Filipino boxer-senator Manny Pacquiao may still be riding high from his win against American boxer Keith Thurman last month but he threw in the towel this week when a Senate discussion on the death penalty turned into a heated debate on religion.
On August 6 Pacquiao pushed the Senate to prioritize a bill he authored that seeks to punish high-level drug personalities with death. The death penalty was abolished in 2006. Referencing the bible, he said that Christians must learn to submit to authority.
"No one is perfect…the most important thing is we have to trust our authority…the government,” Pacquiao said.
A born-again Christian infamous for his ultra-conservative statements, Pacquiao regularly quotes the bible to support his arguments in the Senate. In another speech in 2017, he justified capital punishment by saying that “even Jesus Christ was sentenced to death” then.
This time, though, bringing up religion backfired when fellow Senator Franklin Drilon, who opposes the death penalty, said that Jesus’ crucifixion is a prime example that innocent people could be executed.
“And yet Jesus Christ was a victim of wrongful execution,” Drilon responded. “Is that correct?"
The discussion spiraled into a full-blown religious debate when Senate President Vicente Sotto III defended Pacquiao and said that “redemption” would not have been possible if Jesus didn’t die on the cross.
Referencing the bible once again, Pacquiao said: “Jesus said He can command His angels to protect Himself but He didn't do that because, purposely, He was going there to sacrifice himself for us to be saved for eternal life."
Drilon returned the punch and said that that proves Jesus was “wrongfully executed,” a response that sent the Senate floor laughing.
Despite relying on religion to justify his arguments in the past, the exchange drove Pacquiao to say the following day that religion should be left out in future discussions of the death penalty.
“Let’s change the discussion on the death penalty so we can’t drag the name of our Jesus Christ,” he told reporters during a political party-list event.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has constantly pushed for the reimposition of the death penalty. In his State of the Nation address last month, Duterte urged lawmakers to bring it back for “heinous crimes” involving illegal drugs and plunder.
Human rights groups have spoken out against this, including Amnesty International which said that bringing back the death penalty would only “worsen climate of impunity” in the Philippines where thousands have died in Duterte’s controversial drug war.
While capital punishment is on a global decline, Duterte’s push to reinstate the death penalty echoes a trend that persists in Asia. Five of the world’s top five executioners in 2018 are in the continent, namely: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, and Iraq. Just a few days ago, Japan issued its first two executions of the year.