MALACANANG, December 7, 2003  (MALAYA) By REGINA BENGCO 'Just retribution needed for peace of mind'

Executive Secretary Alberto Romulo yesterday said the lifting of the moratorium on death penalty covers only kidnappers.

As for drug convicts, he said: "We'll come to that when it comes."

"It's only for kidnapping for ransom," Romulo repeatedly said when asked to clarify President Arroyo's statement the other day that she would "no longer stand in the way of executions scheduled by the courts for January 2004."

"Yung hindi kidnap for ransom, we recommend reprieve," he said.

Dionisio Santiago, chief of the Bureau of Corrections, said at least 165 criminals are scheduled for execution next year, most of them in February (more than 10) and April.

Malacaņang said two kidnap convicts are scheduled for execution on Jan. 30.

The Palace indefinitely suspended executions in September last year amid moves in Congress for the abolition of the death penalty law.

Presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye said the Catholic Church should understand Arroyo's predicament because her decision to allow the killing of convicted kidnappers "was reached after much prayer and contemplation."

"The situation has reached a point where the criminals are challenging the core of peace and order in our society," Bunye said, adding "just retribution" is needed to give the people peace of mind.

He said the Catholic Church should also "balance its moral position against the need to protect its helpless flock from unspeakable heinous crimes."

"Some may consider the death penalty too harsh but it is what is prescribed in the law, which in turn reflects the sentiments of the silent majority," he added.

Bunye said claims that Arroyo's move is election-related are just part of the strategy of other political parties who are trying to find something to throw against the President.

Among those that linked the decision to politics was the Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines which said Arroyo decided to allow the executions because she wanted to court the support of the Chinese-Filipino community for her presidential bid.

Bunye said: "Iyang kinakalat nila ay walang katotohanan. Tanging ang higher public interest ang nagiging basehan ng decision ng Pangulo." He said Arroyo's presence in the presentation of arrested kidnappers and in drug busts is not politicking but part of government's campaign to give importance to the anti-drug and anti-kidnapping operations and to recognize the accomplishment of law enforcers.

Aksyon Demokratiko chief Raul Roco opposed the resumption of executions.

He said international developments in the past decade have produced "a clear and emphatic trend" against capital punishment because it has not deterred crime and has often killed innocent people who are poor.

For these reasons, he said, some of the world's most respected leaders like Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela and UN Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, have called for a stop to the death penalty.

Until Malacaņang lifted the moratorium, the number of countries that have abolished the death penalty has reached 110, an all-time high, he said.

In Canada, Roco said, the abolition of the death penalty has not led to increased homicide rates.

He added: "In fact, all of Western Europe has abolished the death penalty and Russia has commuted death sentences to life imprisonment. The death penalty has resulted in the execution of juvenile offenders, the mentally retarded and the poor many of whom were later proven innocent. But the rich and powerful have rarely been executed for their crimes."

Reps. Prospero Nograles (Lakas, Davao City) and Antonio Cuenco (Promdi, Cebu) said it was time the death penalty law is implemented.

Nograles said: "It is the Supreme Court that sentences people to death and the President just follows its decision. Whether the high court is right or wrong, the people are mandated to follow its decisions just like in the impeachment case. So why blame the President?"

Cuenco said the death penalty law was passed by Congress and cannot be set aside until Congress amends it.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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