Death penalty bill hurdles 2nd reading in House

MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – An overwhelming majority in the House of Representatives approved by viva voce on 2nd reading the controversial death penalty measure on Wednesday, March 1.

With House Bill (HB) Number 4727 hurdling 2nd reading, the measure will only need to go through the 3rd and final reading before it is transmitted to the Senate.

Prior to the vote, congressmen allotted two hours for the period of amendments.

It was during this time that Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman tried to amend all lines imposing the penalty of "reclusio perpetua (or life imprisonment) to death" with "reclusion temporal (12 to 20 years in prison) to reclusio perpetua."

But House justice panel chairperson and bill sponsor Reynaldo Umali rejected all of Lagman's proposals. When Lagman appealed to the rest of the House to reconsider Umali's decision, the opposition lawmaker lost the appeal through viva voce voting.

At past 7 pm, Lagman called for a second roll call. Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas agreed, but also said he would already close the period of amendments.

"It’s been apparent that what they’re doing here is not to introduce honest to goodness amendments. If this will go on and now they are invoking a roll call, I will join and I will move to call the roll. After that, I will move to close the period of amendments," said Fariñas. 

Ten minutes after 227 lawmakers responded to the roll call, Deputy Majority Floor Leader Juan Pablo Bondoc moved to terminate the period of amendments.

Deputy Speaker Raneo Abu accepted the motion despite Lagman repeatedly saying, "Mr Speaker! Mr Speaker!" over the microphone.

One minute after the House officially closed the period of amendments, they also approved HB 4727 on second reading.

The lawmakers approved the bill on the same day the predominantly Catholic Philippines commemorated Ash Wednesday, the start of the Lenten season.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has denounced the House's move to restore capital punishment in the country, saying "no person is beyond redemption."

The House is composed mostly of allies of President Rodrigo Duterte, who prioritizes the reimposition of the death penalty bill.

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez earlier warned he would strip House leaders of their titles if they voted against the Duterte admnistration's priority measure. (READ: Death penalty bill fallout: Alvarez says Arroyo to be replaced as deputy speaker

The approved versions of HB 4727 seeks to give judges the option to punish perpetrators of the following drug offenses with either life imprisonment or death:

The bill also allows the death penalty to be carried out either by hanging, firing squad, or lethal injection.

The approved bill is a watered-down version as the original measure covered 21 crimes, including plunder, rape, and treason. The majority bloc agreed to remove the other 13 offenses following several caucuses in February.  

Not the time?

Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin says he is dismayed at the turn of events at the plenary.

"Dapat dumaan din sa nominal voting (It should have passed through nominal voting) because the 2nd reading is very important eh. Because many could have had objections on certain sections and they can raise those objections before the final vote sa (in the) 3rd reading," said Villarin.

But for Umali, all congressmen will get their chance to explain their vote next week, when the bill goes through 3rd and final reading.

"This is not the time. There will be 3rd reading, and nominal voting will be had on the 3rd reading, which will be on Wednesday next week. So you will not be deprived of all of the things that you want to know now because now is not the time," he said.

But Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said on Thursday, March 2 that the 3rd reading vote will be set on March 7.

Roadblock at the Senate

The bill is good as approved in the lower chamber. The second reading is the most difficult part of the legislative process and the vote is rarely overturned in the 3rd and final voting stage.

But the death penalty bill is expected to face a tough challenge in the Senate, where its critics have been vocal. To push for its passage, pro-death penalty senators are pushing to limit the punishment to only high-level drug trafficking.

The Philippines was the first Asian country to abolish the death penalty under the 1987 Constitution, but it was reimposed during the administration of former president Fidel Ramos to address the rising crime rate.

Capital punishment was eventually abolished in 2006, under the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Now a Pampanga Representative, Arroyo is still against the reimposition of the death penalty. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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