CBCP Statement on the Non-Restoration
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines gathered in Plenary Session in Tagaytay on July 23-26, wishes to register its opposition to the restoration of the death penalty in our country, for the following reasons:
The abolition of the death penalty by the 1986 Constitution was a very big step towards a practical recognition of the dignity of every human being created to the image and likeness of God, and of the value of human life from its conception to its natural end.
This advance was in accordance with the 1971 Resolution of the United Nations which declared, “in order fully to guarantee the right to life, provided for in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the main objective to be pursued is that of progressively restricting the number of offenses for which the death penalty may be imposed, with a view to the desirability of abolishing this punishment in all countries” (emphasis added).
It would indeed be regrettable, if after that step forward embodied in our Constitution, we should now take a backward step without moral necessity.
Some people, and many in the mass media are today insistently urging for the restoration of the death penalty. For this step to be taken, there must be very serious moral justification. We submit that the arguments advanced so far do not justify the restoration of the death penalty.
a. There are those who say that the death penalty is a deterrent to the commission of crimes.
But this deterrent effect on the commission of future crimes by others has nowhere been convincingly established. In fact, the 1989 Amnesty International (AI) report states. “The fact that no clear evidence that the death penalty has a unique deterrent effect has emerged from the many studies made, and the methodological difficulties inherent in all such studies, point to the futility of relying on the deterrence hypothesis as a basis for public policy on the death penalty” (p.14).
The American Bishops have also pointed out that “There are strong reasons to doubt that many crimes of violence are undertaken in a spirit of rational calculation which would be influenced by a remote threat of death. The small number of death sentences in relation to the number of murders also makes it seem highly unlikely that the threat will be carried out and so undercuts the effectiveness of the deterrent” (Statement on Capital Punishment, 1980).
Another justifying reason adduced today is retribution or the restoration of the order of justice violated by the criminal’s action.
But this retribution need not entail the imposition of the death penalty even in cases of murder. While the killing of a murderer by the State may satisfy vindictive desires, such a satisfaction cannot be the objective of a humane and Christian approach to punishment. From the Christian point of view, Christ’s words about the forgiveness of injuries and above all his own example on the Cross call not for vindictive punishment, but rather for more humane and humanizing punitive responses to evil doing. We cannot argue that we should do to the criminal what he did to his victim. For certainly, as the American Bishops say, we would not justify inflicting torture and the maiming of the limbs of a person who has criminally tortured and maimed another.
There are some people who reason out that as in a body it is legitimate to excise a sick organ when such excision is for the good of the whole body, so also it is legitimate to execute a criminal when to do so would redound to the good of the whole of society.
But we reply: a human being is not only a member of society as an organ is a member of a living body. While a human being must live for the good of society, society exists in order to promote the good of the individual human being. A human being has a value in himself/herself and is the goal and purpose of society in a way that a limb or organ is not the goal and purpose of the human body. So, a criminal should be treated only like a sick bodily organ.
3. We positively object also to the restoration of the death penalty for the following reasons:
We cannot exclude the possibility of the imposition of the death sentence on innocent human beings. These mistakes have happened before. In our country there have been many instances of reversals of death sentences by the Supreme Court. How are we to be sure that the Supreme Court which does not profess infallibity, has not erred in affirming death sentences by the lower courts? Such errors, when finally executed, are irreversible.
The imposition of the death penalty in our country today will have a bias against the poor. We know how inadequate our present judicial procedures are, and how the rich can literally get away with murder, while the poor have few if any to defend them. The ones who will suffer the death penalty will rarely be the rich who have committed crimes, but the poor who have no adequate defence. The preferential option for the poor which the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines has decided upon finds an application in our opposition to the death penalty. We believe that we should not even think of restoring the death penalty as long as we have not reformed our police and justice systems to the extent at least that there is a real guarantee of truly equal justice for all.
The abolition of the death penalty is also consistent with our stand for life, which we want to be protected and enhanced from conception to its natural end. Our present Holy Father has articulated this position in the following manner: “The right to life (is) the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights…. The human beings is entitled to such right, in every phase of development, from conception until natural death; and in every condition, whether healthy or sick, whole or handicapped, rich or poor” (Christifideles Laici, No. 38). We believe that human life and the right to it are better defended by abolishing the judicial authorization to impose the death sentence.
In asking for the non-restoration of the death penalty we are articulating the growing conviction regarding the sacredness of human life, and following the example of Pope John Paul II who in an address to the Diplomatic Corps (December 19, 1983), defended “the seamless garment of life” and recommended “clemency, even pardon, for those condemned to death.”
Finally, we believe that the abolition of the death penalty is most consistent with our faith in Jesus and in the merciful God whose face He has revealed to us. While in the Bible, we find texts that allow legitimate authority to impose the death penalty, we find the even more pervasive picture of a God who does not wish the death of the sinner, but rather that he be converted and live (cf. Ezek. 18:23). The Lord Jesus himself laid down in life that sinners might live. In the only case in the gospels where our Lord was asked about his opinion on the imposition of the death peanlty on a woman who, according to the Mosaic Law deserved to die, he refused to pass sentence on her, and saved her from certain death (cf. Jn. 8:1-11).
4. Instead of restoring the death penalty, we propose the following:
The relentless pursuit of the direct attack on poverty that President Ramos has been insiting on during these first days of his presidency (cf. His inaugural address and state of the nation speech before Congress), because poverty–especially abject destitution — is a fertile breeding ground for criminality.
The reform of our law enforcement and justice systems so that speedy justice will be meted out to all offenders of the law, especially to grave offenders, regardless of economic and social status. Such a reform is a more effective deterrent for crimes than capital punishment would be, and it will help establish an atmosphere of peace and order.
The reform of our penal system, so that criminals will indeed be reformed instead of becoming more hardened when they served out their sentences. Examples exist of such true reform prisons in other countries.
A relentless and well-coordinated effort to combat the causes of heinous crimes. Among such causes are the gang culture, drug dependency, and the gambling syndrome.
The cleansing of police and military ranks of scalawags in uniform, many of whom have perpetrated crimes or have connived with criminals.
The elimination or lessening of the atmosphere of violence propagated by the mass media. The harm done by films that vividly and repeatedly portray violence and even make it an attractive solution to problems is incalculable.
The enforcement of the gun ban, so that no persons may carry guns in public places unless they are persons in authority, and (for regular policemen and soldiers) wearing their uniform.
We believe that the fulfillment of these proposals will go a longer way than the restoration of the death penalty towards taking our society safe for every human being. The non-restoration of the death penalty will send a very strong message to our violence-torn nation that we want to break the role of violence. It is very urgent to see and hear that message today!
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:
(Sgd.)+CARMELO D.F. MORELOS, D.D.
24 July 1992
Dear Fellow Filipinos:
The Peace of the Risen Christ be with you all!
The May 11 election are a crucial crossroads in our national history. It is an historic opportunity to elect our national and local government leaders.
We can make this election a real manifestation of our maturity and unity as a people. Even now, there are many encouraging signs that this election will be generallly peaceful and honest.
We have a very credible and hardworking COMELEC.
We have the Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police which are both committed to the safeguarding of the electoral process and the defense of democracy.
We have a body of dedicated teachers and volunteers who will constitute the Boards of Election Inspectors.
We have movements like the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, NASSA VOTECARE, MAHAL, PEW, CIMPEL, NAMFREL, SEMNET and many more similar organizations with hundreds of thousands of members who have volunteered themselves to educate voters and to guard the polls.
We have most especially an awakening citizenry, aware of issues, who want real change in our politics and who will not allow themselves to be fooled, frightened, cheated or bought.
Never before in our history have so many positive forces converged on an election. Though not all things may improve with this election, change has already begun.
We ask you, our dear brothers and sisters, to vote for those whom you believe God wants to put in public office. Search for the will of God by informing yourselves about the qualifications of each candidate, and by prayer.
Vote for those whom you think are really God’s choice. Be guided by your religious leaders but do not let them or anybody else impose their choices on you.
We have waited several years to vote for our national leaders. Vote with dignity and freedom. Do not dishonor yourselves or betray your country by selling your votes. Your votes are sacred. Guard them.
We ask the candidates and their followers: fight fairly. Do not buy votes, cheat, or use force. Abide by the covenants you have signed. We ask the winners to be magnanimous in victory and the losers to be gracious in defeat. We ask both winners and losers to work together for the unity and progress of our people after the elections.
We ask the media to report faithfully election happenings and irregularities. But do not concoct news or make exaggerated reports to agitate the people. Discriminate between speculation, rumor, and fact.
We ask those who would prevent the electoral process or use its failings to disillusion our people, to think more of their country than of their ambitions.
From this electoral process, may we emerge as a unified and mature people who can live and work together despite our differences.
We commend our country to Jesus, our Saviour, the Son of Mary.
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:
(Sgd.)+CARMELO D.F. MORELOS, D.D.
5 May 1992
Decision at the Crossroads
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
We are approaching a crossroads in our national history, the May 11, 1992 Elections. For the third time, we your bishops write to you to assist you to participate responsibly in this event. In our first letter of July 22, 1991, we urged the education of voters to enable them to vote wisely. We denounced the politics of guns, goons, and gold. We asked you to organize and band together to prevent election irregularities. On November 28, 1991 we issued a second letter indicating some guidelines for the wise choice of candidates. With the same pastoral concern which moved us to write you these first two letters, we now address you this third letter, the fruit of extensive consultation and prayerful reflection among ourselves.
Where We are Now
We see many encouraging signs in our political landscape: the emergence of a growing number of organizations promoting voters’ education and honest elections, like: the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPC-RV), Citizens’ Movement for Peaceful Elections (CIMPEL), People’s Election Watch (PEW), NASSA-CARE, GUTS, MAHAL ’92 and NAMFREL; the people’s enthusiastic response to these movements; a more credible COMELEC; members of the board of inspectors with proven fidelity; the PNP and AFP striving to enforce the ban on guns and bodyguards; the new awareness of the poor that God’s power is in them and that they are active agents shaping history; the increasing number of worthy people with little financial resources and not belonging to political parties who present themselves as fresh alternatives to the old politics.
We can sense the renewing breath of the Spirit of God in these and similar developments.
But there are evil winds that blow counter to the Spirit’s movements: the persistence and worsening of the politics of pay-offs, patronage and personalities; cynicism, and apathy towads the elections; a bandwagon mentality among the voters who will vote for the likely winner rather than for the most qualified; the continuing existence of private armies and arms smuggling; the alleged threats of extortion by the NPA from candidates.
The presence of these countervailing forces reveals a deep crisis in our history. The Lord bids us to turn this crisis into a national breakthrough.
Where We Should Go
And go we will, if we see our struggle for a renewed political order as a struggle of faith, which we personally and as Church must wage in pursuit of our Christian vocation and the Church’s mission. We bring to this struggle deep faith-convictions.
We believe that God who in former times acted to free his people and has offered us fulness of life in the Spirit through His Son, Jesus Christ, is with us still. He remains faithful though we have been unfaithful to Him.
Our God is present in a special way in the poor and powerless. He who “chose the world’s lowborn and despised to reduce to nothing those who were something” (1 Cor. 1:28) continues to do the same today.
But He will lift us up (Hos. 11:1) only if we turn to Him. The very abject situation we are in is a call to conversion to us as individuals and as a people. In a democracy a people gets the leaders it deserves. The qualities of our leaders are often a reflection of our qualities as a people. Our public officials symbolize the values of the people who elect them. A crooked people will vote crooked candidates into office. A God-fearing people will vote for God-fearing candidates. The fact that we are often reduced to a choice for a lesser of two evils among candidates is itself a telling commentary on our sad state as a people. We have many unworthy politicians because we have tolerated and even connived with evil especially during election times.
We should turn to God. We must repent!
Steps We Must Take
We must set our priorities aright. Honor and dignity before money (Prov. 22:1); service before power; the common good before egoistic or small-group-centered self-interest; the nation before personal relationships and utang na loob.
From a repentant people will arise God’s gift of renewed leaders. Then we will choose correctly the men and women whom God wishes to vest with authority (Rom. 13:1), and who will lead us out of our deplorable situation. Our votes are an expression of our own conversion and will be decisive for our country’ s future. A vote for good leaders will be a choice for our people’s fuller life.
Who are these persons we must choose? It is not our task or competence as your bishops to name specifically those you must vote for. We have, however, indicated some requisite qualities in our November 28, 1991 pastoral letter. Other Church groups have elaborated more extensive guidelines which can also help voters make a wise choice. But here we wish to simply point out our need to elect competent, committed leaders of integrity we can be truly proud of and whom we can present to the young as models worthy of emulation.
We appeal to the different candidates to obey the laws of God and of the land in their campaign and election activities. We ask them not to buy votes. Vote-buying is not only immoral, but is also an insult to the poor and retards our country’s development. We urge them to sign a covenant committing themselves to an issue-oriented campaign and to collaborate towards free, honest and peaceful elections.
We ask the COMELEC, the PNP and AFP, the members of the board of election inspectors, and all who are called to serve in the elections to carry our their tasks with continuing fidelity and courage. Your loyalty is to God and the People and to no one else.
We ask the NPA not obstruct the flow of the democratic process by demanding money from candidates. Such extortion, if true, perpetuates corruption and diminishes the people’s freedom of choice.
We ask business people to support and to help fund organizations that work for meaningful, honest and peaceful elections, and even to join such organizations.
We call on all mass media practitioners to serve the truth at all times and not partisan political interests. We ask for objectivity in reporting and fairness in commentary. We ask them to report news and not to concoct it.
We appeal to our schools to exert efforts to guide our youth both in and out of school towards meaningful participation in the electoral process, and to make their facilities available as polling places, when needed.
We urge the different parishes and dioceses to organize as quickly as possible the PPC-RV or similar groups, and to support already existing ones. We also urge the Church-based groups and other organizations to continue their educational and organizational activities and to establish linkages with one another. Specifically, we urge them to list the promises of candidates and to monitor later their fulfillment or non-fulfillment.
And we ask you all, our people, to exercise unremitting effort and unflagging vigilance to make sure that your right and duty to vote is used wisely for choosing persons who seek public office, not to be served but to serve, not to secure their vested interests but to give life to the people even at the cost of personal sacrifice (Mt. 20:26-28; Lk. 22:27). If you can, volunteer to become members of the board of elections inspectors.
Do not sell your votes. To do so is to offend God, to betray your country and to sell your dignity and future to shameless scoundrels.
To show our repentance and to obtain for our people the grace to choose wisely our public officials in free honest and orderly elections, we urge you to join us in a crusade of prayer and fasting. The election evils of our nation can be driven out only by such means (Mk. 9:29; Mt. 17:21). Let us conduct prayer vigils and set aside the Fridays of Lent not only as days of abstinence but also of fasting. We ask parishes and small Christian communities to hold on May 8-10, 1992 a triduum of prayer.
The coming elections are crucial to our future. They will become what we singly and together want them to be, work and sacrifice for them to be. They can become either another missed opportunity or the best elections we have ever had. They can signal the first orderly and peaceful transfer of power in our country after almost thirty years, or they can trigger national instability. They can be a giant step forward or a demoralizing setback. Let us not fail our country. Let us be true to our best selves. Together let us build a better future, which will be ours if we choose well our leaders. Our strength is in God and in our solidarity.
Let us heed the call of the Lord: “Stand at the crossroads and look. Ask for the ancient paths and where the best road is. Walk in it, and you will live in peace” (Jer. 6:16).
May the Virgin Mary who watches with maternal care over our country and whom we honor in the election month of May, obtain from her Son the grace we need to make and carry out decisions in this moment of the Lord.
In the name of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines,
(Sgd.)+CARMELO D.F. MORELOS,D.D.
January 31, 1992