CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 14 September 2019

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Philippine Church braces for death penalty and divorce battle

MANILA (UCAN): “It will always be a tough battle but we do not give up,” Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Manila, said, as Church leaders in the Philippines braced for what they expect will be an uphill battle against proposals before Congress to reimpose capital punishment and to legalise divorce in the country.
 
Catholics opposed to the proposed measures may also have to find new ways of lobbying in the Congress, Father Melvin Castro, former executive secretary of the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, said. He  noted that a lot of legislators only think of “short-term solutions” to social and family issues.
 
Rodolfo Diamante of the Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, agreed to new approaches to presenting the Church’s position on issues.
 
He said one of the things the commission will do is prepare a statement focusing on new arguments on the issue of the death penalty.
 
“We will also provide legislators and policy makers documents and materials on the issue,” he said, adding that international experts may also be brought in to also engage the public on the issue.
 
Senators began debates on proposals to revive the death penalty at the beginning of August. The death penalty was abolished in the Philippines in 2006, under former president, Gloria Arroyo.
 
In a speech, one senator, the boxer, Manny Pacquiao, claimed that reviving the death penalty is the most effective way to deal with heinous crimes and the illegal drug trade.
 
“Illegal drugs are destroying the lives of our people,” he said. “It is high time for the state to step up its game and put these criminals to death through judicial sanction,” he added.
 
Several legislators, including Pacquiao, who claimed he could cite Bible verses to defend his position, have filed bills seeking the revival of the death penalty.
 
However, senate president, Vicente Sotto III, cautioned, “Please avoid invoking Jesus in the death penalty bill. The Bible is a good source of insights. But trying to change the story of Redemption is not fairish (sic).” 
 
Opposition senator, Franklin Drilon, pointed out that reducing the demand for drugs is the solution to the proliferation of narcotics, not killing drug users and dealers.
 
Meanwhile another senator, Risa Hontiveros, the principal author of the proposed divorce bill, called the move “history in the making.”
 
She said, “This marks an important stage in the larger work to have a divorce law in the country.” She added, “It’s time that we give Filipinos the chance to free themselves from abusive, loveless and unhappy relationships, and to help them find love and start all over again.” 
 
She said she believes in and supports the institution of marriage but added that she also believes “that Filipinos have the right to second chances to turn the page and live good and happy lives.”
 
However, another senator, Joel Villanueva, said he would fight against the proposal because the Philippines is predominantly “a Christian nation.”
 
Villanueva the son of a Christian evangelist, said, “We are definitely against any divorce bill. Well, a couple of reasons, but one of the major reasons is, we are a Christian nation. So, divorce—over my dead body—the word divorce, I will really oppose it. I will definitely oppose it.” However, he expressed support for making the process of annulling marriages more accessible.
 
Bishop Pabillo expressed hope that legislators would be creative in crafting laws that will strengthen the family. “What have they done to help families in crisis?” he asked.
 
The bishop said data from other countries shows divorce laws result in “more broken families” while women, children and the elderly suffer.
 
In past pronouncements, the bishops’ conference has attacked the proposal to legalise divorce in the context that it is an “easy option” out of marriage.
 
As for the death penalty, Church leaders say it will never be a solution to the problems of crime. “It is anti-life, anti-poor and will enhance only a culture of violence,” they said.
 
The president, Rodrigo Duterte vowed to restore the death penalty as a deterrent to crime when he campaigned for the presidency in 2016. In a 2017 poll, 67 per cent of Filipinos supported capital punishment.
 
Filipinos also support a divorce law. Another survey conducted in 2017 showed that 53 per cent of Filipinos want to legalise divorce.

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