Philippines Jesuits against the death penalty

The Philippines Provincial Fr Antonio Moreno SJ. Credit: Rick Flores
The Philippines Provincial Fr Antonio Moreno SJ. Credit: Rick Flores

The Jesuits in the Philippines have joined the country’s bishops in condemning efforts to revive the death penalty. Writing to the province last week, Fr Provincial Antonio Moreno SJ described capital punishment as a “wanton disregard for human life”, warning that reinstatement of the death penalty could destroy “an integral ethic of life”.

The measure seeking to reinstate capital punishment ‘for heinous crimes’ in the Philippines is currently being debated at the plenary of the House of Representatives, a move that is supported by President Rodrigo Duterte. However, it has been strongly criticised by the Philippines’ Bishops’ Conference - and now by the Jesuits.

"The Philippine Jesuits stand behind our bishops in condemning the wanton disregard for life that capital punishment represents, something made even more repulsive in a context where rampant killing has been taking place with apparent disregard or even endorsement," Fr Moreno wrote in a letter to his fellow Jesuits. He went on to laud the government's efforts to rid the country of lawlessness and criminality, saying that, in its own way, it represented an affirmation of life. “But such efforts should not be made in a manner that tears asunder an integral ethic of life," he said.

The debate over capital punishment is the latest in a series of challenges that the Jesuits in the Philippines have faced since President Duterte came to power last year. Last August, Fr Moreno called on the Church in the country to “exercise prayerful discernment in dealing with the state and civil society” and cautioned that, in engaging with the new administration, the faithful should see that there are “areas of collaboration, but there are contentious issues that could trigger Church-State conflict”.President Duterte demonstrates the extent of the Philippines' drug trade network. Wikimedia Commons

The Jesuits in the Philippines run the network of Ateneo schools, which count government leaders, including President Rodrigo Duterte himself, among former students. They are supported by Jesuit Missions in Britain, especially through its key partner Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan (SLB), which, in 2013, responded to the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan. SLB’s principal mission is to spread social justice through its political education campaigns, socio-political advocacy, and also through disaster response and rehabilitation.

Decry a culture of death

Writing in the winter 2016 edition of Jesuits and Friends, Filipino Karlo Abadines of SLB said that many civil society groups, including his own, face an awkward predicament. “On one hand, there are elements of hope in an administration that is finally taking action against injustices such as land, labour and the environment. On the other, we face a leadership that favours political allies …, allows vigilante killings on the streets of the country and continues to control more power in our democratic institutions.”

In his letter to the Jesuits of the Philippines, Fr Moreno quoted Pope Francis who said: “We are all part of a Church that proclaims, in word and deed, a gospel of life." He then urged his fellow Jesuits "to contact local legislators to decry legislation favoring a culture of death," adding: "Let us not forget that in His last moments on earth, Jesus, Himself a victim of capital punishment, forgave the repentant thief dying together with Him. May Our Lord's Divine Mercy inspire our nation to uphold the sanctity of all human life and to reject the death penalty once and for all,"

A grand procession, called "Walk for Life," is due to take place at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila on 18 February and Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the President of the Philippines Bishops’ Conference, has urged Filipinos to take part.