Death penalty bill to cover plunder anew
Plunder will be put back on the list of offenses under the bill seeking the reinstatement of the death penalty, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said on Tuesday, days after the House of Representatives was heavily criticized for excluding in the proposed measure a crime that largely involves officials stealing public funds.
“I will insist that [plunder] has to be included,” he said, backtracking on previous statements he and other House leaders had made.
The original House bill identified 21 major offenses punishable by death, including plunder, treason, qualified piracy, murder, rape, kidnapping and serious illegal detention, and dangerous drug offenses.
Last week, members of the Duterte-controlled supermajority held a caucus in which they agreed to reduce the number of crimes to make it acceptable to lawmakers who had misgivings about the bill.
Plunder is one of those to be delisted, according to Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, the justice committee chair who is defending the bill at the plenary debates.
Umali earlier said lawmakers wanted plunder removed from the list because this was “just a money matter” anyway.
Lawmakers in plunder raps
That decision made headlines and drew criticism on social media, with some questioning whether the lawmakers—being politicians—had an ulterior motive to protect themselves.
Three senators and a number of congressmen are currently facing plunder charges in connection with alleged misuse of their Priority Development Assistance Fund, or pork barrel, allocations meant to ease rural poverty.
The Supreme Court had declared the pork barrel system unconstitutional and had called on the prosecution of those who had benefited from it over the past several decades.
Asked for comment, the President’s chief legal counsel, Salvador Panelo, said: “When you deprive the constituents of the millions and billions of money that should be given to them, you’re killing them effectively. That’s a heinous crime, to my mind.”
In an interview with reporters, Alvarez clarified that there had been no final decision on the list of offenses under the death penalty bill.
He dismissed speculation that the bill was being “watered down” to make it more appealing to lawmakers who were having doubts about the death penalty.
Alvarez earlier warned his allies that they risked losing their deputy speakerships or committee chairmanships if they would vote against the priority measure.
The House leadership has set a self-imposed deadline of finishing the debate and voting on the measure by March.
But opposition lawmakers led by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman bewailed what they called an attempt by the House leadership to “intimidate, entice and gag” opponents of the death penalty bill.
In a press briefing, Lagman said it was a shame that the House leaders were bent on hastening the debate and forcing a vote on it.
“They are pursuing this target so much so that many aspects of the bill may not be discussed thoroughly. The freedom of members of the House to articulate their objections shall be limited,” he said.
“In the past Congresses, like when we were debating on the reimposition, there was no limitation with respect to the time consumed in the debate,” Lagman said. —WITH A REPORT FROM LEILA B. SALAVERRIA