Sotto, death penalty bill author, now thinking twice
Senate Majority Leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, author of a death penalty bill, said he is now “neutral” on proposals to revive capital punishment in the country, one of the main thrusts of the 17th Congress under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.
In an INQ&A interview on Tuesday night, Sotto said he was reconsidering his stand on the reinstatement of death penalty, adding that he filed a bill imposing such so lawmakers can discuss it on the Senate floor.
“I was the principal author of the reimposition of the death penalty for drug trafficking in the 9th Congress. Somewhere along the way, two or three years ago, I think I lost it. I think I was favoring more on not re-imposing the death penalty,” Sotto said.
“Meron akong nakitang mga nakulong na talagang inosente, parang nakakatakot. Then I also noticed, nakita ko rin sa mga research ko, kapag gusto mo talagang pahirapan, ikulong mo nang masama. Ikulong mo nang hirap na hirap, ‘di ba? Imbis na kapag pinatay mo, wala na eh, tapos na. But then again, medyo nag-iiba eh (I see innocent people in jails, it seems scary. Then I also noticed, based on my research, if you want to punish someone, make him suffer in prison. Unlike in killing someone, it would be the end. But then again, I’m now thinking twice). If you ask me now if I’m in favor of the death penalty or not, I filed the bill so we can discuss it. I still have to make up my mind,” he added.
Sotto sought the revival of the death penalty law in the country through lethal injection in 2014 through Senate Bill 2080, proposing to repeal Republic Act No. 9346 or “An act prohibiting the imposition of Death Penalty in the Philippines…”
In his debut privilege speech in the Senate, boxing icon Sen. Manny Pacquiao said he has filed Senate Bill No. 185 or “An act to impose the Death Penalty and increased penalties on certain heinous crimes involving dangerous drugs, amending for that purpose other special penal laws, and for other purposes.”
In the House of Representatives, the first bill filed under the new Congress by House Speaker and Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez also sought to reinstate death penalty on heinous crimes through lethal injection.
But despite his now neutral stance, Sotto maintained that he and majority of the senators will “most probably” be in favor of death penalty if it will be imposed only on high-level drug traffickers, whom he called obviously guilty and could not be innocent in any instance.
“Nasa neutral ako ngayon eh (I’m neutral now). Sometimes I’m convinced, sometimes I’m not. But if we’re specific with high-level drug trafficking, then I might, most probably I will be in favor. Kasi doon maliwanag ang guilty. Ang high-level drug lord maliwanag na guilty. There’s no such thing as inosenteng drug lord (Because they are obviously guilty. A high-level drug lord is obviously guilty. There’s no such thing as an innocent drug lord),” Sotto said.
“For example death penalty for only high-level drug trafficking like my bill, I think we will get a majority. But if we will include other crimes, baka medyo mahirapan tayo nang kaunti (we might have difficulty in passing it),” he added.
Asked about Senate dynamics and his colleagues’ stand, Sotto said the death penalty bills will still hurdle the Senate despite opposition from a handful of senators by “making use of parliamentary rules.”
“The death penalty bills were referred to the committee on justice, and secondarily to the committee on public order. So if the chairman of justice, Sen. [Leila] De Lima, and other members are against it, we may have the secondary committee come up with a committee report that is favorable for the bill,” said Sotto.
“It’s just a matter of using or making use of the parliamentary rules, parliamentary procedures, and the rules of the Senate, and we can still come up, I think, with necessary legislation… It will boil down to the debates,” he said.
Echoing the administration’s pronouncement to transfer high-profile drug lords to a “prison island,” the Senate Majority Leader said drug criminals should be segregated from other prisoners if the Senate fails to pass death penalty into law.
“If we do not pass the death penalty, we segregate high-level drug traffickers in a separate prison. No signal, no cellular sites,” he said.
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