Solons torn between death penalty and international treaty
Lawmakers are split on whether or not the Philippines is bound by its international treaty obligations not to impose death penalty on heinous crimes.
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez for one said the country should not be bound by international treaties because any state agreement is subservient to the 1987 Constitution, which allows Congress to reimpose death penalty.
Alvarez said any international treaty cannot amend the Charter that allows Congress to restore capital punishment.
“Yun na nga ang sinasabi ko, kahit na anong treaty yun, it cannot amend the Constitution na nagsasabi na pwede ang death penalty dito sa Pilipinas,” Alvarez said in an ambush interview.
(That’s what I’ve been saying, that whatever the treaty it is, it cannot amend the Constitution that says death penalty is allowed here in the Philippines.)
He made the statement following a gridlock in the Senate deliberations on the death penalty that centered on the country’s treaty obligation not to reimpose the death penalty under the Second Optional Protocol to the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.
Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, who chairs the House justice committee that deliberated on the death penalty, said the international treaty may be amended or rescinded just like any other law.
Umali said the proposed bill in Congress on death penalty may include a provision rescinding or amending the international treaty, which is considered part of the law of the land.
“It’s just like any other law, a law can be amended, depending on the policies of government. I don’t think there’s any prohibition for the Philippine government to change its policies, especially on matters like death penalty, when the situation like the criminality and drug problem is getting worse,” Umali said.
He said he could not fathom why the Senate cannot pass the death penalty only because of the country’s obligations to the ICCPR.
“While we are bound by treaties and it’s just part of the law of the land, like any other law, it can be amended. I don’t know where the Senate is coming from,” he said.
Umali added that the international treaty cannot stop the country from imposing the death penalty in a bid to resolve criminality.
“It’s a necessary consequence of a law that will pass, that will supersede whatever the treaty states. It’s not a precondition for us to adopt any new policy that we feel beset our country…I don’t know what’s in the mind of our senators that government cannot act simply because of a treaty,” he said.
In a press conference by the minority bloc, Kabayan Rep. Harry Roque said the country’s Supreme Court had ruled that the Philippines must comply with its international obligations not to reimpose death penalty, as mandated by the 1987 Constitution, even though the Charter allows Congress to reimpose the capital punishment.
“The court said when there is an international arbitration, we must comply with it even if it infringes on the Constitution,” said Roque, an international lawyer.
He added that the Constitution states that all international treaties must be complied with as part of the law of the land and that the ICCPR also states that a country cannot withdraw from its treaty obligations.
“The Constitution itself says that treaty obligation must be complied with in good faith,” Roque said.
Alvarez earlier said the ruling political party Partido Demokratikong Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) will come up with a party stand on the death penalty. He also called on deputy speakers and committee chairpersons to relinquish their posts if they do not vote for the bill.
The House leadership is forcing a vote on the death penalty following a gridlock in the Senate.
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 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 former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-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.
Alvarez’s bill sought to reimpose the death penalty on heinous crimes listed under Republic Act 7659, including murder, plunder, rape, kidnapping and serious illegal detention, sale, use and possession of illegal drugs, carnapping with homicide, among others.
In the bill he co-authored with Deputy Speaker Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro, Alvarez said there is a need to reimpose the death penalty because “the national crime rate has grown to such alarming proportions requiring an all-out offensive against all forms of felonious acts.”
“Philippine society is left with no option but to deal with certain grievous offenders in a manner commensurate to the gravity, perversity, atrociousness and repugnance of their crimes,” according to the bill.
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
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