Philippines to abolish death penalty

Posted by Lira Dalangin-Fernandez under Breaking News on 19 June 2006

Philippines will abolish the death penalty on 24 June 2006. More than 1,200 death-row prisoners will not suffer from the death penalty.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said on Friday she will sign the bill abolishing the death penalty on June 24, the eve of her departure on visits to Italy and Spain.

"The eve of my departure…is on the 24th of June. That's a good day to sign the death penalty abolition not only because it is the eve of my departure, but it is the feast of St. John the Baptist who was a victim of death penalty in his time," Arroyo said in her opening statement at a joint meeting of her Cabinet and the Regional Development Council here.

The Senate and the House of Representatives, which voted to abolish capital punishment early this month, are finalizing a common version of the bill before sending it to Malacañang for the President's signature.

Once Arroyo signs it into law, the new measure will repeal Republic Act No. 7659 or the Death Penalty Law, which Congress reimposed in 1993, and Republic Act No. 8177, which prescribes death by lethal injection for those convicted of heinous crimes.

The abolition of capital punishment, which will benefit more than 1,200 death-row convicts - including at least 11 al-Qaida-linked militants - has been hailed by many sectors, including the Catholic Church, but met with bitter criticism by anti-crime groups and relatives of victims of heinous crimes.

There have been observations that Arroyo may have timed the abolition of capital punishment to coincide with her visit to Italy, which includes an audience with Pope Benedict XVI, in an effort to woo the Church.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines has been critical of the Arroyo government on many issues, including alleged election cheating and Charter change. But it has officially declined to join calls by the opposition, militant groups and other quarters for the President to step down.

Arroyo's first stop will be Milan before continuing to Vatican City to meet the Pope..

She also will meet separately with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano.

From Italy, she will travel to Spain to hold talks with King Juan Carlos III and President Jose Luis Gonzalez Zapatero.

Papal Nuncio Fernando Filoni, the Vatican's envoy to Manila, early this week praised the Philippine government for moving to outlaw capital punishment and taking "this step toward the culture of life."

Filoni, however, pointed out that "other fundamental rights of a person have not been properly defended."

He did not specify, but left-wing groups have criticized the government's crackdown on opponents and Arroyo's failure to stop a wave of extrajudicial killings of their members, allegedly by security forces.

More than 600 left-wing activists and their supporters have been killed since Arroyo came to power in 2001. Her government has repeatedly denied responsibility and has ordered an investigation into the killings.

The 1987 Constitution abolished the death penalty that dictator Ferdinand Marcos' government used to execute about a dozen people convicted of rape and drug charges.

Congress restored the death penalty in late 1993 for heinous crimes such as murder, child rape and kidnapping. Seven people convicted of rape and robbery with killings have been executed since then.

Sources and Relevant Links: Arroyo to sign bill scrapping death penalty June 16, 2006

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