"I shall no longer stand in the way of executions scheduled by the courts for January 2004 much as I am averse as a matter of moral principle to the taking of human lives in this manner," the President said in a statement read on GMA Network's radio station dzBB.
Akbayan Party-List Representative Loretta Ann P. Rosales, Chairperson of the House Committee on Civil, Political and Human Rights and a staunch anti-death penalty advocate, criticized the President's decision. "I am so surprised that she is now changing her position in the death penalty," she said. "She doesn't seem to understand the guiding principles on why she should lift the death penalty."
Rosales said there was no evidence that the death penalty reduced the crime rate and accused the President of using executions to cover up her inability to enforce law and order.
The high crime rate and the death penalty are troublesome issues for the president's chances at the polls when she runs for a fresh term in the May 2004 elections.
The presidential spokesperson, Ignacio Bunye, later clarified that the order resuming execution by lethal injection will apply only to those who are convicted of the heinous crimes of kidnapping for ransom and illegal drug trafficking.
Currently there are almost a thousand people on death row in the Philippines.
The brief history of the death penalty that follows is extracted from Death Penalty in the Philippines: an Overview downloaded from HR Now! Human Rights Network on the web - a network of eleven organisations involved in the human rights movement in the Philippines.
1987 - The new Constitution abolished capital punishment. Over 500 death sentences handed down by the military tribunals during the martial law period were commuted. The Philippines became the first Asian country to abolish death penalty for all crimes.
1988 - Moves to reimpose the death penalty for heinous crimes gathered steam. The House of Representatives voted for the restoration of the death penalty.
1992 - General Fidel Ramos elected President. He announces his support for the reimposition of death penalty.
1993 - RA 7659 restores the death penalty.
1996 - RA 8177 designates lethal injection as the method of execution.
2000 - President Joseph Estrada puts in place a de facto moratorium by suspending executions.
2001 - Shortly after being sworn in as President, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo stated she was not in favor of executions. However, she later announced to a meeting of businessmen that the government needed to 'strike fear into the hearts of criminals' through carrying out of death sentences.