MANILA, Philippines - The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) is set to hold a “Walk for Life” prayer rally today against the death penalty and extrajudicial killings at the Quirino Grandstand in Rizal Park, Manila and in other places in the country.
In a statement, CBCP president and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said the rally is not meant to defend drug personalities but to seek justice.
“Criminals have to be arrested, face charges, get conviction and imprisoned in order to correct his/her wrongdoing. His crime must be proven in the court of law, not through the rule of the gun,” Villegas said.
Villegas said the early morning walk organized by the lay group Council of the Laity of the Philippines (CLP) is also not intended to be a protest action against the Duterte administration, which has waged a strong campaign against illegal drugs that resulted in extrajudicial killings.
President Duterte is also pushing for the re-imposition of the death penalty.
“The Walk for Life is not a protest but rather standing up for the holiness of life of every human being, which came from God. This ‘Walk for Life’ is (a) ‘Walk for God,’” he added.
He said the activity was for those killed or hooked on illegal substances.
The CBCP president said it is about time that people stand up for them after being neglected for so long by the society either due to fear or indifference.
“The Walk for Life (is) for those that cannot walk anymore because of our sins against them. They cannot walk because they were killed and we were too afraid of getting implicated. They cannot walk because they are afraid they might be gunned down next. They cannot walk because of drug addiction. They cannot walk because they were killed by drug addicts, whose minds are blinded. They cannot walk because of our sins against life,” Villegas said.
“The Walk for Life is for them. We will walk and stand up for all of them,” he added.
Villegas said the Walk for Life is also a call for lawmakers to allow “conscience voting” in the ongoing plenary debates on the measure seeking to revive the death penalty in the country.
He said those opposing the return of the death penalty must be allowed to speak since it could never be acceptable and is against the call for respect for the sacredness of life.
“Political parties are only temporary. But the conscience is the voice of God that is embedded in our soul. Let us respect the conscience,” Villegas said.
He said the police ranks must be cleansed and the criminal justice system must be reformed instead of re-imposing the death penalty.
Villegas said the prayer rally would be held early morning because “it is during this time we discover a cadaver on a side street or near a garbage site.”
He said the early morning is also a time for a new beginning but is becoming a time for tears and fear because of those killed.
He said it was also at this time on Dec. 30, 1896 when national hero Jose Rizal started to walk from Fort Santiago to Rizal Park for his death by firing squad.
Villegas said there are other sins against life that must be fought. He said these include abortion, blasphemy, corruption, drugs and execution.
Whether it is death sentence, salvaging, summary execution or extrajudicial killing, whether done by a criminal or imposed by the government, it is still killing, Villegas said.
“We cannot teach that killing is wrong by killing those who kill. It also increases the number of killers,” he added.
Villegas called on the people not to be cowed and not to live in fear.
He urged them to face the ones sowing fear and show them their courage.
“Let us show them that God is our strength. They cannot frighten us because our faith in God is stronger,” he added.
He said priests and bishops are supporting them and are beside them in every step they take.
“We will not be in front, you may not follow. We will not walk behind, you might leave us. We bishops and priests will walk beside you. Alongside. Friend…In Luneta (Rizal Park), all of us are equal,” Villegas said.