CBCP Document: THE CBCP and the Proposed Restoration of the Death Penalty

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines addresses a press conference at the end of the 2012 CBCP plenary assembly at Pope Pius XII Catholic Center in Manila. NJ Viehland Photo

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines addresses a press conference at the end of the 2012 CBCP plenary assembly at Pope Pius XII Catholic Center in Manila. NJ Viehland Photo

Although appalled by the spate of killings and other heinous crimes in the country, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) yesterday rejected calls to revive the death penalty.

Following is the full text of the bishops’ statement issued yesterday by Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, CBCP President…

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippine 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.

INTERNATIONAL COMMITMENT

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!

 From Betania Retreat House, Tagaytay City, July 2, 2014

+ SOCRATES VILLEGAS, D.D.

Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan
President, CBCP

 

Interview: Franciscan Sister Crecensia Lucero, human rights defender

[updated June 21, 4:21 a.m.]

Sister Crecensia Lucero SFIC (left) marched to campaign for protection of human rights to avoid repetition of abuses during and around the martial law period 1972-1981. Photo Courtesy of Philippine Center for Human Rights/Task Force Detainees https://www.facebook.com/TaskForceDetaineesofthePhilippines

Sister Crecensia Lucero SFIC (left) marched to campaign for protection of human rights to avoid repetition of abuses during and around the martial law period 1972-1981. Photo Courtesy of Philippine Center for Human Rights/Task Force Detainees https://www.facebook.com/TaskForceDetaineesofthePhilippines

Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception Sister Crecensia Lucero reflected on her ministry with victims of human rights violations spanning more than 40 years. The journey she traced is marked by work she and young sisters and lay partners did to serve needs of political prisoners and their families during years when the country was placed under military rule (1972-1981) and years of “restored democracy” that followed. The road has brought her to an expanded ministry thriving in  partnerships with farmers struggling to transform exploitative systems, indigenous peoples and members of other sectors collaborating to end people’s suffering due to various forms of “injustice ” around Asia.

In an interview with Global Sisters Report (GSR), Sister Lucero explained challenges, successes and “heartaches” in the history of Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFD). As co-chair, she describes how evolving challenges are impacting perspectives and strategies of her social justice ministry and the charism and mission of her congregation. Beyond words and ideas, however, she demonstrated these concepts and strategies in various dialogues and training seminars GSR covered earlier in the year.

A fact-finding mission representing Christian groups visited the site of an attack on the convent of Father Jose Francisco Talaban of Infanta Prelature in June 2010 presented to the Commission on Human Rights and human rights advocates, including Sr. Cresencia Lucero initial information they gained from probing groups and individuals in Casiguran town, Aurora province where some indigenous people and other groups are opposing the development of an economic zone. NJ Viehland Photos

A fact-finding mission representing Christian groups visited the site of an attack on the convent of Father Jose Francisco Talaban of Infanta Prelature in June 2010 presented to the Commission on Human Rights and human rights advocates, including Sr. Cresencia Lucero initial information they gained from probing groups and individuals in Casiguran town, Aurora province where some indigenous people and other groups are opposing the development of an economic zone. NJ Viehland Photos

Sister Crecensia Lucero SFIC (right, in habit) witnessed the presentation last year of report of an ecumenical fact finding mission on residents' opposition to the planned APECO export processing zone development project in Casiguran, Quezon to the Commission on Human Rights in Quezon City, northeast of Manila. By NJ Viehland

Sister Crecensia Lucero SFIC (right, in habit) witnessed the presentation last year of report of an ecumenical fact finding mission on residents’ opposition to the planned APECO export processing zone development project in Casiguran, Quezon to the Commission on Human Rights in Quezon City, northeast of Manila. By NJ Viehland

Read full interview published by GSR. GSR is a project of National Catholic Reporter that reports how consecrated women participate in the mission of the Church.

The Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP) established TFD in 1974 to assist political prisoners when the “dictatorship” of the late President Ferdinand Marcos banned organizations. TFD provided moral spiritual, legal and material support to prisoners and their families. Franciscan Sister Mariani Dimaranan, an ex-political detainee, directed the organization until 1989, when Lucero took over as director. Sister  Dimaranan continued as chair until her death in 2005 at the age of 81 years.

In 2012, Sister Lucero was again nominated co-chair of the Task Force’s Board of Trustees with Order of Carmelites Philippines Father Christian “Toots” Buenafe up to this year.

 

Ruki Fernando out of detention – is he free?

Ruki Fernando photo on Facebook page of FORUM-ASIA which signed the Joint Statement with Amnesty International, International Commission of Jurists, International Crisis Group and Human Rights Watch calling Sri Lanka government to "Free Prominent Rights Defenders" and asserting that " Arrests of Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen are Attempts to Silence Critics" http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/03/17/sri-lanka-free-prominent-rights-defenders

Ruki Fernando photo on Facebook page of FORUM-ASIA which signed the Joint Statement with Amnesty International, International Commission of Jurists, International Crisis Group and Human Rights Watch calling Sri Lanka government to “Free Prominent Rights Defenders” and asserting that ” Arrests of Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen are Attempts to Silence Critics” http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/03/17/sri-lanka-free-prominent-rights-defenders

Human rights defenders Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen Mahesan are out of detention in Sri Lanka’s Terrorist Investigation Department (TID), but Fernando, in conversation over the phone from his home in Colombo told me hours after their release, he does not feel completely free.

Two days after their release, a Sri Lanka journalist reported  that authorities continued to “harass” Fernando and Mahesan

Police arrested Mahesan and Fernando on March 16 evening from Kilinochchi in northern Sri Lanka while the two were on a fact-finding mission in the area. They were taken in Tharmapuram near the home of Jeyakumari Belndra  who was arrested a week earlier for allegedly harboring an absconding Tiger. After being interrogated “harshly” in Kilinochchi and nearby Vavuniya, the two were finally detained at the TID headquarters in Colombo.

A few hours after Fernando’s release, he shared his sadness over continued “unjust” incarceration and maltreatment of other detainees mostly from north and northeast Sri Lanka. Rebels based there fought the government for a separate state until they were violently defeated in 2009.

The U.N. Human Rights Council in session in Geneva prepared to tackle a draft resolution sponsored by the United States and other countries calling for an international investigation into “past abuses and to examine more recent attacks on journalists, human rights defenders and religious minorities.”

Fernando expressed his and Fr. Mahesan’s gratitude to local and international NGOs, religious groupings, human rights bodies and governments around the world for throwing their support behind them and for demanding their release. The detainees freed last March 19 give credit to the pressure exerted by this movement for their release and safety in the hands of the police and interrogators.

Soon after this interview, the Sri Lanka government barred Fernando from giving interviews to foreign media.

Following is the full text of my conversation with Fernando:

” We left behind the many people who have been detained in the very place we were detained…unjustly…”

N.J. Viehland : Exactly when were you released?

Ruki Fernando : It was about 1:30 this morning in Sri Lanka.

What happened?

We were trying to do some fact finding about the human rights situation from war affected areas of the Kilinochchi district. When we were there on Sunday it was very very tense. During the whole Saturday and Sunday we were there. We encountered many many checkpoints which was not very usual because we had traveled in that area before.

We were stopped in several places. We were detained for 15 minutes, 20 minutes in certain places, our identity card numbers were taken.

When we went to visit someone in a house the army came and questioned us. That’s quite unusual that when we visit a person the army would come into the house and question you – a person in uniform and someone in civilian clothes.

When we went on to visit another lady, that lady was already being questioned by intelligence officials so we could not enter in her house. So throughout the one-and-a-half days we were intimidated. We faced restrictions and surveillance, and it was a very very tense situation. Then finally, it was around 10 pm on Sunday that were arrested.

Initially we were told that it was in relation to a shooting incident. Then we were told later that we were arrested in relation to supporting terrorism. We were questioned very very intensely. It was very harsh. We were not given access to our lawyers while on detention, although I made several requests.

When we were first arrested I made a request. Later I requested to get a senior official of the terrorist investigation department … that I want to talk with my lawyers. But throughout detention I was not given the opportunity. Many lawyers came to meet me, but the police did not allow any of them to meet me.

I learned I got lots of attention to this in Sri Lanka and also internationally and because of the many requests for the Sri Lanka government to release us from Sri Lankan organizations, individuals and also organizations and people around the world, and I believe because of that our safety while in detention was ensured. We were not physically harmed and eventually our release is also due to the work and the pressure exerted by so many people in Sri Lanka and all over the world.

Any faith-based group that demanded your release? 

Yes, one of the northern dioceses, the Jaffna diocese issued a statement from Catholics calling for our release. There are many individual priests who were also lobbying for us. But I don’t know if the archbishop of my diocese, (Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith) Colombo, has done something that I don’t know about. I know that it was brought to his attention and that there were requests from some people that he would make some intervention because he is very influential with the government.

Fact finding mission – who were you with and what were you investigating, exactly?

We were investigating the very tense situation. We wanted to know why it was so tense. We were looking into allegations of arbitrary arrests of several women in the north and the east during the week. That time we had heard of the allegations so wanted to do a fact-finding and also to get a sense of what the situation was on the ground.

Kilinochchi was the center of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), but we were not only in Kilinochchi town but also in the interior areas because we wanted to check them out. People in that area and also from outside had been telling me there was this situation of tension and arrests and so we wanted to go and look.

Apparently two women who were connected in some way to this person annexed to the key leader for the revival of the LTTE, one was his wife and another was also known to him were under surveillance or arrested. Then the third person is also a woman. We got reports of their arrest.

The government is very edgy – the police and the army. I don’t know if it is justified or not because I don’t have information, but according to what the police and army told me they are treating it as a very serious threat.

You think this reported revival of LTTE has something to do with your arrest? 

No. I think the government does not want the true situation in the northern part to be known to the rest of Sri Lanka and the rest of the world. The government does not want any different story than their own version to get out, and the government is particularly clear that no information should be provided to the UN Human Rights Council currently in session in Geneva.

During questioning they were even asking me who are you sending this information to. In fact one of the three leaders who came to arrest me, he was saying I am sending information to earn money. That was one of their acusation. Another is that I am causing discomfort to the government. This is in writing. So I told them I don’t understand how these can be a crime.

What were conditions in detention?

We were kept in an office the whole day. We were separate. There were few occasions that Father and I could talk to each other but they kept us separate. When we would start to talk about something, we would be separated again. We were kept in the Terrorist Investigation Department (TID).

Why and how were you released? 

They arrested and brought us to the station. Then the police finally decided that they had nothing to show to the court. So they wrote the court that they had nothing against us and they requested for our release. So the magistrate released us accordingly. They signed the request from the police.

Where are you now and how are you and your family feeling about all this?

I’m with my parents now in Colombo. It’s nice to be back. My parents and my sister were very very worried. Starting now they are already relieved, but still quite worried about my safety in the future.

What are next moves for you and Father Mahesan? 

It’s too early to say. Father and I have to still discuss with our lawyers and the people who worked very hard to get us released. We will discuss together and decide on next steps. But one thing that is clear for me and for Father is that we remain very committed to the work we are doing. We were doing what we believe in, that we are doing the right thing. Both of us are Catholic, he as a priest and I a lay person, both of us essentially living our Christian faith so I think we will take these as part of our Lenten pilgrimage, these two days, and we will not be deterred by what has passed, and we will continue to work for human rights.

Any message to people who lobbied for your release?

First, my very great appreciation on behalf of me and on behalf of Father Praveen as well. I’m very very sure that our safety while in detention and our release is because of the work that all of our friends in Sri Lanka did, as well as the media, human rights organizations and even some foreign governments speaking on our behalf.

It shows that if ordinary people, organizations and governments want to, they can actually make a difference in terms of providing safety to people who are in danger, ensuring that people who are detained unjustly are released. It is a very good example of what can be achieved if people are committed.

Very sadly, when I and Father Praaveen walked out to be free men, we left behind the many people who have been detained in the very place we were detained, and those men and women have been detained for much longer than us. Those people do not get even one percent of the attention that Fr. Praveen and I got. So I wish there will be more people who will join Father Praveen and I to ensure the safety and freedom of many other people who are unjustly detained.

END