MANILA, November 24, 2003  (STAR) By Mayen Jaymalin - Despite the growing clamor for the lifting of the moratorium on capital punishment, President Arroyo is not inclined to order the execution of death row convicts anytime soon.

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said Mrs. Arroyo prefers to seek consultations with different sectors, including the Catholic Church, before making a decision whether to lift the moratorium on the death penalty.

"Although her mind is not closed concerning the death penalty, she is still making consultations, especially with members of Congress," he said in a radio interview.

A bill that seeks to amend the death penalty law remains pending in Congress.

Bunye said the President is still open to the possibility of lifting the moratorium on the death penalty for criminals proven to be involved in high-profile drug trafficking and kidnapping cases.

He also stressed that Mrs. Arroyo will make her decision on the death penalty, notwithstanding its impact on her presidential bid on the 2004 elections.

"The President will do what needs to be done without political consideration," he said in reaction to reports that members of the Filipino-Chinese community said they will not support Mrs. Arroyo’s presidential bid unless she heeds their call to lift the moratorium on the death penalty.

Businessman Jackson Gan, who serves as president of the Pilipino Manpower Agencies Accredited to Taiwan, earlier said the rising incidence of kidnapping has terrified the Filipino-Chinese community and most of them are now thinking of supporting a presidential candidate who has a hard-line stance against all forms of crime and favors capital punishment.

Bunye said the President sympathizes with the families of kidnapping victims and assured them that the government is doing everything to neutralize the operations of kidnap-for-ransom syndicates.

However, he noted that the government needs the public’s support to control criminal activity in the country.

"We should work together and stop (finger-pointing) because that will not help in neutralizing the operations of kidnap-for-ransom groups," Bunye said.

Meanwhile, former senator Ernesto Herrera, author of Republic Act 7659 that reimposed the death penalty in the country, warned Mrs. Arroyo that her refusal to send convicts guilty of heinous crimes to their deaths might lead to vigilantism and extrajudicial executions or "death penalty, without appeal."

Herrera acknowledged that while it is the President’s prerogative if she refuses to implement the death penalty, he noted that "the law is clear and just on the matter: drug traffickers, murderers, kidnappers, rapists, all these perpetrators of heinous crimes must be executed if convicted."

He said the administration’s failure to implement the death penalty law gives the wrong signals to both honest citizens and criminals.

"To criminals, it says you can get away with anything in this country and live to tell about it. And for honest citizens and law enforcers who are frustrated by the fact that these criminals do not get what they deserve, the temptation to mete out retributive justice on their own is just too tempting," Herrera said.

The President reportedly does not want to go against the Catholic Church’s anti-death penalty stance, but Herrera cited that even the Vatican’s updated Universal Catechism says that while capital punishment should be avoided, states have the right to resort to the death penalty under certain conditions to protect themselves and their citizens.

"What would be the meaning of life in a society ruled by organized crime syndicates, where people can be slaughtered by criminals like animals because the law permits these criminals to kill and live to kill again? What meaning would life have to the victims?" he said.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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