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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 June 2006, 10:30 GMT 11:30 UK
Philippines stops death penalty
By Sarah Toms
BBC News, Manila

Manila jail inmate
The death penalty was abolished in 1987, but reintroduced
Philippines President Gloria Arroyo has signed a law abolishing the death penalty just two weeks after Congress passed the legislation.

As a result the sentences of the 1,200 inmates on death row will be now be commuted to life imprisonment.

Mrs Arroyo said she welcomed the change but insists she is not softening her stance on fighting crime or terrorism.

Mrs Arroyo has been under pressure from the influential Roman Catholic church to scrap capital punishment.

The signing comes as she prepares to head to Rome for an audience with Pope Benedict XVI.

Earlier this month legislators in the Philippines, a mainly Catholic country, voted overwhelmingly to abolish capital punishment. By Philippine standards the bill was pushed through in record time.

Violent crime wave

In a speech Mrs Arroyo said "we yield to the high moral imperative dictated by God to walk away from capital punishment".

Earlier she had assured the public that the end of the death penalty did not mean there would be a soft stance against criminals.

The Philippines is plagued by violent crime with guns readily available and used in even minor disputes. Supporters of capital punishment say they fear the repeal will result in more crime.

The repeal comes just days before Mrs Arroyo visits the Vatican for an audience with Pope Benedict XVI.

Some analysts see the repeal of the death penalty as an attempt to win support from bishops for the president's plan to move to a parliamentary system of government.

Others say Mrs Arroyo is trying to diffuse opposition from the church to the government's efforts to revive mining.

The death penalty was abolished once before in 1987 but was re-imposed seven years later after a rise in crime.

Under that law seven executions were carried out by lethal injection, but in 2000, the then president, Joseph Estrada, ordered a moratorium after strong lobbying by the church, the European Union and human rights groups.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See the moment when the death penalty was abolished



SEE ALSO
Arroyo commutes death sentences
17 Apr 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Arroyo's 'lives for votes' gamble
28 Jan 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Philippines executions to resume
05 Dec 03 |  Asia-Pacific
Philippine executions suspended
30 Sep 02 |  Asia-Pacific
Arroyo under fire from Catholic bishops
19 Oct 01 |  Asia-Pacific
Profile: Gloria Arroyo
24 Feb 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: The Philippines
07 Apr 06 |  Country profiles

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