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Philippine President suspends death penalty for three years

The Catholic Church has prevailed upon Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to approve a three-year moratorium on the death penalty, the Vatican missionary agency Fides reported.

"The country is [moving] toward a culture of life," said Archbishop Orlando Quevedo, president of the nation's bishops' conference.

Last Tuesday, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo opted to suspend all executions of criminals, during her three-year term, ending in 2004. Presidential executive secretary Renato de Villa explained that the head of state has the power to commute death sentences to life imprisonment.

Arroyo has reportedly been influenced by the Church, in particular by Manila Archbishop Cardinal Jaime Sin.

"Such arguments belittle the president, and her freedom to make her own judgment in light of her own conscience," Archbishop Quevedo said. He added that Arroyo's other positions are not entirely in harmony with the Church's. "Although she said that natural family planning will be promoted in the country, the government will still promote other forms of population [control]," he said.

The death penalty was reintroduced in the Philippines in 1994. Leo Etchegaray was the first of seven people to be executed in 1999.

At the request of the Catholic bishops, the President Joseph Estrada suspended the death penalty for the Jubilee Year 2000.