Pope Francis on death penalty
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - August 9, 2018 - 12:00am

The most prominent victim of the death penalty in Philippine history was Jose Rizal who was sentenced to death and executed by a firing squad on the morning of Dec. 30, 1896  in the park that now bears his name. 

Last week, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis had an amendment to the Catholic Catechism, the church’s primary teaching document which made the death penalty as totally unacceptable in the eye of the Church. The amendment will now read as follows:

“Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes, and an acceptable albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.” Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detentions have been developed which ensure the due protection of citizens, but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.”

Although this is the first time the Church has officially taken a stand against the death penalty, Pope Francis has been an outspoken critic in the past. During a speech in 2017, he said: “Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person, and she [ the Church] works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”

The Catholic Catechism dates back to 1992 when the Vatican, under John Paul II decided to clarify and codify church teachings after the Second Vatican Council of 1962-1965. At that time, the Catechism noted that governments had the right to apply the death penalty under specific circumstances but only when “...bloodless means...are not sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor...or to protect public order.” 

In 1997, the Catechism was amended which stated that the Church traditionally “...does not exclude recourse to the death penalty...only if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against an unjust aggressor...the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”

It is now expected that the Church will actively campaign worldwide for the total abolition of death penalty as hard as it is campaigning against abortion. This will place Catholic politicians, judges, journalists and public figures in a quandary. The Church has now  made the abolition of death penalty a Catholic moral issue and an integral part of the Catholic Catechism. 

My own personal view is that Pope Francis is right when he says that the death penalty has no place in Catholicism.

Charter change debate

The current debate on the need for Charter change has become more and more confusing. One major reason is that the public is not yet fully aware that there are actually two separate debates going on. 

The first debate is whether now is an appropriate time for such a dramatic Charter change. Those who are against charter change now believe that the political environment is not conducive to a fair and objective decision on Charter change. There are also those who are opposed to any form of Charter change by the Congress sitting as the constituent assembly. In this group, there are people who are in favor of a shift toward federalism; but, they believe now is not the right time. A prominent academic dean has said that he believes in federalism and decentralizing the power of “imperial Metro Manila”; but, now is not the “federal moment.” He advocates that we should begin the debate on federalism; but, should take our time before making a final decision.

Assuming that the conclusion is that there is a need for Charter change, the second and separate debate is whether the change should be limited to amending certain provisions in the 1987 Constitution; or whether there is a need for an entirely new constitution  that will change the present unitary form of government into a federal form of government.

While the business sector generally does not support the concept of federalism, there are proposals to amend the 1987 Constitution and remove all restrictions to foreign investment. At the same time, the business sector wanting this amendment are not in favor of a ConAss. They generally favor supporting the Senate and the House of Representatives voting separately.

There is, of course, another group which favors a new charter which will transform the present unitary form of government to a federal form. This is the group that generally supports the draft charter that was written by the Consultative Commission headed by former Chief Justice Reynato Puno and former Senate President Nene Pimentel. Among those favoring a shift to federalism, there are those who have reservations or openly oppose certain sections in the draft charter especially those included in the transitory provisions. There are those who favor federalism, but insist that the issue of political dynasties must first be tackled. 

There are so many different issues overlapping and conflicting with different issues. It is unfortunate that the issue of federalism – a radical change for our people – has been trivialized by the controversy regarding a video image purportedly supporting federalism. 

There is a need to properly educate the Filipino people not only about federalism; but, also on all the other issues that will be finally decided by the people themselves. 

Creative writing classes for kids and teens

Young Writers’ Hangout on August 18, September 1 and 15 (1:30 pm-3 pm; stand-alone sessions) at Fully Booked BGC.  For details and registration contact 0945-2273216 or writethingsph@gmail.com.

Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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