MANILA (SE): On 24 June 2006, the day that the Philippine congress removed the death penalty from its law books, the lights of the Colosseum in Rome burned brightly.
The shell is a sacred site in the Eternal City, standing as a reminder of the brutality of a bygone age, when it was an execution ground for the unwanted and a venue for the blood sport of the Roman Empire.
Today, whenever any country in the world removes the death penalty from its law books, the citizens of Rome illuminate the Colosseum, as a sign that the light of civilisation and humanity has won yet another victory in the fight against ruthless, barbaric disregard for the great dignity that God has bestowed upon human beings.
Paradoxically, the bishops of The Philippines point out in a pastoral letter dated March 19, that the circus in the Congress Building bore much resemblance to the blood circuses that were the hallmark of the Colosseum in the days when the Roman Empire was regarded as the civilised world.
In the vote that took place on Ash Wednesday (March 1) this year, television images showed many members of the lower house of congress standing to shout loud for death and, while they may not have made the thumbs down sign, the starkly visible blackened crosses of the ashes identified them more with the Colosseum of old than the Church of today.
The bishops’ point to the hypocrisy portrayed by the crosses, as the congress unashamedly worked to mask its determination to reinforce a rule of fear behind a curtain of righteousness couched in the rhetoric of the welfare of society.
“Could they have forgotten what the cross means?” the bishops ask. “Could they have missed out on the contradiction between their vote and the crosses on their foreheads, which are supposed to serve as a loud statement of faith in the God who, for love of us, chose to give up his life for our salvation, rather than see us perish?”
While the bishops confuse capital punishment with the death penalty, they continue, “We know from history how capital punishment (death penalty) has so often been used by repressive governments as a way of stifling dissent, or eliminating those whom they regard as threats to their hold on political power.”
The bishops lament that the most insidious element in the current debate over the death penalty in The Philippines is that it is almost entirely based on false premises.
As a war on drugs, they say that it has nothing to do with getting rid of drugs, only getting rid of lives.
As a deterrent to crime, they note that history tells us that it is not. In addition, studies carried out in the United States of America show that it not only has no effect on the crime rate, but nothing is known about whether a person even gives it a thought when planning a crime punishable by death.
As a religious dictum, the bishops add that in his lifetime, Jesus clearly opposed killing of any kind, going to bat for the woman taken in adultery when she was about to be stoned, not because he was an advocate of adultery, but simply because he was opposed to killing as a solution to anything.
They call the “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” principle being pushed in the congress simply a revengeful vendetta, while counselling the congress to keep reading and find out what comes next in the bible.
The bishops fear that the congress is mixing up a deadly concoction, as they say, “Capital punishment (death penalty) and a flawed legal system are always a lethal mix” and since the legal system in The Philippines is decidedly flawed, it leaves those without capital the most likely victims of capital punishment, which the congress is pushing to define as death.
“As a law, the death penalty directly contradicts the principle of the inalienability of the basic human right to life,” the bishops say, pointing out that this is enshrined in the constitutions of countries, which like the Pearl of the Orient Seas, are signatories to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
As the vote on the bill now moves to the upper house of the congress, the bishops are encouraging people to pray that the lights that shone so brightly in the Colosseum in 2006, may shed their illumination upon the deliberations of the senators, so that the good citizens of Rome may again by able to honour and celebrate a bit of Philippine integrity.