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October 19, 2017
Filipino bishops praise cross-country march against death penalty
An anti-death penalty demonstration in Manila, March 2017. Credit: Rainier Martin Ampongan/Shutterstock.
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.- The Catholic bishops of the Philippines have praised a cross-country march showing opposition to the restoration of the death penalty.

The bishops voiced their support of the “commendable” initiative in a recent statement addressed to the laity and all members of the civil group taking part in the march.

The march is “most deserving of support from all who want to make a clear unequivocal stand for life,” Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said in a statement.

The 21-day march is being organized by Fr. Edwin Gariguez, executive secretary of the CBCP’s committee for social action. It began last week in Cagayan de Oro City, and is expected to reach the Senate in Pasay City by May 24, the feast day of Our Lady, Help of Christians. The CBCP’s Episcopal Commission for the Laity is among the organizers of the march.

It is the latest move in the majority-Catholic country that protests the revival of a harsh death penalty in the country.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the death penalty may be used “if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.” However, it adds, such cases today “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.” The three most recent Popes have been vocally opposed to the death penalty.

In 2006, under the administration of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the Philippines repealed legislation that imposed the death penalty for certain “heinous” crimes.

But a bill seeking to revive the death penalty is one of the priorities of current President Rodrigo Duterte, who has frequently clashed with Church authorities over his violent and unrelenting war on drugs.

Despite opposition from the Church, to which more than 80 percent of Filipinos belong, as well as the United Nations and other human rights groups, the House of Representatives approved a third and final reading on the bill in March. However, the measure is not expected to do as well in the Senate.

Reviving death penalty laws is against international law, according to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which the Philippines is a signatory.

The bishops of the country have been outspoken in their opposition to the death penalty revival for months.

In January, Archbishop Villegas said the bishops “unequivocally oppose proposals and moves to return the death penalty into the Philippine legal system.”

“We urge the government to champion life for all!” he said at the time.

The opposition march will pass various through the dioceses of Cebu, Palo, Caceres, Lipa, Legaspi, and Lucena, and will eventually lead to the Senate of the Philippines.

Throughout the march, the pilgrims are planning stops to raise awareness of their opposition to the bill, and to inform citizens of how the bill would further a culture of death.

The highlight of the pilgrimage is a gathering in the Rizal Park on May 19, which is expected to draw 30,000 anti-death penalty advocates, including students from Catholic universities.