Sat, Dec 06, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Arroyo announces return to death penalty

U-TURN The president's decision follows several high-profile kidnappings of ethnic Chinese and comes just days after she said the moratorium would remain

REUTERS , MANILA

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo presents two of the nation's top kidnappers, Vilmor Catamco, left, and Allan Niegas ,right, during a press briefing in Camp Crame yesterday. She also lifted a moratorium on the death penalty.

PHOTO: EPA

Reacting to public anger over a wave of kidnappings, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo lifted a moratorium on the death penalty yesterday, opening the way for executions to resume next month.

The move follows a series of kidnappings targeting the ethnic Chinese community that have added to the perception that Arroyo's government is failing to curb rampant crime.

It also risks alienating her supporters within the powerful Roman Catholic Church ahead of elections next May.

"I shall no longer stand in the way of executions scheduled by the courts for January 2004," Arroyo said in a statement.

"Much as I am averse, as a matter of moral principle, to the taking of human lives in this manner, the president must yield to the higher public interest when dictated by extraordinary circumstances," she said.

The decision to lift the moratorium she imposed in October last year comes only days after Arroyo rejected calls from the Filipino-Chinese community to reimpose capital punishment, saying an effective criminal justice system was the key to fighting crime.

The recent kidnapping spree came to public attention on Nov. 18 when the body of a Chinese-Filipino executive with Coca-Cola Export Corp, Betty Sy, was found wrapped in a blanket and garbage bag in a Manila suburb.

Three days later, a 10-year-old girl was abducted outside her school in Manila. Earlier this week, armed kidnappers snatched a two-year-old ethnic Chinese boy on his way to a Manila nursery school. The girl was later freed after her family paid a ransom.

Leaders of the Chinese community, which makes up just 1 percent of the 82 million population but is prominent in the business world, have said rogue members of the security forces are involved and criticized the government's response as ineffective.

They say many kidnappings go unreported because families do not trust the police.

"I think the Chinese-Filipino community will welcome the move," said Joaquin Sy, head of a Chinese community group.

"The criminals -- the kidnappers, bank robbers -- are more brazen now, so the state should adopt tougher measures," he said.

Arroyo has wavered over her support for the death penalty because of her strong links to the Catholic Church. But the death penalty moratorium has risked making her seem soft on crime in the run-up to next year's election as she trails behind several rivals in early opinion polls.

A day rarely goes by without a new gruesome crime reported in newspapers and fresh speculation that criminal activity is on the rise as politicians try to build up their campaign war chests.

The Philippine Star reported yesterday that police had detained two men for the rape and murder of a seven-year-old girl. The shocking case only made it onto page 20.

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