Archdiocese of Manila’s Clergy Statement Against Death Penalty

Archdiocese of Manila’s Clergy Statement Against Death Penalty
For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone.
Ezekiel 18: 32

The country is once again in the throes of dealing with the specter of death penalty as both the House of Representatives and the Senate are now preparing for its immediate reimposition as a State policy.

We, the Clergy of the Archdiocese of Manila, are both alarmed and disturbed at the ease with which our lawmakers responded to the call for its re-imposition and to the dangers such penalty poses to life and society.

While we agree that it is the duty of Legislators to enact laws and State policies, we condemn the lack of independence and imprudence of some of them who decided to immediately bow to the wishes of President Rodrigo Duterte by filing death penalty bills while we are still mired in this seemingly insurmountable crisis brought by COVID-19. We see such acts as betrayal of the people’s interests and an implicit support to the creeping authoritarian tendencies exuded by this administration.

We agree that crime deserves punishment. We agree, further, that the State has authority to administer appropriate punishment to those judged guilty of crimes.

HOWEVER, based on our faith conviction, moral belief and socio-cultural and political understanding of the impacts of death penalty, we object to its re-imposition on the following grounds:

1.) International Law prohibits the Philippines from withdrawing its 2007 ratification of the United Nations Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil Political Rights (ICCPR) which aims to abolish death penalty. Doing so will weaken our moral and legal standing in other International Bodies or Treatises. Our assertion of victory in the West Philippine Sea will be the height of hypocrisy if we cannot even honor this commitment with the UN ICCPR.

2.) Death Penalty does not effectively deter crime. What deters crime is the certainty of conviction and the imposition of punishment. What the country needs, therefore, is a reform of the criminal justice system with the eradication of crooked, corrupt and unprincipled practices in law enforcement agencies, judiciary and penal systems. To reimpose death penalty in the face of these monstrous problems in our criminal justice system is a violation of the fundamental rights. Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2267).

3.) Death Penalty is biased and unfair. Much like the dreaded war on drugs that victimizes mostly the poor, death penalty unfortunately legalizes simply the extermination of the marginalized in our society. Fairness, above all, requires competent counsel for the defendant. But studies suggest that wrongful convictions of poor defendants are high because they cannot afford to hire the best counsel, thereby, settling merely with inept and underfunded defense both during trial and appeal.

4.) Death Penalty is an unjustified form of retribution. We believe that only God has the right to take life away from us. Hence, we condemn criminals who took the lives of their victims and they must be punished for it. Punishment, however, should not anymore include death because there are other means already available to punish criminals and to protect society from them (John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, 1995). Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people’s safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2266).

5.) The fallibility and imperfection of our justice system is enough reason to reject death penalty. There are many indicators suggesting that miscarriage of justice is unavoidable: erroneous or perjured testimony, defective police work or operation, forced confessions, faulty evidences, corrupt judges, community pressure and the defendant’s previous criminal record or status. When the State approves, orders and carries out the execution of a criminal under these circumstances, it lends support to the destructive side of a flawed system.

As pastors, we recognize the heartache, distress and anguish experienced by victims of violent crimes, and we deeply empathize with them. We feel the anger and despair of victims’ families who are ignored by the criminal justice system and even at times by the Church. We preside over the funeral rites for victims. We comforted their bereaved families and even assist them in their needs. Indeed, they deserve our compassion, understanding, love and support. We want to help them in their search for justice. However, our support for victims and their families does not oblige us to push for the re-imposition of the penalty of death. Instead, we call the attention of our leaders and lawmakers to make every effort to establish a system of justice that brings restoration and harmony and not death.

David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die” (2 Samuel 12:13).


4 August 2020
Feast of St. John Marie Vianney
Patron of Priests