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Friday, 24 March, 2000, 14:49 GMT
Philippines suspends death sentence
Lethal injection tent at state prison
Seven people have died by lethal injection since 1994
President Joseph Estrada of the Philippines has agreed to suspend the death penalty until the end of this year in response to a request by Roman Catholic bishops.

Mr Estrada made his decision out of respect to the Church's Jubilee Year, marking the 2000th year of the birth of Jesus Christ, a statement from the presidential office said.

The year 2000 is believed by Catholics to be a period of renewal and forgiveness of sins.

"The reprieve will be up in January. Then we will study it again," President Estrada said.


Alex Bartolome
Alex Bartolome is the last convict to be executed
His order comes despite an earlier remark by his chief aide, Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora, that there were legal obstacles to suspending executions for one year.

According to statute, death sentences in the Philippines must be carried out within 18 months.

"If we suspend these executions, they will get a commutation by default" he told local radio station DZMM.

Rising crime

The Philippines abolished the death penalty in 1987 but restored it in 1994 following a rise in violent crimes that shocked the nation.

Seven people were executed last year, and more than 1,200 have been sentenced to death since capital punishment was re-introduced.

The most recent execution, by lethal injection, was carried out on 4 January on a 41-year old man convicted of raping his teenage daughter.

Church and human rights leaders have written to the president, arguing that the death penalty has had no effect on the crime rate.

This has continued to rise according to official police statistics.

There have also been some fierce controversies over executions - one of which was carried out despite a presidential pardon because Mr Estrada could not get through to the death chamber by phone.

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See also:

06 Jul 99 | Asia-Pacific
Death row reprieve for poor
04 Feb 99 | Asia-Pacific
Countdown to Philippines execution
04 Jan 99 | Asia-Pacific
Reprieve for Philippine convict
18 Nov 99 | World
Death penalty ban axed
08 Jul 99 | Asia-Pacific
Philippines executes three convicts
25 Jun 99 | Asia-Pacific
Phone call too late to stop execution
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