Democracy ‘killed’ in railroading of death penalty, say solons
Democracy was the first casualty of the death penalty.
This was the sentiment of anti-death penalty lawmakers on Thursday after the House of Representatives leadership railroaded the bill reimposing capital punishment when it closed the plenary debates.
In a press conference at the House of Representatives, Northern Samar Rep. Raul Daza said the House leadership “killed democracy” when it moved to close early the period of sponsorships and debate, and approved the amendments to the bill during the session Wednesday night.
Daza attended last night’s session and opposed the move to close the debate, citing Section 54 of Rule X of the House Rules.
Daza then said closing the debates was improper because the rule allows for the traditional turno en contra wherein speeches for and against a measure are made.
Daza said that interpellations do not fall under speeches because the questions propounded may be adversarial or friendly.
In a statement, Act Teachers representative France Castro said democracy was killed in yesterday’s railroading
“It was disappointing for me, as a neophyte legislator, to witness democracy as the first in line on this administration’s death row,” Castro said.
Act Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio also slammed the House leadership’s “blatant disrespect” toward other lawmakers who would wish to interpellate the bill under second reading.
“This is a blatant disrespect to the long list of legislators who lined up to register their constituents’ views on the matter,” Tinio said in a statement.
“It is definitely unacceptable to railroad the passage of the death penalty bill because for burning issues such as this, congressional deliberations are not just for its members alone—they are also for the people. Due to the utmost seriousness of the proposal and the public nature of our sessions, Congress owes it to the Filipino people to conscientiously discuss the issue at hand,” he added.
Castro said the railroading shows that the House leadership is willing to bend its own rules to railroad the bill.
“This railroading reveals that they are willing to bend their own rules just to stifle the important debate. We were about to demonstrate why the proposal violates not just international law but our very own Constitution, and why it is anti-poor, historically a tool of state repression, prone to abuse and definitely not an effective deterrent to criminality,” Castro said.
Opposition figure Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said the 17 lawmakers who are still listed to interpellate the sponsors of the bill “have been rammed down in the wake of the House leadership’s railroading of House Bill No. 4727 seeking the reimposition of capital punishment.”
“The gagging or muzzling of legislators is anathema to a democratic institution,” Lagman said in a statement.
Lagman also branded as invalid the amendments to the death penalty bill as crafted by the majority leader.
Lagman said the substitute bill was “improper and invalid” because these amendments were not approved by the House justice committee in a meeting called for that purpose.
“Whether the death penalty bill will be sent to the gallows or will be sanctified as an act of the House may be seen next week as the train of death accelerates its speed towards an ominous terminal,” Lagman said.
For his part, Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat called for another “people power” to express indignation against the House leadership’s railroading of the restoration of the death penalty.
“People power may not necessarily mean these days as going to EDSA but standing up for what is right and the right to express it. If it is the position of the Congressmen to vote against the proposed measure, then they must have the free will to carry that vote next week and not be treated as puppets,” Baguilat said.
He lamented the seeming “specter of martial law” in Congress led by President Rodrigo Duterte’s right hand man, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.
“Because of pressure from the Speaker and house leaders, those who are voting ‘no’ because of their personal convictions based on their faith and ideological persuasions are now being forced to toe the administration line,” said Baguilat.
“It is like martial law, legislation no longer becomes a deliberative process,” he added.
On Wednesday evening, the House of Representatives closed the period of plenary debate on the bill reimposing the death penalty less than a month after it reached the plenary.
Lawmakers managed to railroad the bill by voice voting despite opposition from anti-death penalty lawmakers Lagman, Daza and Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza.
Deputy majority leader Pampanga Rep. Juan Pablo Bondoc signaled to the presiding Deputy Speaker Aambis Owa Rep. Sharon Garin to bang the gavel in voting by voice to approve the amendments to the bill, while ignoring the opposition of other lawmakers.
The amendments to the bill came in the form of amendments by the majority leader Rudy Farinas.
The bill reached the plenary only on Feb. 1, and was subjected to sponsorship and debate for not more than 10 session days.
There were only seven lawmakers who interpellated the bill that spanned five to six days.
After the lawmakers voted to approve the amendments by the majority leader, session adjourned, signaling the period of individual amendments next week, when members would be allowed to propose and vote on the amendments to the bill during session.
Lagman said the vote was out of order because the justice committee has not met to approve the amendments.
“These so called amendments are improper, invalid and possibly illegal because they do not have the concurrence of the committee on justice, which did not hold a meeting,” Lagman said.
Lagman appealed to members to allow for more time to debate on the bill.
“We should not be railroading this important measure, although it’s a retrogressive bill, because the hallmark of a deliberative assembly like this honorable chamber, to give free rein to extensive debates so that differing positions can be heard,” Lagman said.
But his plea fell on deaf ears.
The plenary voted to approve the motion to close the period of sponsorship and debate, and to approve the amendments by the majority leader, paving the way for the period of individual amendments.
Only after the bill is amended during session can it be approved under second reading.
The bill will then proceed to third reading approval once calendared again on the floor, where lawmakers would be allowed to explain their vote under nominal voting.
In Fariñas’ amendments, the death penalty will be limited to treason, rape with homicide, rape of a minor, rape committed by law enforcement officer, plunder, and drug-related offenses (except possession of drugs, which is punishable with life imprisonment).
Fariñas’ amendments also include a provision allowing church officials and civic rights groups to assist a person accused of a heinous crime.
Under the amended bill, a fiscal or prosecutor would furnish copies of the charge sheet to the Commission on Human Rights, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, the Free Legal Assistance Group, and all religious groups.
This would enable these groups to monitor all death penalty cases.
The amended bill would also require the Public Attorney’s Office and the Office of the Solicitor General to assign senior lawyers in handling the automatic review of appealed cases involving death penalty. JE/rga
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