MANILA, Philippines – Lawmakers from both the minority and independent minority blocks cautioned Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez against forcing administration allies to vote in favor of the death penalty bill.
Alvarez on Wednesday, February 8, said he would strip deputy speakers and committee chairpersons of their titles if they oppose the passage of House Bill (HB) Number 4727.
Senior Deputy Minority Leader and Buhay Representative Lito Atienza said Alvarez's threat will be detrimental to the majority bloc allied with President Rodrigo Duterte, who considers HB 4727 a priority bill. (READ: Alvarez urged: Don't insist on party vote on death penalty)
"If Speaker Alvarez is twisting the arms of these majority [lawmakers], then he's committing a very serious mistake in doing that because he is now trampling on the principles of each member of the majority," said Atienza, a staunch opposer of the capital punishment.
"And where would these all lead us to? Nobody can say. It could lead to the members of the majority to think twice in following their leader. Maybe we should go find another Speaker," he added.
Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat Jr said Alvarez seems to want an "authoritarian" Congress.
"If the Speaker does that, he risks losing the support of the political parties comprising the super coalition. Most of the parties have adopted a policy of conscience vote. But if the Speaker insists, then he wants Congress to become an authoritarian body, not a democratic one," said Baguilat.
Kabayan Representative Harry Roque, meanwhile, believes Alvarez's latest statement could drive several congressmen to rejoin the once-ruling Liberal Party (LP).
"This is not the right time to discuss the death penalty because it is very divisive. This gives the enemies of this administration the traction they need para mas makakuha ng mas malawakang suporta dito sa Kamara (to get stronger support here in the House)," said Roque.
"At the time na talaga namang tingin ko ang dilawan (At the time when I think the yellows) are trying to flex [their] muscles, it is the worst time for this death penalty. They are driving people to the arms of the Yellow Army… Do not drive away our numbers to the enemy," the lawmaker added.
Yellow is the color commonly associated with the LP, which has been repeatedly accused of plotting to oust Duterte. Party stalwarts, including Vice President Leni Robredo, have denied the allegations.
HB 4727 has now reached the plenary after House justice committee chairperson Reynaldo Umali sponsored it for 2nd reading on Tuesday, February 7. (READ: Return of death penalty will fix faulty justice system – lawmakers)