MANILA – Vice presidential frontrunner Senator Francis ‘Chiz’ Escudero on Tuesday reiterated his opposition to the reimposition of death penalty as Pope Francis urged Catholic leaders around the world to suspend death sentences for a year to mark the Holy Year of Mercy.

”While there’s life, there’s hope and a chance to correct the mistakes,” Escudero said, as proposals to revive the capital punishment are being floated for offenders of drug trafficking and other heinous crimes.

“It is easy to say I will kill all the criminals. What if it is your brother, your wife, your parents or children who committed crime? What if it is true? We will declare they are criminals, no chances to change? There is no hope to correct the mistakes?” he pointed out.

During last Sunday’s presidential debates, presidential aspirant and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte said he will wipe out criminality within six months once he is elected.

Escudero said the Pope insisted that the commandment “You shall not kill” was absolute and equally valid for the guilty as for the innocent.

The senator has been a staunch advocate of the repeal of the death penalty since he first became a lawmaker in 1998 until the capital punishment was finally abolished in 2006 during his third and final term as representative of the first district of Sorsogon in Congress.

According to Escudero, the death penalty fails to recognize that guilty people have the potential to change, denying them the opportunity to rejoin society.

”I believe that nobody was born a natural criminal. He became criminal because of his environment. And if ever he became bad, God is giving everybody a chance to have a new life,” Escudero said.

”Let’s teach and punish them, teach them lessons if necessary but to kill them, is not in our hands,” he added.

At the same time, Escudero said the death penalty is discriminatory and used disproportionately against the poor who cannot afford good legal representation.

He said the harsh reality is that an offender won’t end up on death row if he can afford top caliber private lawyers.

”Throughout history of death penalty in our country, it was imposed only to the poor. No rich criminal or drug lords have been punished with death penalty,” he explained.

Escudero also said the death penalty won’t work in a country like the Philippines where the criminal justice system is “rife with discrimination, corruption and abuse.”

Besides, he said, the country has long shifted from punitive to restorative justice, which allows offenders to recognize their mistakes, make amends for their wrongdoing and avoid further involvement in criminal activities.

The Philippines was the first country in Asia to abolish the death penalty under the Constitution ratified in 1987. It was, however, reimposed in 1992 during the Ramos administration due to the rising crime rate.

Falling under the edict were “heinous crimes” from murder to rape and drug-related offenses.

In 1999, then President Joseph Estrada lifted the ban on executions. Seven inmates were put to death between 1999 and 2000 before Estrada imposed a moratorium after pressure from the influential Catholic Church and rights groups.

The Philippines completely abolished the capital punishment for all crimes in 2006 with the enactment of Republic Act No. 9346, or “An Act Prohibiting the Imposition of Death Penalty in the Philippines.” Jelly Musico/PNA/