In a special prayer, Catholic bishops have urged Filipinos to "make a stand" against restoring the death penalty. The bill, pushed by President Duterte, has already passed the lower house of the Philippine parliament.
The clerics read out the homily at all masses across the Philippines on Sunday.
"Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, let us not allow our wells to be poisoned by bitter water. Let us uphold the sanctity of life and make a stand against death penalty," the Catholic bishops said in a pre-written prayer.
The Philippines abolished the death penalty in 2006. However, firebrand President Rodrigo Duterte launched a bid to restore it as part of his brutal crackdown on crime. Lawmakers already backed the bill in the country's House of Representatives and it is expected to pass the Senate as well.
Despite the death penalty being illegal, Duterte has repeatedly supported extrajudicial killings and police have reportedly executed thousands of suspects since he took office in June.
Jesus was not 'an advocate' of killing
On Sunday, the bishops said that the death penalty would be biased against the poor, who would not be able to afford a good lawyer, and argued there was no evidence that it deterred crime.
Referring to the upcoming Senate vote, they called on worshipers to "pray fervently for the legislators."
"Jesus was never an advocate of any form of 'legal killing.' He defended the adulterous woman against those who demanded her blood," they said, citing the New Testament story about Jesus opposing a stoning.
Around 80 percent of all Filipinos are Catholic, and the Church wields a significant influence in the country. At the same time, Duterte and his crusade against drugs are also immensely popular. When confronted by the Catholic Church earlier this year, Duterte accused it of greed, hypocrisy, and sexual abuse of children.
The pro-death penalty camp hopes to reinstate capital punishment by May this year.
Philippines moves to restore death penalty for drug offenses
The Philippine House of Representatives has approved a bill to restore the death penalty, 11 years after it was abolished. The government has called the measure "a vital tool" in Duterte's war on drugs.
The Philippine lower house approved the legislation on Tuesday with 216 votes in favor, 54 against and one abstention.
The proposed bill must still be passed by the Senate before it can be signed into law by President Rodrigo Duterte, whose aggressive campaign against drug users and pushers has killed thousands since he took office in mid-2016.
A spokesman for the president said the restoration of capital punishment "underlines the Duterte administration's goal to reduce illegal drug-related criminality."
"The death penalty, with its strong deterrent effects, protects innocent lives," spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a statement. "At the same time, its punitive aspect ensures that criminals recompense grievous loss."
Opponents stage protest
As lawmakers voted on the bill, activists from human rights groups held demonstrations outside the House of Representatives. Opponents, largely led by the country's influential Roman Catholic church, have vowed to question the law before the Supreme Court once it is signed.
"The death penalty is an abhorrent punishment. It forecloses the reformation of the convict. It victimizes the poor. It is not the solution to criminality," Edcel Lagman, one of the 54 who voted against the bill, said.
Capital punishment has long proven a divisive issue in the predominantly Catholic nation. It was the first Asian country to abolish the death penalty in 1987, before restoring it in 1993 for crimes such as murder, child rape and kidnapping. The penalty was again abolished in 2006 by then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who also voted against bringing it back during Tuesday's session.
The new death penalty initiative applies only to drug-related crimes, including production and trafficking. It excludes offenses previously covered by the law such as rape, treason and economic plunder. The penalty would be carried out by hanging, lethal injection, or firing squad.
Source: Deutsche Welle, March 7, 2017
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