The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has been informed of attempts by advocacy groups to lobby the Legislature for the restoration of the death penalty.
The CBCP must, with full voice, express its position FOR LIFE and AGAINST DEATH. “I came that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Our posture cannot be otherwise. The Gospel we preach is a Gospel of Life, but the position we take is defensible even on non-religious grounds.
AIM OF JUSTICE
Justice DOES NOT DEMAND the death penalty. A mature sense of justice steers as far as possible from retribution in the realization that visiting on an offender the same injury he inflicted on his victim makes matters no better at all for anyone! The aim of justice is the restoration of broken relations and the ruptured social coherence that follow from crime. Executing a human person does not contribute to any of these goals of justice. Neither can it be argued that the supreme penalty is necessary to vindicate a legal order. In fact, it is a weak and retrogressive legal order that calls for the execution of offenders for its vindication!
There is something terribly self-contradictory about the death penalty, for it is inflicted precisely in social retaliation to the violence unlawfully wielded by offenders. But in carrying out the death penalty, the State assumes the very posture of violence that it condemns!
CRUEL AND INHUMANE
Death penalty is cruel and inhumane in two senses.
First, the terrible anxiety and psychological distress that come on one who awaits the moment of execution constitute the cruel and inhuman punishment that most legal systems today proscribe, including the Constitution of our country. It has been rightly said that the anticipation of impending death is more terrible a torture than suffering death itself!
Second, the members of the family of the condemned persons, many times including children, are, for their life-times, stigmatized as members of the family of an executed person, bearing with them the price of a crime they never committed.
IMPERFECT JUSTICE SYSTEM
A most important consideration is the imperfection of our judicial system. While the CBCP has every respect for respectable judges, the fact is that the judicial system — including the process of evaluating and weighing evidence — is, like all human systems, liable to error. But the death penalty, once executed, is irreversible and no repentance or regret can ever make up for the horrible injustice of a person wrongfully executed. There is furthermore the sadder fact that some judges, betraying the dignity and nobility of their calling, allow extra-legal considerations to taint their judgments, rendering judicial disposition of cases less reliable still. Once more, we must make clear that the CBCP does not by any means intend to cast aspersions on the judiciary of our country and in fact calls on all our people to turn to the courts for the redress of grievances.
Finally, the Philippines is a State-Party of the Second Optional Protocol of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the principal obligation we assumed under this international agreement is to abolish the death penalty. We cannot and should not renege on our international obligations, especially when these are not only lawful but moral. Pacta sunt servanda is not only a legal principle. It is key ethical imperative as well!
We are rightly appalled by the heinous nature of some crimes committed today, but the moral, Christian and mature response to this common social challenge is for parents to take the rearing of their children as a sacred responsibility, for the members of the community to take active part in the prevention of crime and in testifying against wrong-doers, for law-enforcers to be more vigilant and dedicated to their bounden duties, for prosecutors and courts to be resolute in the prosecution of offenders, and in the trial of those accused. Rightly has it been said that deterrence lies not in the severity of the penalty but in the certainty that offenders are held to answer for their crimes and the guilty are punished. Detestable as crime may be, there is no justification at all for the State, as the prime educator of civil society, to send the erroneous message that human life is sometimes dispensable and disposable!
From Betania Retreat House, Tagaytay City, July 2, 2014
+ SOCRATES VILLEGAS, D.D.
Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan