MANILA, Apr 16 (Reuters) Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo commuted all death sentences to life imprisonment in an Easter gesture slammed by critics today as an abuse of power.
''I wish to announce that we are changing our policy on those who have been imposed the death penalty. We are reducing their penalty to life imprisonment,'' Arroyo said in a statement as the mainly Catholic country observed Easter festivities.
Around 1,200 convicts benefited from the decision, which some critics said was a sop to win over the country's powerful Catholic bishops to a government push to change the constitution.
The Church is opposed to capital punishment and no executions have been carried out under Arroyo, a devout Catholic who regularly commutes the death sentences of those aged over 70.
''She (Arroyo) should have consulted the families of victims of heinous crimes,'' said Dante Jimenez, chairman of Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption. ''Definitely this will affect the drive against criminality.'' Arroyo's advisers denied that her decision was designed to woo the Catholic Church, which recently said it was concerned about the government's rush to amend the constitution to create a parliamentary political system, replacing the presidential setup.
The government says such a switch will reduce political turmoil in a country which has seen more than a dozen coup attempts in 20 years but opponents say the change will extend Arroyo's powers.
REUTERS SI RN1719