Philippine President Gloria Arroyo yesterday hailed Congress for passing a bill abolishing the death penalty and assured the public that the move did not signal a weakness on crime.
A bicameral committee approved a consolidated bill by the Senate and the House of Representatives calling for the repeal of a 1993 law that brought back capital punishment and a subsequent law that prescribed lethal injection as punishment, Representative Edcel Lagman said.
"We celebrate the victory of life as I thank Congress for its immediate action in abolishing the death penalty law," Arroyo said in a statement, indicating that she would soon sign the bill into law.
Arroyo also brushed aside criticism that eliminating capital punishment would embolden criminals.
"Make no mistake about it: The abolition of the death penalty will be complemented by a stricter and sterner enforcement of the law on all fronts," she said.
Passage of the law would automatically commute the sentences of about 1,200 death-row inmates in the Philippines to life imprisonment.
Manila executed four convicted rapists and three highwaymen between 1999 and 2000 before the government imposed a moratorium amid pressure from the dominant Roman Catholic church, the EU and human-rights groups.
Lagman told reporters "studies show that the death penalty is not a deterrent to the commission of heinous crimes."
However, supporters of capital punishment warned of a crime backlash.
"I fear that the worst will happen to our country," legislator Miguel Zubiri said in a speech to the House during voting for the bill late on Monday.
"It looks like the criminals are going to celebrate tonight," Legislator Antonio Cuenco said.