactions that only breed more crimes and violence.

22 Responses to Debate on death penalty rages anew


Cecile Impens

April 18th, 2006 at 3:59 am

The best place for Arroyo to start her crusade regarding the commutation of the death penalty is to fully restructure the country’s justice and penology system. It is easy for her to mention that the reasons behind this move are Constitutional and Christian values. Which values? If she is really sincere in what she is saying, then why not provide the imprisonned individuals with Pro-Deo lawyers to properly defend them? thus lifting the accusations and be released if found innocent. Keeping them in prison is a human-rights violation. Further, should the police would conduct their interrogation and investigation process without inflecting physical threats and assaults to the arrested person. This is not to defend the criminals, far from that! Despite of the pro-life group’s advocacy to end the death-penalty, I think it is relevant to have the capital funishment be employed to the heinous crimes and harden criminals: kidnappers, murderers, terrorists, killing of the minors and of people without defense.(handicaps). Living in a laxist and permissive society will only put our justice in jeopardy. Surely, Arroyo’s proposition must have the applause of the death-row convicts, but not the family of the victims and the victims themselves.
Most likely, her strategy here is to win back the support of the Catholic Church (this latter criticized her Charter change). Another well concocted issue for her Malacañang sejourn prolongation.



April 18th, 2006 at 4:02 am

debate on death penalty rages anew in the mind of one woman:

not to be left out, gloria joins in the flip-flop craze…not with the addictive nature of the havaianas flip-flops…but with the ambiguous executive signals on death penalty started by erap during his time http://www.hrnow.org/policy/Death_Penalty_June_25_2003.doc .

shortly after she took the helm in 2001, she already commuted the sentences of 18 death row convicts stating she was not in favor of executions. however, a somewhat reversal of her stand was noted in oct 2001 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/1599923.stm .

eventually a moratorium on death penalty took effect but was lifted in dec 2003 http://www.inq7.net/opi/2003/dec/09/opi_mltan-1.htm .

its justification here http://www.gov.ph/news/default.asp?i=4277 .

now, she’s at this game of somersaults again…depending, of course, on the current political milieu…

why not just certify the existing bills on the abolition of death penalty as urgent and end this flip-flopping once and for all? well, she’s just living up to what is expected from a two-faced villain at the palace…



April 18th, 2006 at 7:49 am

Looking at it objectively, one thing that can be said about Gloria’s stand on death penalty is that she has been consistently against it. If she did otherwise, she would have been lambasted naman by the other side that is against the death penalty and more vigorously by those who will see it as a political ploy and who even now consider her action as a move to win over the CBCP. This is a damn if you do, damn if you don’t situation dahil hati ang tao sa may gusto at sa may ayaw ng death penalty, and those who don’t see her do anything right. Taking the life of a human being is a matter that tugs on one’s conscience and I think that should be respected.



April 18th, 2006 at 8:05 am

the debate that goes through gloria’s mind then lives on today 13 years after…



“Mr. (Senate) President, I am torn between a constituency that cannot be denied and a conscience that cannot be rationalized,” Gloria said when she was still senator.

Conscience vs constituency

“If I vote yes, as seems to be the overwhelming clamor of my significant constituencies, I shall be voting against my conscience. If I vote no, as my personal syllogism concludes for me, I will be untrue to the obligation to be the voice in the Senate of those who are the source of my mandate and my very right to be in this hall to vote on this bill,” she had said.

“Torn between conscience and constituency, Mr. President, I hereby abstain on Senate Bill No. 891,” she said.


as mary mcgregor sings:

Torn between two lovers
Feelin’ like a fool
Loving both of you
Is breaking all the rules
Torn between two lovers
Feelin like a fool

now, no doubt gloria is feeling like a fool
is this worth to break the SC (death penalty) rule?



April 18th, 2006 at 8:53 am

Kung ako lang ang masusunod, by operation of law let the death penalty stay, however, I would leave it to the family of the victim for them to decide if the criminal that committed the heinous crime deserves to die, be pardoned, or his sentence commuted to life. It is the victim’s family that seeks retribution and not the President or anybody else. This way no one can be bothered by his/her conscience.



April 18th, 2006 at 12:49 pm

that’s exactly how islamic states decide the fate of heinous crime offenders. under shariah law, the victim’s kin decides whether to forgive the criminal (and accept blood money) or demand execution. that’s the reason why some of our kababayans who have committed heinous crimes in arab countries escape the death sentence.

as what baycas has stated above, if glo-ria is truly sincere and firm with her stand against the death penalty, then she should certify the existing bill on the abolition of death penalty as urgent and avoid being accused of flip-flopping.



April 18th, 2006 at 7:22 pm

We are supposed to be the only Catholic nation on this part of the world and we seem to rule our lives w/ the law of the jungle.We seem to look at the death sentence as a “legitimate” means of revenge, but always revenge.
In the Filippine scenario, the death penalty will never be resolved.
Why don’t we insted look at other doable means of punishment that will really put fear in the criminals.
Criminals leave a one way life anyway.
Patapon na sila talaga.
They are going to the direction of death already anyway.
It’s only a question of how that will happen.
Why not insted goverment invest in a prison system where individual prisoners who would otherwise be given the death sentence be insted placed in “solitary confinement” w/ a very strick regime of diciplene & limited visists.
I’m sure they will wanna wish they where dead insted of enduring leaveing in a limited space all alone in a diciplined regime.
Our problem is that even in prison the system allows criminals “to get away” w/ luxueries.
The system just takes them away from the streets just to put them in another enviorment that still allows them to get away w/ things.
We can’t pretend to solve problems when in reality it’s the State that creates a bigger problem buy not doing it’s responsibility.
let’s face it, we have no results fortcomming unless the State invest in a better prison system.



April 18th, 2006 at 10:06 pm

Basically, I’m not in favor of death penalty as a means to deter the commission of heinous crimes, but it is what the laws say unless this is repealed by the Congress. Being the President, he/she is given the prerogative to stay the execution or to commute the sentence to life imprisonment.

The prerogative to stay the execution are only for those who are already scheduled to be executed but not for those whose case are still until review by the SC since all death sentence are automatically refered to SC for final decisions. But what GMA did was a blanket relief for all prisoners with death penalty. By doing so, she had usurp the power of the SC and preempted the final judicial review of the court. Where now lies the separation of powers between the Executive and the Judicial power of the court?

These are what is happening to our country today…the dictatorial tendency of GMA whose utter disregard to the due process of laws…a total disrepect for our Constituional under a pseudo government.

I wonder what other things she might do under a Parliamentary Form of Government?



April 20th, 2006 at 6:01 am

even in the States, the debate continues when the Missouri bishops issued a statement last week…Recalling Christ’s death on Good Friday provides an opportunity to reflect on Catholic teaching and the death penalty, the Missouri bishops state in a new pastoral letter opposing executions.

mr. michael tan summarized the issues of fairness, justice, and crime deterrence here http://news.inq7.net/opinion/index.php?index=2&story_id=72981&col=81 .

the US Conference of Catholic Bishops renewed their wish to end the death penalty during their fall meeting in October 2005. they published a document entitled A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death http://www.usccb.org/sdwp/national/penaltyofdeath.pdf .


after a long time weighing the pros (mga botante) and cons (as in conscience) of her decision, gloria is now ready to really follow her conscience (meron pala?!) by prodding congress to abolish capital punishment…uhhmm, huli man at magaling, napaglalalangan din…(parang may mali ata!)…

a very good diversionary issue death penalty is (a segue from the issue of the full-blast cha-cha government people’s initiative)…but it’s well worth the time and saliva to debate on.

i follow the Catholic teaching…and as the American bishops said…

As Catholic bishops, we teach and preach the Gospel vision of a “culture of life.” We believe that we are created in God’s image, which compels us to teach a consistent ethic of life and obligates us to preach that the use of the death penalty does not protect human life nor promote human dignity.

NO to death penalty.



April 20th, 2006 at 6:23 am

Another way of discussing this fairness issue is to look at how we protest whenever a Filipino is sentenced to death abroad. Yet, using the argument of fairness, we really cannot argue against the execution of Filipinos overseas if we continue to impose the death penalty here at home…

Farmer makes a good point about the kind of justice Moussaoui deserves. When we lash out at those who have wronged us, we justify our actions by saying we are dealing with evil. That argument is being used by the US government itself, when American soldiers torture and degrade suspected Islamist militants. But an American legislator looking into alleged brutality against the suspected Islamists summarized the issues well when he said that human rights, even for those we perceive to be evil, have to be respected: “It’s not about who they are, but about who we are.”

US Catholic bishops put it another way: “The use of state-authorized killing in our names diminishes us all.” In the name of restoring justice, we all lose part of our humanity whenever we condone an execution, whether in the lethal injection chamber or through salvaging or extra-legal means.

— Michael L. Tan (in his essay cited above)

…food for our thoughts.


INSIDE PCIJ: Stories behind our stories » Amnesty International lauds commutation of death sentences

April 20th, 2006 at 7:26 am

[…] The issue, however, has always divided Filipinos. Victims of violence and their families feel the move sends a signal the government is softening its stance towards perpetrators of heinous crimes, particularly kidnaps-for-ransom which are again on the rise. The Catholic Church and the local human rights network, on the other hand, have waged a campaign for the abolition of the death penalty which they view as cruel and immoral. […]



April 20th, 2006 at 12:35 pm

i’m with you baycas. No to death penalty. michael tan said it all. whether gloria is sincere or not, it’s a welcome move.



April 20th, 2006 at 1:16 pm

my stand is “death penalty pag wala na si gloria”. i just hate kasi her meaning of “fair and square”. as an example, look at what toting bunye and gonzales are saying re: the subic rape case.




April 20th, 2006 at 1:17 pm

i mean NO TO DEATH PENALTY pag wala na si Gloria



April 20th, 2006 at 2:00 pm

“If I vote yes, as seems to be the overwhelming clamor of my significant constituencies, I shall be voting against my conscience. If I vote no, as my personal syllogism concludes for me, I will be untrue to the obligation to be the voice in the Senate of those who are the source of my mandate and my very right to be in this hall to vote on this bill.”

to be flippant, how can one vote against his conscience if one has none to begin with?

seriously, however, this reflects one flaw in our politics: people often don’t vote candidates based on the things they stand for/ against, and candidates switch platforms and parties more often than they do their underwear. it’d be great to live in that future time when people vote for candidates based on their platforms — when that happens, it will be clearer to everyone what the people truly want.

but back to the topic: is the death penalty wrong per se? i’ve mixed feelings about that. however, i oppose the death penalty because and only because of the flaws in the justice system — there are, no doubt, wrongfully imprisoned people left to rot in jail because of their lawyers, despite their innocence.



April 20th, 2006 at 2:36 pm

off topic about the subic rape case. this old man gonzales is so arrogant. he doesn’t deserve to be in his position. to say that “i could have absolve the 3 accused” and “i don’t care what people think”. to consider the victim as part of the mob is the height of arrogance. this old man is very insensitive.



April 20th, 2006 at 4:10 pm

How can we say that the death penalty failed to solve the criminality when it is not even tried yet.



April 20th, 2006 at 8:50 pm

death penalty to plunderers of state funds: the magnitude of which shall be decided by each barangay all over the country ;

death penalty to those who alter with citizens vote;

death penalty to those who are responsible for executions of activists and crusading journalists;

death penalty to those who commit heinous crimes against family members of OFW’s:unless pardoned by the victims’ family;

death penalty to those who wilfully manufacture (and similar acts) illegal and controlled substances, e.g. cocaine, ‘shabu’ ;

my thoughts…


INSIDE PCIJ: Stories behind our stories » Groundbreaking study on women on death row released

May 16th, 2006 at 4:16 pm

[…] There are currently 33 women in death row, including four whose sentences have recently been reduced to reclusion perpetua after Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo announced the wholesale commutation of death sentences last Easter Sunday. […]



May 21st, 2006 at 9:46 am

…wait till you see the picture* of gloria, who wants to abolish death penalty now, but once joined a rally on january 11, 1999 calling for leo echegaray’s execution.

see the woman physically present in that rally but her captured face probably speaks of the debate raging in her mind…

truly, it’s hard to be torn between death and no-death…if only she stuck to her conscience (if ever she has it) then her flip-flops would just mean havaianas to her feet and not a burden to her mind.

*in june 5, 2006 issue of newsbreak (not yet uploaded online)



June 15th, 2006 at 3:46 pm

baycas, galing mo talaga. you were the first one to tell us about the arroyo-loi pics.


and this shows what a flip flopper she is flip flop, then flip, then flop



INSIDE PCIJ: Stories behind our stories » Invoking the Church-State separation principle

July 2nd, 2006 at 2:29 pm

[…] “Malacañang didn’t invoke the separation of Church and State when the bishops issued a statement in July last year that did not call for her resignation. They didn’t invoke the principle when the CBCP called for the abolition of the death penalty,” he says, anticipating the same silence on the part of the government on current proposed bills tackling issues that the CBCP strongly opposes, like abortion and divorce. […]

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