WATCH: 'Heavy battle' seen as Duterte repeats call to bring back death penalty

Gaea Katreena Cabico (Philstar.com) - July 23, 2019 - 1:23pm

MANILA, Philippines — Lawmakers are divided over President Rodrigo Duterte's fresh call for action to bring back the death penalty, with Senate President Vicente Sotto III noting that it will be a "heavy battle."

"I respectfully request Congress to reinstate the death penalty for heinous crimes related to drugs, as well as (for) plunder," Duterte told hundreds of lawmakers, government officials and diplomats during his fourth State of the Nation Address on Monday.

The death penalty bill faced strong opposition from senators during the 17th Congress but the landslide victory of Duterte's allies in the May midterm polls is seen to open a path for the enactment of a return to capital punishment in the Philippines.

At least four senators have filed bills pushing to reinstate death penalty: Sens. Ronald Dela Rosa, Christopher "Bong" Go, Manny Pacquiao and Panfilo Lacson. Dela Rosa, Go and Pacquiao are close allies of the president.

Lacson, a former chief of the Philippine National Police, is a member of the Senate majority.

Dela Rosa—the former top cop who had implemented the government’s drug war—said there is a “big chance” that a version of death penalty bill that includes plunder will hurdle the upper chamber, citing the president’s popularity.

Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said he is open to a version of death penalty bill that only focuses on one heinous crime related to drugs.

"To proponents of death penalty, this is all I can say: as soon as you expand the coverage to more than one heinous crime then you will have a more uphill battle," he said.

Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III noted that limiting the reimposition of death penalty to only high-level drug trafficking has a better chance of passage in the upper chamber than the other versions. 

"We’ll try to convince our colleagues. It’s a heavy battle," he said.

‘Not deterrent to crime’

Lawmakers who are against the measure insisted that death penalty is no deterrent to crime and is “anti-poor.”

“Ang totoong deterrent sa lahat ng klaseng krimen ay ‘yung pagsasaayos ng ating criminal justice system. Ang deterrent ay ‘yung kasiguraduhang mahuhuli ang suspected criminal, ma-prosecute siya at ma-condemn,” Sen. Risa Hontiveros said.

(What is really a deterrent to all kinds of crime is fixing the country’s criminal justice system. The real deterrent is the certainty that a suspected criminal will be arrested, prosecuted and condemned)

The decimated Senate minority—which includes Hontiveros, Sens. Franklin Drilon, Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan and Leila De Lima—earlier vowed to block the measure.

Rep. Carlos Zarate (Bayan Muna party-list) said the poor will become victims of the proposal.

“In a flawed justice system like ours, death penalty will only kill, kill, kill the poor rather than give justice to the victims of crime,” he said.

The Philippines abolished capital punishment in 2006.

Duterte has been pushing the reimposition of death penalty since he was a candidate in the 2016 presidential elections. 

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