LEGAZPI CITY, Philippines – The country is at a crossroads under President Rodrigo Duterte as it faces controversial issues, said Fr Robert Reyes on Sunday, May 14, as he led the Lakbay Buhay (Walk for Life) event.
"We are at a crossroads under the strongman Duterte. We're fighting [against] the death penalty because if this is reinstated... there will be free killing of Filipinos," said Reyes, popularly known as the "running priest."
The Philippines had abolished the death penalty through Republic Act 9346 in 2006 under the administration of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. But Duterte wants it reinstated, a move that the Commission on Human Rights has said would be a "blatant breach of international law."
"People compromise all the time depending on who are the bosses. A lot of very conscientious Catholics are now swallowing their pride and principles," Reyes said, referring to lawmakers who voted in favor of the death penalty at the House of Representatives.
The "running priest" led 15 pilgrims from 15 regions who arrived in Legazpi City on Sunday after 9 days of traveling from Cagayan de Oro for Lakbay Buhay. Their aim is to convince more Filipinos to speak out against the death penalty.
'Penchant for power'
Fr Rex Paul Arjona, social action director of the Diocese of Legazpi, also warned of threats to democracy.
"If there is not enough popular opinion and the people will just stay silent and do nothing, then [Duterte's] penchant for power will grow even more," he said.
"It's up to the people to stand up for what is right and also to remind our legislators to [take a stand] against death penalty. If we consider this normal already, [it] will lead to dictatorship," he also said.
The pilgrims are expected to arrive in Manila on May 19. They will deliver their "Junk Death Penalty! #LakbayBuhay" petition to the Senate on May 24.