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House defers death penalty bill approval

The House of Representatives decided yesterday to defer the approval of the death penalty bill from next week to early next year. Philstar.com, file

MANILA, Philippines - There will be no death penalty law before Christmas.

The House of Representatives decided yesterday to defer the approval of the death penalty bill from next week to early next year.

Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas told reporters that Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has agreed to his suggestion for extensive debates on the proposed law that would reimpose the death penalty.

“That means that the debates won’t be finished next week before we adjourn for the Christmas holidays. So we will continue these when we resume in January and then we approve it,” he said.

He denied insinuations that the postponement was prompted by the claims of a growing number of opponents of the measure that the House leadership was no longer sure that it could win the vote for the death penalty.

“No, I am certain that we will have the votes for the bill,” he said.

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On Wednesday, the committee on justice endorsed the measure for plenary consideration.

Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, justice committee chairman, said the proposal to re-impose the death penalty would still be subjected to a long deliberative process.

“We will further refine it. We are looking at the plenary for a more lively debate. It will still undergo a long legislative process. I am certain that what the House will eventually pass will be different from what we have approved in the committee,” he said in a television interview.

In the case of drug-related offenses, he said only grave violations of the Dangerous Drugs Act or Republic Act 6425 would be punishable by death under the bill.

“Not all those found possessing illegal drugs would face the death penalty,” he said.

Heinous crimes covered by the bill include treason, qualified piracy, qualified bribery, parricide, murder, rape, kidnapping and serious illegal detention, robbery with violence, destructive arson, plunder, carjacking, importation of dangerous drugs and paraphernalia, sale, trading, distribution and transportation of dangerous drugs, maintenance of a drug den, manufacture of dangerous drugs, and cultivation or culture of plants classified as dangerous drugs.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso, whose judicial reforms subcommittee drafted the consolidated death penalty bill, said he would welcome the inclusion of other heinous crimes like human trafficking, illegal recruitment, plunder and economic sabotage.

“You present the necessary amendments in the plenary and we will consider them,” he told his colleagues.

Opposition Rep. Edcel Lagman of Albay accused the justice committee of railroading the measure.

“The sinister train ferrying the retrogressive bill is expected to reach its terminal – the plenary session – next week. The positions of the various resource persons and organizations against the death penalty were never discussed by the mother committee,” he said.

“The fundamental question on the existence of compelling reasons for the revival of the death penalty as required by the Constitution was never answered. In fact, there would never be compelling reasons to abrogate life and derogate the sanctity and inviolability of life,” he said.

“Speaker Alvarez agreed to pass the death penalty bill on third and final reading next year (January 2017) after a month-long full blown debates in the plenary,” Fariñas told reporters Wednesday evening.

This was the consensus reached during the majority caucus held Wednesday afternoon.

Fariñas, a congressman from Ilocos Norte, denied speculations the House leadership succumbed to pressures exerted by the Catholic Church, whose bishops have been very vocal against state-sanctioned executions.

Umali assured the public that congressmen will definitely fine-tune the death penalty measure, saying not all found to be carrying illegal substances would suffer death penalty. 

Leni hits death penalty

Vice President Leni Robredo expressed alarm over the swift passage at the House committee on justice of the bill reinstating the death penalty.

“It seems the committee rushed the approval of the bill to accommodate the wishes of the President,” Robredo, who resigned from the Cabinet as chair of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council last Monday, said yesterday.

“We question why the House committee on justice approved the bill even though its proponents failed to show sufficient evidence and studies to support how the death penalty is a deterrent to crimes. They also failed to sufficiently answer questions of those who oppose the bill,” she added.

Robredo also reminded lawmakers that the Philippines is a signatory to the second optional protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which mandate signatories to abolish and refrain from reinstating death penalty.

Robredo, who is a lawyer, served as representative of Camarines Sur for three years before winning the vice presidency in May.

“We are hopeful that this will not happen in the plenary of Congress. We believe that the spirit of democracy will still prevail in the legislative. That in the crafting and approval of laws, the welfare of the majority will prevail over the orders and wishes of one person,” she said, apparently referring to Duterte.

“We already tried and saw that death penalty is not effective. So why are we trying to revive death penalty?” added the Vice President.

Alvarez urged Robredo yesterday to read the Constitution before commenting on efforts in the House of Representatives to re-impose the death penalty.

“The Vice President has apparently forgotten that the Constitution allows the imposition of the death penalty for heinous crimes,” he said in a text message to reporters.

“I also want to remind her that the Charter prevails over any international protocol,” he said. – With Janvic Mateo, Edu Punay, Delon Porcalla

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