By Raynan F. Javil

House approves death penalty; Senate next arena

Posted on March 08, 2017

THE HOUSE of Representatives on Tuesday night fulfilled its part in the election-campaign promise of President Rodrigo R. Duterte to revive capital punishment in the country, as the chamber approved on third and final reading a bill on the death penalty.

Cavite Respresentative (3rd District) Alex Advincula shows his vote as members of the 17th congress vote on House Bill 4727 or the Death Penalty Bill during the third and final reading at the House of Representatives in Quezon City on March 7. Miguel De Guzman / PHILIPPINE STAR
House Bill 4727, or an act imposing the death penalty on certain heinous crimes, was approved last night after securing 217 affirmative votes from the lawmakers, as against 54 negative votes and one abstention.

Earlier in Tuesday’s session, Liberal Party (LP) Rep. Edcel C. Lagman of Albay (2nd district) tried to stop the death penalty’s third-reading approval on technical grounds, saying this violates the three day-notice rule prescribed by Article VI, Section 26 (2) of the Constitution.

The rule states that: “No bill passed by either House shall become a law unless it has passed three readings on separate days and printed copies thereof in its final form had been distributed to its Members three days before its passage, except when the President certifies to the necessity of its immediate enactment....”

But just like Mr. Lagman’s previous motions and manifestations, his appeal again fell on deaf ears.

The approved bill lists only drug-related offenses as crimes punishable by death: the importation, sale, trading, administration, dispensation, delivery, distribution, transportation and manufacturing of drugs, and maintenance of a drug den. Possession of illegal drugs, on the other hand, will be punishable by life imprisonment under the bill.

The measure also includes the creation of a special panel of senior government lawyers to handle automatic appeals for offenders meted the death penalty.

The bill lists three methods of execution: hanging, musketry, and lethal injection.

Former Philippine President and now House Deputy Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo voted no to the revival of the death penalty despite the threat of Speaker Pantaleon D. Alvarez to remove House leaders from their positions if they vote against the measure.

It was during Ms. Arroyo’s term as President when capital punishment was abolished in the country in 2006.

Among the House committee chairpersons who voted against the bill were LP members from the majority -- Representatives Kaka J. Bag-ao of Dinagat Islands (committee on people participation), Vilma Santos-Recto of Batangas (civil service and professional regulation) and Jose Christopher Y. Belmonte of Quezon City (land use).

Ms. Bag-ao said in her speech after the voting that her no vote was “based on our fundamental values anchored on social justice and human rights and dignity.”

She added the watered down version of the bill showed no compelling reason to revive capital punishment other than the majority’s order.

The substitute bill that the House committee on justice approved earlier listed 21 crimes punishable by death, but this was trimmed down to four crimes -- plunder, treason, rape, and drug-related crimes -- and further limited to drug-related crimes only.

“My vote is no to the reimposition of death penalty. Tatanggapin ko po at yayakapin ko ang lahat ng kapalit ng botong ito (I will accept and embrace everything in exchange for my vote),” said Ms. Bag-ao.

But two LP members in the majority, Deputy Speaker Romero Federico S. Quimbo and former House speaker Feliciano R. Belmonte, Jr., voted to approve the bill.

The seven-member Makabayan bloc also manifested a collective no to the bill, thereby risking the committee chairmanships of Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani T. Zarate (committee on natural resources), ACT Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio L. Tinio (public information) and Gabriela party-list Rep. Emmi A. De Jesus (poverty alleviation).

Political watchers anticipate a realignment of the House minority once Mr. Alvarez carries out his threat of a purge depending on the death penalty vote.

As also anticipated, the seven-member independent minority bloc that includes Mr. Lagman also voted as one against the bill.

A surprise no vote came from a Duterte ally, Rep. Imelda R. Marcos of Ilocos Norte (2nd district), although it was on the watch of her husband, the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos, that the death penalty had been enforced either by electrocution or musketry.

PDP-Laban Rep. Rodrigo A. Abellanosa of Cebu City (2nd district), a former Liberal, is the only abstainer.

“I feel so relieved. Mission accomplished,” House justice committee chairman Reynaldo V. Umali told reporters after the bill was passed.

“I always maintained that I am guided by the welfare of the people and consistent with the legal maxim Salus populi suprema lex esto or the welfare of the people is the supreme law and the people have spoken and the representatives of the people have spoken,” he said.

For his part, Senator and LP president Francis N. Pangilinan said in a statement: “It is unfortunate that most of the people’s representatives voted for a bill that is proven worldwide to not work in reducing crime, and that overwhelmingly victimizes the poor and powerless.”

“We commit to stopping the death penalty in the Senate,” he added.

Presidential spokesperson Ernesto C. Abella, for his part, said: “The restoration of capital punishment underlines the Duterte administration’s goal to reduce illegal drug-related criminality. The death penalty, with its strong deterrent effects, protects innocent lives. At the same time, its punitive aspect ensures that criminals recompense grievous loss.”

“We trust the bill will also be passed in the Senate considering that it is a vital tool in the Duterte administration’s war on drugs and criminality,” he added. -- with Ian Nicolas P. Cigaral