House Justice committee approves death penalty bill
The bill restoring the death penalty passed a major hurdle in the House of Representatives with its approval on Wednesday at the committee level, paving the way for the measure to be taken up on the plenary floor.
With its swift approval, the measure allowing courts to impose death as punishment for heinous crime — one of President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign promises — may be debated and possibly passed on third and final reading before Christmas.
By a 12-6 vote, with one abstention, the justice committee chaired by Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali approved the substitute bill consolidating several similar measures reimposing the capital punishment for more than 20 heinous offenses, including rape with homicide, kidnapping for ransom, and arson with death.
This followed a nearly three-hour long debate by lawmakers in favor of or opposed to the death penalty bill, one of the priority legislative agenda pushed by Mr. Duterte, along with measures lowering the age of criminal liability and switching to federalism.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman and Dinagat Rep. Kaka Bag-ao articulated spirited objections against the approval of bill, arguing that there were no compelling reasons to justify the reimposition of the death penalty bill.
But their arguments fell on deaf ears in the face of the majority.
Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso, a former Court of Appeals justice, said it was important to give courts the option to impose the penalty of death against the worst and most hardened criminals.
“If the one in front of you is Satan himself, at least give the government the option to kill the person. That’s Satan already,” he said.
Bag-ao begged to disagree with Veloso, saying most of those who would end up facing death as punishment for their offenses are ordinary people.
“It’s not Satan who would face the courts, but ordinary people, many of them among the poor,” she said.
She also cited Philippine Statistics Authority figures showing that the period when the death penalty was imposed did not indicate any decline in crime numbers. In fact, she said, the numbers showed there was more crime during the time capital punishment was in effect.
But Umali, the committee chair, later presented figures submitted by the Philippine National Police showing an opposite trend where criminality had started to rise after the death penalty was abolished.
Seeking to put an end to the debate, Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas noted that the framers of the 1987 Constitution, many of them devout Christians, had opted to keep the option of capital punishment.
“When they framed the Constitution, if they thought the death penalty was wrong, they should have abolished it in the first place. But what they did was set it aside. They said it could be revived if Congress wanted to,” he said.
He further noted that Mr. Duterte was elected by the Filipino people after he promised to reimpose the death penalty and to litter Manila Bay with the bodies of criminals.