HOUSE leaders on Thursday defended moves to pass the death penalty bill and denied that the legislation was being railroaded.
“The House journal will speak for itself,” Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said Thursday, as he shrugged off the minority bloc’s plan to protest the passage of the bill on third and final reading next week.
“We cannot allow the tyranny of the minority to prevail over the majority. We are a democratic country,” Alvarez, secretary general of President Rodrigo Duterte’s PDP-Laban, said.
Reps. Gary Alejano of Magdalo party-list and Tom Villarin said the opposition would insist on having the bill voted through nominal voting where each lawmaker would be allowed to explain his vote.
“We still have nominal voting next week. I think there is nothing we can do about the process except to vote. What they did was obviously a railroading,” Alejano said.
On Wednesday, the House passed the bill that seeks to reimpose capital punishment on second reading by voice vote.
The opposition led by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman moved for a nominal voting but its motion was rejected.
Villarin said House leaders led by Alvarez must be answerable to the Filipino people if they insist on railroading the measure.
“If they still will railroad the proceedings and have it pass on third reading, we will ask for nominal voting on so people will know who voted yes or no. It is part of the rules and by tradition of the House. If the majority denies that, it will show that they are not transparent and accountable,” Villarin said.
Villarin also said the bill should be recommitted to the House committee on dangerous drugs since it was watered down to include only drug-related crimes.
Villarin cited Section 28 (k) of the Rules of the House, which states that the committee on dangerous drugs has authority over all “matters directly and principally relating to illegal and prohibited drugs, controlled precursors and essential chemicals, the production, manufacture, use and trafficking thereof, as well as the rehabilitation and treatment of drug dependents.”
“How can we properly discuss the penalty if we won’t tackle the nature of the crimes?” Villarin said.
But like Alvarez, House majority floor leader and Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas denied any railroading of the proceedings.
“The House of Representatives exists to represent our people. The people want the death penalty reimposed as expressed by their representatives in our caucuses and shown by them in our sessions, but a minority group against it has been bullying the majority,” Fariñas said.
“We all saw how those against [the bill] bullied the majority by introducing amendments that were outright unacceptable since they were irreconcilable with the death penalty,” Fariñas added.
In the Senate, a counterpart bill is unlikely to be passed before the 17th Congress adjourns its first regular session in June, said Senator Vicente Sotto III, who noted the measure is not a priority.
“In the House, death penalty is a priority. In the Senate, there is no assurance, it’s not our priority. It’s also a priority of the executive, but this is democracy,” Sotto said.
“We will take it up here in the Senate,” he added. “We promised to take it up but we can’t promise that it’s a priority so I’m not sure if we can pass it by June... It might be difficult because there’s going to be a lengthy debate.”
Sotto, one of the authors of the bill, said they will still try to have the bill approved in the Senate before June.
Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, who leads the fight against the death penalty, vowed there will be no railroading of the process and no secret votes in the Senate.
“We will not allow it to be rushed. We must ensure that proper debate on the matter be conducted,” said Aquino,the newly designated deputy minority leader.
Furthermore, Aquino said senators must reveal their respective votes on the proposal to ensure accountability and transparency.
“We will not allow votes to be anonymous or hidden and we will ensure accountability among our colleagues,” he said.
The other members of the Senate minority bloc opposed to the bill are Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Senators Francis Pangilinan, Risa Hontiveros, Antonio Trillanes IV, and detained Senator Leila de Lima.
As representatives of the people, Aquino said every senator should stand for his vote and explain it to the public if needed.
Through this, he said the Senate will show that it can still be an independent institution even with the heightened political strife in the country.
The House drew flak after it approved the death penalty bill on second reading on a voice vote.
Sotto, one of the authors of the Senate version of the bill, reiterated that he favors the reimposition of the death penalty but only for “high-level” drug trafficking.
“I have said from the start that I am only in favor of the death penalty for high-level drug trafficking because that is where the major problem lies, not on the street level. The main reason Southeast Asian and Asian nationals manufacture drugs here is because we don’t have the death penalty, “he said.
He pointed out that limiting the death penalty to drug bigwigs also nullifies arguments that the measure is against the poor, who cannot afford lawyers and case appeals.
Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto also believes that the proposed revival of capital punishment would have a difficult time gaining approval in the Senate.
“Bills of this nature break the majority-minority divide. There are a number of those in the majority who are anti-death penalty. There is no consensus for the death penalty at this time. It is not even included in our priority list of bills,” he said.
Two other majority members—Senators Richard Gordon and Francis Escudero—strongly oppose the reimposition of the death penalty.
Amnesty International warned that the return of capital punishment would be a step back in the country’s commitment to human rights.
“Reinstating the death penalty undermines the government’s obligations to respect, protect and fulfil human rights which lay at the heart of the movement that restored constitutional democracy in the Philippines,” said Romeo Cabarde, Jr., AI Philippines vice chairman.
“A ‘yes’ vote to reinstate the death penalty is a shame and an affront to the country’s history as a strong nation leading the human rights discourse in Asia,” he added. With John Paolo Bencito
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