‘Plunder still in death penalty bill unless removed during amendments’
A deputy speaker in the House of Representatives on Monday said plunder is still included in the death penalty bill—for now.
During the “Ugnayan sa Batasan” press forum, South Cotabato Rep. Ferdinand Hernandez clarified reports that the criminal offense against public officials for pillaging at least P50 million in state coffers is no longer punishable with death.
Hernandez said as of now, plunder is listed in the bill as among those punishable with death.
This may only be removed from the list when the bill is tackled during the period of amendments in the plenary, Hernandez said.
“We are not yet in the process of amendment. We are still in consensus building. After plenary debate will come amendment, that’s the only time we will see whether somebody will propose to remove it or not,” Hernandez said.
“But as it is right now, it’s still included,” he added.
Hernandez said though that the majority caucus held last Wednesday voted to remove plunder from the death penalty bill.
The majority’s decision has been criticized as posing conflict of interest for lawmakers who wanted to soften the punishment against plunder, a criminal offense lodged against public officials who enrich themselves using their public offices.
“When we were discussing plunder, whether there was imposition of death penalty, they voted that it has to be retained. However, because of the consensus, majority wins. Medyo nanalo yung removal (The removal won),” Hernandez said.
Hernandez said even though the majority of lawmakers wanted to remove plunder from the death penalty bill, the leaders Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Majority Leader Ilocos Norte Rep. Rudy Fariñas wanted plunder to be punishable with death.
Hernandez also defended Alvarez from criticisms he was “arm-twisting” members of Congress into voting for the death penalty when the latter threatened to strip those opposing it of their committee posts and deputy speaker positions.
“The Speaker never spoke to us individually, or called anybody perceived that he won’t vote, to whom he had a particular warning. But in a situation like this, of course it calls for leadership,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez said the real deal whether or not to punish plunder with death will only be decided upon during the voting on plenary debates and amendment under second reading.
“Until somebody during the period of amendment will introduce amendment, it shall be removed. Or in the course of the debate, a lot of members will be convinced that it has to be included, then it will only show upon voting,” Hernandez said.
While some lawmakers claim the maximum penalty on plunder is lifetime imprisonment and not death, Alvarez claimed it is still punishable with death because the Plunder Law imposes capital punishment.
Plunder is defined in the law as the criminal act of “amass(ing) accumulat(ing) or acquir(ing) ill-gotten wealth through a combination or series of overt or criminal acts… in the aggregate amount or total value of at least P50 million,” punishable with reclusion perpetua to death, according to Republic Act 7080 as amended by Republic Act 7659.
But the penalty of death was abolished for all heinous crimes (including plunder) after former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2006 signed Republic Act 9346, which repealed all laws imposing the penalty of death.
Alvarez had said the proposed reimposition of death penalty in Congress would no longer make capital punishment mandatory, giving the judges or justices the option to impose life imprisonment on heinous crimes.
Meanwhile, the debates on death penalty faces a gridlock in the Senate as the lawmakers centered on the country’s obligations to the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (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.
According to the original version of the bill, the following are punishable with death under the Revised Penal Code—treason, qualified piracy, qualified bribery, parricide, murder, infanticide, rape, kidnapping and serious illegal detention, robbery with homicide, rape, intentional mutilation or arson and destructive arson.
Plunder is also punishable with reclusion perpetua to death according to the Republic Act 7080 or the plunder law as amended by Republic Act 7659.
The following offenses under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act are also punishable with death—importation; sale, trading, administration, dispensation, delivery, distribution and transportation; maintenance of a den, dive or resort; manufacture; possession of certain quantities of dangerous drugs; cultivation; unlawful prescription; misappropriation or failure to account confiscated, seized or surrendered dangerous drugs; and planting of evidence.
Carnapping is also a criminal offense punishable with death under the Anti-Carnapping Act or Republic Act 6539.
Justice committee chairperson, Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, said the House leadership is willing to reduce the list of crimes punishable under death only to the most heinous—drug trade and abuse, murder, kidnapping, carnapping and rape.
Umali said plunder is not as heinous a crime as those committed against persons and life. RAM
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