Philippine bishops preach against restoring death penalty

Philippine Catholic bishops fired back against efforts to restore the death penalty with a special prayer read at all masses on Sunday.

The church leaders of the country which is about 80 percent Catholic, issued the special homily in response to an effort spearheaded by President Rodrigo Duterte to bring back capital punishment which was abolished in 2006.

"Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, let us not allow our wells to be poisoned by bitter water. Let us uphold the sanctity of life and make a stand against death penalty," the Catholic Bishops of the Philippines said in the special pastoral statement.

The bishops argued that there was no evidence that capital punishment deterred crime, contrary to the arguments of Duterte allies.

They added that it was biased against the poor who could not afford good lawyers and that it was often used by oppressive regimes to silence dissenters, citing Jesus and the many Christian martyrs.

Duterte, who won election by a landslide in May, has launched a brutal, but highly popular war against crime which has included a campaign to bring back capital punishment with hanging as his preferred mode of execution.

Among his allies in this campaign are boxing hero-turned-senator Manny Pacquiao who quotes the Bible to justify capital punishment and the House of Representative which voted earlier this month to restore the death penalty.

Last week, Duterte's ruling party stripped a dozen lawmakers of House leadership posts for voting against the death penalty.

The bill restoring the death penalty must still be passed by the Senate but Duterte's allies also make up the majority in this chamber.

In an apparent rebuttal to Pacquiao, the bishops said "Jesus was never an advocate of any form of 'legal killing'. He defended the adulterous woman against those who demanded her blood".

"Let us pray fervently for the legislators of our country as they prepare to vote on death penalty in the Philippine Senate," the bishops also said.

Duterte is aiming for the death penalty to be re-introduced by May.

After the death penalty, one of Duterte's top legislative priorities is a bill to lower the age of criminal responsibility from 15 to nine.