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Philippines to Abolish Death Penalty


The Philippine Congress has passed a bill abolishing the death penalty. The Roman Catholic Church, which dominates in the country, has praised the move while anti-crime groups denounce it.

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo praised Congress on Wednesday for passing the bill, indicating she would soon sign it into a law. She says the abolition of the death penalty does not mean crime will rise.

"But make no mistake about it, the abolition of the death penalty will be complemented by a stricter and sterner enforcement of the law in all fronts," she said.

Legislators in the predominantly Roman Catholic country voted Tuesday night to abolish capital punishment, saying it is cruel, discriminates against the poor and fails to deter heinous crimes.

Once the law is signed it will automatically commute the sentences of about 12,-00 death-row inmates to life imprisonment.

The death penalty was abolished once before, in 1987, but re-imposed seven years later following an upsurge in crimes. Seven executions were carried out before 2000, when former President Joseph Estrada ordered a moratorium on executions, after strong lobbying by the Catholic leaders, the European Union and human rights groups.

The repeal of capital punishment comes a few weeks before President Arroyo is set to visit the Vatican for an audience with Pope Benedict.

Pedro Quitorio, spokesman for the country's Bishops' Conference, says Catholic leaders are very happy with the new development.

"We saw the death penalty law is not an answer to the rising criminality in the Philippines, because when it was implemented the crime rate did not even change and we are happy because we consider this as a victory of life," said Quitorio. "The Philippines is a Christian country - it's for life so we are happy with this."

Anti-crime groups in the Philippines denounced the move, saying the abolition of capital punishment will encourage criminals.

The country has a significant problem with violent crime, with guns readily available and widely used, even in minor disputes. Many cities are plagued by armed gangs that routinely kidnap people to earn ransom. In addition, there are violent insurgencies going in parts of the country, and both communist and Muslim rebels have used bombings and murder in their campaigns.

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