February 4, 2014 (inquirer)
MANILA, Philippines — The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines is reminding lawmakers who want to revive the death penalty that many prisoners wrongfully convicted are still languishing in jail.
Rudy Diamante, executive secretary of the CBCP’s Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care, said a coalition of groups against the death penalty and law schools and law students has been documenting cases of wrongful convictions in the country which could prove that the revival of the death penalty would do more harm than good.
Called “Innocence Project Philippines,” the group offers free legal help to convicts, using DNA technology and investigative work to overturn wrongful convictions, he said.
“We have interviewed 400 detainees we believe are wrongfully convicted. There are some 10 cases which our lawyers want to be reopened in court,” Diamante said at a forum on Tuesday. Diamante was joined by Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz, Lawyer Romulo Macalintal and Buhay Party-list Representative Lito Atienza.
Partnering with the CBCP, law schools such as the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Davao University, De la Salle University have held training sessions for student on DNA analysis.
Innocence Project Philippines was convened after the documentary film “Give up Tomorrow,” which follows the life of Francisco Juan Larrañaga who was sentenced to death for the 1997 rape and murder of two sisters in Cebu City.
“It sparked the movement to find and help prisoners who were wrongfully convicted,” Diamante said.
Larrañaga was offered clemency by the Spanish government but he turned it down since a condition of the parole was the admission of guilt.
Larrañaga, who has dual Spanish and Filipino citizenship, was transferred to a Spanish prison in 2009 under the terms of a treaty between the Philippines and Spain on where citizens of each country should be imprisoned after conviction.
“We are tracing who are the wrongfully convicted because there are a lot. If they want to bring back the death penalty, they should look closely into the defective justice system,” Diamante said.
Diamante said that based on their interviews at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa, it would be easy to know if a convict is telling the truth or not.
“Those you have always seen in prison would no longer lie to you if they committed the crime or not,” he said.
In a statement, the CBCP said the imposition of capital punishment is “unchristian and inhuman.”
“The stance against the death penalty is in no way a posture to let criminal offenders go scot-free. The Catholic Church believes in justice and it is ranked high in its hierarchy of values,” the CBCP’s Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care said.
Rather than take away “precious human life,” CBCP said it wants the government to explore alternatives to mete out justice.
“For one, it seriously considers—and vigorously advocates—a shift in the paradigm of justice from litigation to mediation; prosecution to healing; punishment to reform and rehabilitation; from the retributive to the restorative,” it said.