Team Buhay vs Team Patay Round 2 in 17th Congress
(First of two parts)
Leyte Rep. Lucy Torres-Gomez, a former actress, takes pride in being a Marian devotee. The lawmaker, a head-turner in the plenary, portrayed the role of the Virgin Mary in the GMA show “Mga Mata ni Anghelita” in 2007.
Which was why it came as a surprise that the devout Catholic lawmaker voted for the bill seeking to reimpose the death penalty, a measure staunchly opposed by the Catholic Church.
In a text message, Gomez said she voted for the death penalty bill because it was limited to drug-related offenses, which she considered the root of all evil.
“We do not live for ourselves. All our actions have consequences. People who choose to engage in the illegal drug trade and promote dangerous drugs should be held accountable,” she said.
Approved on final reading by the House of Representatives on March 7 with 217 in favor, 54 against and 1 abstention, House Bill No. 4727 has been transmitted to the Senate for its own deliberations.
Duterte campaign promise
President Rodrigo Duterte has urged Congress to pass the bill to fulfill his campaign promise of restoring the death penalty.
Gomez said she believed capital punishment would be an effective deterrent to the proliferation of drugs in the country.
“Dangerous drugs threaten the very dignity of human life. It threatens human life. It destroys the family unit. There is nothing about it that promotes or protects life. The death penalty bill is a deterrent to the evil that is dangerous drugs,” she said.
Not too long ago, during the 15th Congress, Gomez was among the lawmakers who opposed another controversial measure— the reproductive health (RH) bill, which the Church staunchly opposed, too.
Against RH bill
Of the 217 representatives in the 17th Congress who voted for the death penalty bill, 18 were from the 15th Congress’ Team Buhay, who called themselves “prolife.”
It seems ironic that these prolife lawmakers like Gomez now support the bill seeking to reimpose the death sentence on drug convicts.
Team Buhay failed to derail the passage of the RH bill, which won the majority in Congress and duly signed into law by then President Benigno Aquino III in 2012.
The term was coined by the Church for lawmakers who were prolife because they opposed the mandatory distribution of condoms and contraceptives as provided for in the RH measure.
Consequently, Team Patay refers to the majority of lawmakers who supported the RH bill. The Church has opposed the RH law because, it claims, the law promotes abortion and prevents the creation of life.
The implementation of the RH law is now being challenged in the Supreme Court.
Comparing the lawmakers in the 15th Congress who were against the RH law and lawmakers who are for the death penalty bill yielded a matrix of 18 lawmakers, who ironically belongs to both camps at the same time—Team Buhay (life) and Team Patay (death), at least when it comes to the two measures.
Minority Leader Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez said he did not think his position against the RH bill had anything to do with his support for the death penalty measure. He is one of the authors of the death penalty bill.
Suarez said there was no connection between the two bills. “Your right to life is different from the punishment of death. Those are two different issues,” he said.
He said he opposed the RH bill because it may result in “negative” population growth that would lead to the elderly outnumbering the younger ones in the country, a dire situation in which countries like Singapore find themselves.
Suarez belied criticisms that the death penalty was antipoor, noting that there were convicts who had been executed though they came from well-off families.
But does he still consider himself prolife? “Up to now (‘yes’), but I am in favor of death penalty,” he said.
Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco, who also voted against the RH bill but was for the death penalty, cited a provision in the bill that drew him to support the measure.
According to Section 25 of HB 4727, a judge may impose life imprisonment to death on convicts who committed heinous crimes under the influence of drugs.
Tiangco said he considered this provision the most important because he was reminded of murders and rapes committed by persons high on illegal substance.
“What do you think is the right punishment to someone accused of raping and killing a minor under the influence of illegal drugs? In those cases, death penalty may not be deemed too harsh and unfair based on the Constitution,” Tiangco said in an e-mailed statement.
Death penalty or life
He said the death penalty bill would not even impose a mandatory death sentence, as it would allow the judge leeway whether to impose death penalty or life imprisonment, depending on the severity and heinousness of the crime.
Tiangco said his votes on the two controversial bills were based on his conscience, not on his party affiliation.
Tiangco does not have any committee positions or leadership posts—a privilege that Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has threatened to strip off lawmakers who would vote against the death penalty bill.
“I voted purely based on what I think is good for our country. I am an independent and not part of the majority. Therefore, there is no chairmanship or anything to be taken away from me,” Tiangco later said in a text message.
He said he was anti-RH because it was not for Congress “to decide whether a child should be born or not,” while at the same time he was for death penalty because “we have to protect the lives of the innocent, law-abiding citizens.”
Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles, a staunch ally of Mr. Duterte, said he opposed the RH measure because of its constitutional infirmities, the possible adverse effects of contraceptives on women, and the need to focus on healthcare and education instead of spending public funds on condoms and pills.
The death penalty bill is a “targeted approach toward the eradication of the supply of illegal drugs in our country,” Nograles said.
“They are two distinct bills,” he said.
He added that capital punishment was the only effective deterrent to the narcotics trade operated by drug lords even from behind bars, referring to the proliferation of drugs inside the New Bilibid Prison, which was investigated by the Lower House.
“With reports showing that ‘shabu’ is being manufactured inside the Bilibid compound, we feel that there can be no further deterrent other than death penalty, particularly for inmates in the national penitentiary who cannot be deterred from their continued manufacture of illegal drugs if they are already serving a life sentence. What’s another life sentence to them if they know they’re going to rot in jail?” Nograles said.
Other lawmakers who are both anti-RH bill and prodeath penalty are: Almonte, Jorge T.(Misamis Occidental, 1st district); Bataoil, Leopoldo N. (Pangasinan, 2nd district); Crisologo, Vincent “Bingbong” P. (Quezon City, 1st district); Cua, Dakila Carlo E. (Quirino, lone district); Durano, Ramon “Red” VI H. (Cebu, 5th district); Javier, Paolo Everardo S. (Antique, lone district) Nograles, Karlo Alexei B. (Davao City, 1st district); Rodriguez, Isidro Jr. S. (Rizal, 2nd district); Rodriguez, Maximo Jr. B. (Cagayan de Oro City, 2nd district); Salimbangon, Benhur L. (Cebu, 4th district); Tiangco; Ting, Randolph S. (Cagayan, 3rd district); Ty, Arnel U. (party-list LPGMA); Unabia, Peter (Misamis Oriental, 1st district); Unico, Renato Jr. J. (Camarines Norte, 1st district); and Yap, Arthur C. (Bohol, 3rd district).