Congress hit for plan to remove plunder from death penalty bill
The House of Representatives is looking at removing plunder from the list of heinous crimes punishable with death.
Some members of the majority share this position, although Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez maintained that plunder is still punishable with death under the law.
Plunder has been used to detain high-profile public officials for allegedly amassing through conspiracy and overt acts at least P50 million ill-gotten wealth from state coffers.
Known personalities detained for plunder are former President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (who was later released) and the three pork barrel scam suspects former senators Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile (the latter was allowed to post bail due to humanitarian considerations).
In a press conference on Thursday, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said it was the majority’s agreement to remove plunder from the list of heinous crimes under the House Bill 4727 or the death penalty bill.
Zarate, who opposes the death penalty, said the law or Republic Act 7080 as amended punishes plunder with life imprisonment, especially after the Republic Act 9346 was passed in 2006 repealing all laws imposing death penalty.
He said plunder may be removed from the list of heinous crimes in the death penalty bill, effectively making plunder a serious capital offense only punishable with life imprisonment.
“As it is now, it is punishable by life imprisonment. It’s still capital offense. But by definition, only those defined as heinous are punishable with reclusion perpetua to death,” Zarate said.
Zarate said there is a “conflict of interest” for Congress to remove plunder as a heinous crime.
“It will be favorable to the plunderers,” Zarate said of the non-bailable offense against public officials earning kickbacks from state coffers.
For his part, Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, who chairs the House justice committee, said by removing plunder from the list of heinous crimes, it would retain the penalties for plunder under the plunder law, or Republic Act 7080 as amended by Republic Act 7659.
Under the law, plunder is defined as the criminal act of “amass(ing) accumulat(ing) or acquir(ing) ill-gotten wealth through a combination or series of overt or criminal acts… in the aggregate amount or total value of at least P50 million.”
“There is no need to amend the existing law because plunder itself is reclusion perpetua… Since it’s already reclusion perpetua, considering that this is already the penalty, it’s as if there is no amendment,” Umali said.
Umali said plunder as a criminal offense is not as heinous as crimes to life such as murder, kidnapping and rape.
“Plunder is a crime, but involves more the money, than individuals or persons,” Umali said.
Although the plunder law states that the offense is punishable with life imprisonment to death, the penalty of death was abolished for all heinous crimes (including plunder) after Arroyo in 2006 signed Republic Act 9346 repealing all laws imposing death penalty.
Plunder was first included in the list of heinous crimes under Republic Act 7659 that imposed death penalty on heinous crimes.
Zarate and Umali took a different position from primary death penalty author Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, who maintained that plunder was no longer included in the death penalty bill because the law already imposes life imprisonment to death.
Alvarez maintained that plunder is already punishable with death under the existing law.
“Mayroon nang special law on plunder. Ngayon ang sabi nga noong ano, noong ibang mambabatas, as it is, talagang ano na yun, life imprisonment,” Alvarez said in an interview with DZRH.
(There is already a special law on plunder. Some lawmakers want to tackle it. But as of now, it is already punishable with life imprisonment.)
“Ngayon, pupuwede kasi nating isama yun, wala namang problema. Pagkatapos magdebate doon sa plenaryo at kung nais nilang isama, ay isasama natin iyan. Ngayon, sa kasalukuyan, talagang as it is, capital na po ang nakapataw doon,” he added.
(We could include it in the list of heinous crimes, there’s no problem with that. After the plenary debate and if the congressmen want to include it, we would do so. Now, as it is, it still capital offense.)
Alvarez said the death penalty bill is targeted for approval in the lower House in March.
Death no longer mandatory
Alvarez earlier said the proposed reimposition of death penalty in Congress would no longer make capital punishment mandatory, giving the judges or justices the option to impose life imprisonment on heinous crimes.
The House leadership is forcing a vote on the death penalty following a gridlock in the Senate.
Alvarez said the ruling political party Partido Demokratikong Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) will come up with a party stand on the death penalty. At least 100 of the 290-strong chamber are from the PDP-Laban.
He also called on deputy speakers and committee chairpersons to relinquish their posts if they do not vote for the bill.
READ: House leadership forces vote on death penalty | Anti-death penalty Arroyo has to go as deputy speaker – Alvarez
At least nine of the 24 senators have expressed opposition to the death penalty as the Senate started its committee deliberations on the restoration of capital punishment.
Meanwhile, 10 are pro-death penalty, while four are pushing for capital punishment only on drug-related cases.
The Senate deliberations centered on the country’s obligations to the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which under the Second Optional Protocol states that “Each State Party shall take all necessary measures to abolish the death penalty within its jurisdiction.”
House Bill 4727 restoring death penalty is seen to be a priority legislation in the House of Representatives.
The bill seeks to impose death penalty on more than 20 heinous offenses, such as rape with homicide, kidnapping for ransom and arson with death.
Alvarez, President Rodrigo Duterte’s staunch ally in Congress, was among the authors of the bill seeking to reimpose the death penalty after Arroyo abolished capital punishment in 2006 for its failure to deter crime.
Alvarez filed the bill pursuant to Duterte’s campaign promise of returning capital punishment against heinous criminals.
According to the original version of the bill, the following are punishable by death under the Revised Penal Code: treason, qualified piracy, qualified bribery, parricide, murder, infanticide, rape, kidnapping and serious illegal detention, robbery with homicide, rape, intentional mutilation or arson and destructive arson.
The following offenses under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act are also punishable with death: importation; sale, trading, administration, dispensation, delivery, distribution and transportation; maintenance of a den, dive or resort; manufacture; possession of certain quantities of dangerous drugs; cultivation; unlawful prescription; misappropriation or failure to account confiscated, seized or surrendered dangerous drugs; and planting of evidence.
Carnapping is also a criminal offense punishable with death under the Anti-Carnapping Act or Republic Act 6539.
Duterte won the elections on a campaign promise to restore the death penalty by hanging, even making a snide remark that the convict’s head should be severed by hanging. Alvarez said Congress would look into the cheapest way for the death penalty, either by firing squad, lethal injection or by hanging. RAM/rga