Philippine leader under pressure to reimpose death penalty

MANILA : Philippine President Gloria Arroyo is under pressure to lift a freeze on judicial executions and reverse a rising tide of kidnappings or risk losing key business support in the May elections.

Re-imposing the death penalty and making an example of convicted kidnappers would ease fears among jittery investors over the government's apparent inability to stop the crime, Arroyo's critics say.

Most of the kidnapped victims were from the influential ethnic Chinese business community, whose members own some of the the biggest shopping malls, banks and factories.

The Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce took a half-page advertisement in a major newspaper this week, asking the authorities to "aggressively bring to justice" those behind the abduction and murder of a young member of the community.

The country's 156th kidnap victim this year, Coca-Cola executive Betti Sy, 32, was found dead by a roadside in southern Manila last week, her bullet-riddled corpse stuffed in a trash bag.

Independent statistics show that kidnapping has reached a 10-month-high -- with an average of one victim every three days.

Pressure on Arroyo to rein in rising kidnapping cases and check other gun-related violence is expected to increase as one of her key opponents in the polls is an ex-police chief with a good anti-crime track record.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, whose strong anti-crime stance gained him national prominence as ex-president Joseph Estrada's police chief from 1998 to 2001, boasts of solving dozens of high-profile kidnappings.

Lacson told AFP many ethnic Chinese business leaders have packed their bags to live abroad because they "feel helpless and wary".

"This is not just a concern among Chinese-Filipino businessmen but also the majority of Filipinos who are wary that government has failed in addressing the peace and order situation in the country," he said.

The freeze in executions serves to embolden criminals, said Lacson, who claims he rescued 152 kidnap victims when he was chief of a special anti-crime police task force.

Arroyo, a devout Catholic, had promised Chinese-Filipino leaders early this year she would lift the three-year-old death penalty ban "to strike fear in the hearts" of criminals.

"But when you don't follow that with concrete action, your credibility will suffer," said Lacson, whose campaign slogan aptly reads "Justice, Law and Order".

He claims Arroyo's support from businesses had plunged to new lows after Sy's death.

Church leaders had prevailed on Arroyo to suspend executions but she emphasised this week that "the death penalty is not the end-all to heinous crimes."

The entire criminal justice system involving the police, the prosecution, the courts, the correctional system and community must be able to team up to prevent, deter and solve such crimes, she said.

Ernesto Herrera, author of a bill that imposed the death penalty before it was frozen, warned that Arroyo's refusal to send to death convicts found guilty of serious crimes might lead to vigilantism and extrajudicial executions.

Arroyo must crack the whip immediately, said another presidential contender, Raul Roco.

"There have been kidnappings, there is lawlessness, there is no more obedience and respect in the national government. Somebody must assert authority and that is the president," he said.

- AFP

25/11/2003

Bron : Channel New Asia

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