Sotto, one of the senators pushing for the death penalty for high-level drug traffickers, acknowledged that many of his colleagues remain strongly opposed to the controversial measure that the Duterte administration touts as a solution to unabated corruption and drug trafficking.
Geremy Pintolo
‘Death penalty may squeak through Senate’
Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - July 24, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 12:34 p.m.) — President Duterte’s pet bill reviving the death penalty for plunder and heinous crimes related to drugs may squeak through Congress despite strong opposition from several sectors, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said yesterday.

Sotto, one of the senators pushing for the death penalty for high-level drug traffickers, acknowledged that many of his colleagues remain strongly opposed to the controversial measure that the Duterte administration touts as a solution to unabated corruption and drug trafficking.

“I think (the reimposition of the death penalty is) going to be a squeaker, probably 13 to 14 votes. We can do it if it’s only for high-level drug trafficking,” Sotto told reporters.   

Sotto believes including plunder in the list of crimes punishable by death could also be acceptable as “it would not be good if we reject that, so that’s included in the squeaker.”

He expects long debates on the proposal but vowed to exert all effort to convince his colleagues to support the bill.

Among the senators who filed measures to revive the death penalty were Sens. Panfilo Lacson, Ronald dela Rosa, Christopher Go and Manny Pacquiao. It was Go who wants to include plunder as punishable by death.

“I’m just one vote and this may not pass but I’ll fight for it,” Go told reporters in Filipino. “What are you afraid of if you did not steal? No one will die, no one will be punished with the death penalty if you’ve done nothing (wrong).”

Lacson’s proposal is extensive, as apart from drug-related crimes, it includes treason, qualified piracy, qualified bribery, parricide, murder, infanticide, rape, kidnapping and illegal detention, robbery with violence and intimidation of persons, destructive arson and human trafficking as among the criminal offenses punishable by death.

Among those who expressed support for the revival of capital punishment were Sens. Pia Cayetano, Sherwin Gatchalian, Lito Lapid, Imee Marcos, Aquilino Pimentel III, Bong Revilla, Francis Tolentino and Cynthia Villar.

Sen. Joel Villanueva said he was open to the proposal but wants the country’s justice system overhauled first.

Opposition

Sen. Richard Gordon, whose justice committee will deliberate on the proposals, is opposed to reviving the death penalty, along with Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri.

Gordon said he strongly doubts the effectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent to heinous crimes but would be willing to conduct hearings on the proposal.

But he indicated that he will not be the one sponsoring the measure on the floor if and when the committee comes up with its report.

A better option, Gordon said, is reforming the penal system to include hard labor.

The Senate minority bloc of four senators is expected to vote no in the event the proposal reaches the floor.

Detained Sen. Leila de Lima has proposed the imposition of qualified reclusion perpetua or 50 years imprisonment on extraordinary heinous crimes, such as drug cases and plunder, without any chance for parole.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, a strong critic of the death penalty bill, earlier vowed to fight “tooth and nail” to block the proposal.

“We strongly and unequivocally oppose the reimposition of death penalty. We are prepared to fight it all the way,” Drilon earlier said.

“Notwithstanding these difficulties we will do our best to prevent it. We will never allow the 18th Congress to give license to authorities to kill the poor,” he said.

Hanging or lethal injection

Malacañang would support death penalty by hanging or lethal injection to those sentenced with capital punishment in relation to heinous crimes committed while under the influence of drugs or plunder.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said yesterday that the death penalty supported by President Duterte would cover only heinous crimes committed under the influence of drugs and plunder.

“If you ask him, it’s inexpensive… all you need is a rope. But I think, we could use lethal injection like before,” Panelo said in Filipino and English.

But there won’t be a full restoration of capital punishment since Filipinos do not want imposing death penalty, Panelo said.

“As a general rule we don’t want death penalty unless, as the Constitution provides, Congress by a passage of a law allows it,” he added.

Duterte urged the 18th Congress during his fourth State of the Nation Address last Monday to approve the measure calling for the reimposition of the death penalty.

Call backed

Other officials said they support Duterte’s call for the restoration of the death penalty.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, head of the department in charge of prosecuting criminal cases in courts, believes that the reimposition of capital punishment would deter heinous crimes.

Still, Guevarra said the issue is now in the hands of lawmakers.

The death penalty was repealed in the country in 2006 after then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed Republic Act 9346 or An Act Prohibiting the Imposition of the Death Penalty in the Philippines upon repeated appeals from the Vatican.

RA 9346 repealed RA 7659 or the Death Penalty Law passed during the time of former president Fidel Ramos. 

Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año also expressed his support for Duterte’s call.

“I support the death penalty for drugs and plunder, especially crimes related to drugs,” he told reporters after Duterte delivered his SONA Monday evening.

For his part, Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Gen. Oscar Albayalde is also backing Duterte’s call, saying it will add more teeth to the government’s campaign against crime.

“I firmly believe that the deterrent effect of the certainty of punishment will be a game changer in our continuing campaign against illegal drugs, heinous crime and corruption, particularly against drug traffickers, smugglers and peddlers of illegal drugs,” he said at a press conference at Camp Crame in Quezon City yesterday.

But the PNP chief insisted that before the death penalty is reimposed, loopholes in the justice system must be fixed to ensure that only the guilty are punished.

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) is also backing Duterte’s call.

PDEA director general Aaron Aquino believes capital punishment will serve as a deterrent not only against local drug dealers but also members of foreign drug syndicates plying their illicit trade in the country.

“Foreign and local drug offenders, especially drug protectors and coddlers who were found guilty of manufacturing, trafficking and pushing of dangerous drugs, warrant capital punishment,” he said in a statement.

‘Foolish’

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines-Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care (CBCP-ECPPC) yesterday told legislators that while Duterte called for the restoration of the death penalty for illegal drugs and plunder, they are beholden to the Filipino people who elected them into office. 

CBCP-ECPPC executive secretary Rodolfo Diamante said the members of the Senate and House of Representatives should not pass the measure just to please the President. 

“We urge them to study the bills thoroughly and determine if they will really address the problems of drug trafficking and plunder. They have been elected by the people to work for their welfare, not the President’s,” said Diamante.

He also told lawmakers that the death penalty has never been and will never be the solution to the problem of crime in the country. 

Meanwhile, CBCP Public Affairs Committee executive secretary Fr. Jerome Secillano said he believes that the death penalty will just legalize extrajudicial killings.

“It’s foolish to even think that it has a deterrent effect on crime,” he said. – With Christina Mendez, Edu Punay, Emmanuel Tupas, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Evelyn Macairan

(Editor's note: An earlier version of this article listed Sen. Sonny Angara among lawmakers supportive of the revival of the death penalty.

His office has since clarified that he "has not taken a position on the issue of the reinstatement of the death penalty" and will listen to arguments for and against it before he makes "a decision based on these and on his convictions at the proper time.")

DEATH PENALTY RODRIGO DUTERTE VICENTE SOTTO III
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