Daily Archives: April 15, 2006

O death, where is thy sting?

The President has an eye-popping Easter message: She has commuted all death sentences to life imprisonment.

On the occasion of Easter, it is my honor to announce our policy to commute the death penalty to life imprisonment.

That’s it. One short paragraph, in a message of five short paragraphs. No explanation offered, none given. The Palace left it to the official press statement to tender a justification.

In her Easter Message, the President said anyone who falls and makes mistakes has a chance to stand up and correct the wrong he has committed.

"As we celebrate and rejoice in Jesus’ resurrection, I wish to announce that we are changing our policy on those who have been imposed the death penalty. We are reducing their penalty to life imprisonment," the President said.

The press statement must refer to another Easter message, because the one posted on the Palace website does not carry these explanatory sentences.

Inq7.net posted the story first, at 5:51 pm, running an Agence France Presse bulletin with inputs from the Inquirer Malacanang reporter. This breaking-news story, however, was no longer on the Inq7 front page when I started to write this post. I had to fish it out of the archives net. Making up for lost time, ABS-CBN bannered the AFP-driven story, but with a more arresting (because more specific) head: "Terms of 1,000 death row convicts down to life"

The AFP story included a paragraph about the possible influence of the Catholic bishops.

The country’s influential Catholic bishops have long called for the abolition of the death penalty. In recent months, they helped Arroyo by refusing to join the opposition-led campaign to oust her from power over charges that she cheated in the May 2004 elections.

I think the wire agency was right to do so; despite the paucity of official explanation, the President’s Easter message did pay specific (if somewhat unrelated) tribute to the bishops.

Our beloved bishops spoke of the people’s fear of more chaotic politics even as they struggle to make a decent living. We seek above all the nation’s salvation from poverty and discord.

This paragraph comes immediately before the announcement of the commutation.

As a strategic move, the dramatic decision makes practical sense for the President. It allows her to continue her courtship of the bishops, with a precisely timed gift that the anti-death-penalty prelates will not be able to sweep under the crisis-of-legitimacy rug. It permits her to continue setting the agenda (and on an issue for which some of her staunchest critics are leading advocates).  It may rattle a few of her close supporters (not excluding publisher Max Soliven), but it gives her the satisfaction of actually (finally?) doing something she has long believed in.

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