‘Thieves reform, but a killer is a killer’
A thief has a better chance at reformation than a killer.
This was how Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali defended the exclusion of plunder from the list of crimes punishable by death through lethal injection, firing squad, or hanging under a bill seeking the revival of the death penalty.
“There is a bigger chance that a person would change when the issue is just money. But if you kill, you commit a heinous crime. That’s different. It’s like you’ve already lost your mind,” Umali said in a radio interview on Sunday.
The chair of the House committee on justice said many had been blinded by money, “which is truly evil … but once you’ve sobered up, I think you can change.”
Umali said he was not diminishing plunder as a crime, acknowledging that it remained a grave offense.
Plunder is in a different category compared to a heinous crime like murder where a victim is decapitated. “It’s the gravity of the offense,” Umali said.
The House of Representatives is holding plenary debates on the reimposition of the death penalty, a priority measure of President Duterte who believes that death is the only solution to the drug menace.
More than 7,000 impoverished drug suspects have been killed since Mr. Duterte waged his bloody campaign against drugs seven months ago. Police authorities attribute most of the deaths to vigilante killings.
Palace keeps distance
Opinion surveys have shown that Mr. Duterte’s campaign has the overwhelming support of respondents.
“If we liked the Duterte administration, I think we should continue with such kind of a leadership that is ballsy so that there would be fear among the people,” Umali said.
Malacañang on Sunday distanced itself from moves in the House to scratch plunder from criminal offenses punishable by death.
Plunder, or the unlawful amassing of least P50 million in public funds, is currently regarded a heinous crime which warrants life imprisonment. Most of those convicted and charged with the crime are politicians.
Besides his pledge to eliminate the drug problem, Mr. Duterte has also promised to end corruption.
Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said it would be best to let the 293 House members finish their deliberations.
“We respect their independence and we will wait for the final decision of the House,” Andanar told state radio DZRB.
“This is an issue of the House. We know that the House is independent when it comes to revisiting our Constitution … I would like to express that we … respect their independence,” he said.
“They have different opinions in the Congress. And I am certain that there will be a very exciting and fruitful debate in the Senate which the people should expect.”
Andanar declined comment on reported moves to unseat House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, the Davao del Norte representative and Mr. Duterte’s close friend.
He said Alvarez’s unyielding stance on the passage of the death penalty bill was due to his “dedication and belief in the President’s policies.”
“I think Speaker Alvarez is just standing his ground because we know that President Duterte and Speaker Alvarez think along the same line in terms of policies,” he said.
On Sunday, Alvarez said congressmen could exercise a conscience vote on the death penalty bill but they should be prepared to suffer the consequences, such as losing committee chairmanships and even House leadership posts.
House leadership roles should be left to people who “truly support” Mr. Duterte, Alvarez said in another radio interview. —REPORTS FROM NIKKO DIZON AND MARLON RAMOS