Plenary discussions on the bill for the reimposition of the death penalty will have to wait another day, with lawmakers opposed to the proposed legislature taking the floor as a "clear message" against fast-tracking its passage.
Deputy Speaker Fredenil Castro and Oriental Mindoro Rep. Rey Umali were supposed to deliver their sponsorship speeches at Tuesday's session for House Bill No. 4727, a consolidation of seven bills on capital punishment which passed the Umali-led justice committee last month.
However, they eventually left the floor as several lawmakers against the measure diverted the session - a move that eventually led to a "gentleman's agreement" that the sponsorship and debates for the bill will be on Wednesday afternoon instead. Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, a member of the House minority bloc, confirmed this with reporters near the end of the plenary session, which was adjourned 6:11 p.m.
"[O]ur only agreement is that we are going to have the death penalty bill sponsored and debated tomorrow," Lagman said.
Asked what made proponents of the bill agree to this, the lawmaker said it may be because "this debate would last until midnight."
"There are important and relevant concerns which the House would have to address before we tackle an important, although retrogressive, measure like the death penalty," he said.
"Moreover, we would like to send a clear message to the House leadership that they cannot fast-track the enactment of this retrogressive measure," Lagman added.
Lagman said the agreement may not extend to subsequent days, but noted that opponents will no longer deliver privilege speeches on Wednesday and let the debates start if there is a clear quorum.
Tuesday's plenary session was witnessed by dozens of representatives from civil society groups who oppose death penalty.
The day's events on the floor began when Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza asked for a recount, after a quorum was declared with 224 representatives responding to the roll call.
Atienza, who said there were only 152 solons on the floor, asked that his manifestation be put on record, after the leadership refused his request for a recount.
As Iloilo Rep. Arthur Defensor, deputy majority leader, repeatedly moved to tackle bills on second reading, which included HB 4727, lawmakers opposed to the death penalty rose and asked to deliver privilege speeches.
Granted 5 minutes, Akbayan party-list Rep. Tom Villarin spoke for some 17 minutes about the plight of fishermen in the tuna industry, notably those detained in Indonesia.
Lagman asked to interpellate Villarin, but his request was denied.
As Defensor moved again to proceed with bills on 2nd reading, Atienza took the podium anew, this time asking to talk about his concerns over 3 unnamed lawmakers found in President Rodrigo Duterte's narco-list.
The party-list representative, who was eventually given 10 minutes to speak, called the alleged involvement of his colleagues a "very personal and collective matter" that affects the House as a whole.
Here, Atienza demanded that the three representatives allegedly involved in the drug trade be named to clear the issue.
"3 of our members, according to them, are drug coddlers or drug lords themselves. We need to clarify this, Mr. Speaker. We cannot be tackling important measures in this chamber unless this is addressed and confronted with the truth," he said.
"Let them be pointed out and let them defend themselves, here in Congress and outside of Congress. They do not deserve to be called representatives of the people and members of Congress if they have, in any way, in any relation, an involvement in the drug trade," he added.
How lawmakers will argue vs death penalty bill
Opposition lawmaker Edcel Lagman says the Philippines must first address 'much delayed' reforms in the police and justice systems before reviving the death penalty
The opposition bloc outlined its main arguments against the return of the death penalty as the House begins the plenary debates on the measure on Tuesday afternoon, January 31.
Around two hours before the start of session, opposition lawmaker and Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman reiterated that House Bill Number 4727 is not the solution to end crime.
"The first argument is that the death penalty is not the solution to criminality, including the drug menace. Because the process of solving the incidence of crimes is a multi-dynamic process, which would range form sustainable poverty alleviation to reforms in the police, prosecutorial and judicial systems," said Lagman.
He argued that it is also "the worst of times" to revive the death penalty, citing the involvement of cops in the murder of South Korean businessmen Jee Ick Joo as well as the Supreme Court sacking 17 judges as part of its efforts to clean its ranks.
"While no time is right and ripe for pushing the reimposition of the death penalty, now is the worst of times to enact the revival of capital punishment when scalawag cops are the felons and rogues in robes preside over the life or death of citizens," said Lagman.
"Justice is not only delayed but also wantonly waylaid, due to the flawed, inept and corrupt police, prosecutorial and judicial systems. We must put the death penalty bill irretrievably in the backburner and address and implement much delayed reforms in the police and justice systems," he added.
The House of Representatives is expected to begin its debate on the death penalty bill after House justice committee chairperson and Oriental Mindoro 2nd District Representative Reynaldo Umali sponsors the measure on 2nd reading Tuesday afternoon.
No less than President Rodrigo Duterte, who is allied with a majority of congressmen, said the death penalty is a way to exact payment from the perpetrators of heinous crimes.
Sacredness of life, 'fallible' justice system
The opposition bloc, however, remains unfazed, saying they have gathered at least 50 congressmen to oppose the bill. As of posting, 25 lawmakers are already lined up to interpellate against the return of the death penalty.
Apart from the argument that the capital punishment is not a true deterrent to crime, Lagman said they will be arguing that life is sacred.
"Another reason is that life is sacrosanct. No one should be allowed to deprive man of his life. And even the Pope instructs that a viability of life is both for the criminal and for the innocent," he said.
"Another is justice is fallible so much so that even the innocent can be sent to the gallows. The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that it will be better to free 10 accused who are possibly guilty of the crime they are charged than to convict one person who is innocent," Lagman added.
He also said that Duterte's retribution defense for the death penalty is an "anathema to the modern trend of penology which is reformative justice."
Anti-death penalty lawmakers will also argue that the measure is anti-poor.
"Another ground is the death penalty further marginalizes and victimizes the poor who cannot afford competent counsel and who will not have access to court processes," said Lagman.
The Philippines is also a state party to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as well as the Second Protocol on the ICCPR, wherein all signatories are mandated to abolish the death penalty and ensure it will not be reimposed.
"We will be losing our preeminent leadership in the ASEAN and Asian regions, wherein we have been acknowledged as leader of advocating the promotion of human rights and the abolition of the death penalty," he said.
He added that the Philippines stands to lose tariff-free exports to country-members of the European Union, "where the only condition is we abide by the tenets of human rights."
There are other reasons or grounds, but we will be ventillating these during the debates. All of these reasons are all compelling reasons why the death penalty should not be reimposed," said Lagman.
Source: rappler.com, January 31, 2017
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