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Friday, 19 October, 2001, 10:13 GMT 11:13 UK
Arroyo under fire from Catholic bishops
President Gloria Arroyo saluting
Gloria Arroyo described herself as "a very good Catholic"
Roman Catholic bishops in the Philippines have denounced President Gloria Arroyo for bringing back the death penalty, and some lawyers have warned it could lead to her impeachment.

Mrs Arroyo, a Catholic, came into office opposed to the death penalty, but she made a U-turn this week when she said she would order the immediate executions of up to 95 convicted kidnappers after the Supreme Court had reviewed their cases.


Let us prepare the lethal execution chamber for those champions of darkness

President Arroyo
She also called for the commuted death sentences of another six kidnappers to be annulled so they could be executed as soon as possible.

Archbishop Oscar Cruz said her decision was tantamount to admitting that police operations were "futile in preventing crime".

"With this reversal, the president openly surrendered to the reign of crime in the country," he said.

And the 100-member Catholic Bishops' Conference urged the president "not to resort to a quick-fix solution on the problem of criminality."

'Culpable violation'

Lawyers for some of the convicts said any move to reverse commuted death sentences would be unconstitutional.

"The government cannot legally put to death convicts who are no longer sentenced to death," said Socorro Diokno, secretary general of a volunteer lawyer's organisation, the Free Legal Assistance Group (Flag).

One lawyer for the group, Theodore Te, said if the president "continues with this course of action, then definitely, it will be a culpable violation of the constitution."

He said this could "theoretically" be grounds for her impeachment.

Interpretations

Mrs Arroyo's predecessor Joseph Estrada was impeached for alleged corruption earlier this year and toppled from power amid popular protests led by the Catholic church. His government executed seven convicts in 1999 but he declared a moratorium on executions last year after pressure from the church.

Anti-Estrada protesters
Mr Estrada was toppled by popular protests
On Thursday, Mrs Arroyo ordered officials to look into the possibility of reversing decisions made under Mr Estrada to grant clemency to six death row convicts.

"Let us prepare the lethal execution chamber for those champions of darkness for the sake of our society," she said.

Describing herself as "a very good Catholic" she told reporters: "You can interpret a Church law conservatively or liberally.

"I've studied religion and theology long enough for me to know that there are ranges of interpretation and I've taken this course because of my duties as president."

Mrs Arroyo's decision follows an upsurge in kidnappings this year, with many of the victims being affluent Filipino Chinese or Chrisian missionaries. Ransoms are often paid secretly amid suspicions that some police officers may be involved in the kidnappings.

See also:

15 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Arroyo makes U-turn on death penalty
24 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Philippine priest: 'Officers took bribes'
10 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
US bolsters Manila's rebel crackdown
11 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Negotiating with the Abu Sayyaf
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