Philippine House approves reinstating death penalty

Members of the Philippine Congress attending the third and final reading of the death penalty bill inside the House of the Representatives in Quezon city, metro Manila, Philippines.
Members of the Philippine Congress attending the third and final reading of the death penalty bill inside the House of the Representatives in Quezon city, metro Manila, Philippines.PHOTO: REUTERS

It was suspended in 2006; Bill has to be passed by Senate too

The Philippine House of Representatives approved on third and final reading a Bill to reinstate the death penalty, more than a decade after it was abolished.

Despite intense lobbying by the influential Roman Catholic church and human rights and pro-life groups, the proposal was passed yesterday 216 to 54, with one abstention, eight months after it was filed.

President Rodrigo Duterte pushed for the reinstatement to add even more teeth to his brutal war on the narcotics trade.

"The death penalty to me is retribution… You pay for what you did in this life," he said last year.

Under the House-approved Bill, so-called heinous crimes would be punishable by death. Those include some forms of rape and murder, as well as drug offences, including the import, sale, manufacture, delivery and distribution of narcotics.

Capital punishment would typically be carried out by hanging, firing squad or lethal injection.

The Philippines abolished capital punishment in 1987, shortly after dictator Ferdinand Marcos was ousted in a popular revolt. President Fidel Ramos reinstated it in 1993, citing "crime control". In 2006, President Gloria Arroyo, following a vote in Congress, suspended it.

Mrs Arroyo, now allied with Mr Duterte's party, voted against the Bill. So did Mrs Imelda Marcos.

The debate now moves to the Senate where legislators are expected to await a ruling by the Justice Department on whether it contravenes the country's commitment to international conventions.

But Justice Secretary, Mr Vitaliano Aguirre II, is a fraternity brother of Mr Duterte's, and is not expected to oppose the Act. Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, an ally of the president, is expecting a close fight. "I'm predicting maybe anywhere from 14 versus 10 or 10 versus 14 either way," he said.

The opposition Liberal Party, of former president Benigno Aquino, is already digging in. "We maintain that the death penalty is cruel, degrading, inhuman. We commit to stopping the death penalty in the Senate," Senator Francis Pangilinan, the party president, said.

At least nine senators have said they oppose capital punishment. The Senate has to pass its own Bill, that will then have to be reconciled with the one the House passed.

Once consolidated, it will be sent to Mr Duterte for his signature.

Senator Richard Gordon, chair of the Senate justice committee, said he would hold hearings on the Bill but the soonest he expects the debates to start is June. He added that if the committee can agree on a proposal, he will have one of the death penalty advocates in the Senate sponsor it. He mentioned, in particular, Mr Manny Pacquiao, a boxing champion and Christian preacher who believes death as punishment is sanctioned in biblical teachings.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 08, 2017, with the headline 'Philippine House approves reinstating death penalty'. Print Edition | Subscribe