Death for drug convicts: House passes bill on final reading

APPROVED. The death penalty bill breezes through the House of Representatives on March 7, 2017. File photos by Rappler

APPROVED. The death penalty bill breezes through the House of Representatives on March 7, 2017.

File photos by Rappler

MANILA, Philippines (4th UPDATE) – It was a numbers game until the end.

The House of Representatives approved on 3rd and final reading the controversial death penalty measure – House Bill (HB) Number 4727 – on Tuesday evening, March 7. 

A total of 217 lawmakers voted in favor of the measure while 54 voted against it and 1 abstained. A total of 272 out of 293 congressmen were present in the voting. 21 lawmakers were absent. (READ: LIST: How congressmen and women voted on the death penalty bill)

The bill seeks to allow judges to punish perpetrators of the following drug-related crimes with either life imprisonment or death: 

The bill will not impose the death penalty on guilty persons below 18 years old or more than 70 years old when the crime was committed.

HB 4727 also allows the execution to be done either through hanging, firing squad, or lethal injection.

Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella hailed the House's approval of the measure, saying it will help in the war on drugs.

"The restoration of capital punishment underlines the Duterte administration's goal to reduce illegal drug-related criminality," said Abella in a statement. "The death penalty, with its strong deterrent effects, protects innocent lives. At the same time, its punitive aspect ensures that criminals recompense grievous loss."

Not a surprising outcome

The passage of the bill at the House is expected, given President Rodrigo Duterte's alliance with at least 267 congressmen in the majority bloc. Duterte believes the capital punishment is retribution for the victims of heinous crimes.

All of the political parties in the House – Lakas-CMD, Liberal Party, Nacionalista Party, Nationalist People's Coalition, and National Unity Party – as well as the party-list coalition have signed coalition agreements with Duterte's Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban).

Bill sponsor and House justice panel chairperson Reynaldo Umali is "elated by the turnout.

"Alam mo ito, boses ng tao ito eh... Siyempre I feel elated. I feel that my colleagues supported us. It was a, you know, a difficult ordeal that we went through, pero 'yung pinagdaanan naman namin are clearly dilatory," said Umali.

(You know, this is the voice of the people. Of course I feel elated. I feel that my colleauges supported us. It was, you know, a difficult ordeal that we went through, but some of the obstacles we had to face were clearly dilatory.)

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said all House leaders belonging to these parties who either voted against HB 4727, abstained from voting, or were absent from the proceedings will be replaced.  

They can, however, opt to remain in the majority bloc should they wish to stay.

Battle goes on

Opposition lawmaker and Albay 1st District Edcel Lagman said they will continue the fight beyond the House.

"We will continue our advocacy before the people, before the public, and we will relate with the Senate and hopefully, we will be able to help in the objection of that bill in the Senate," said Lagman.

"If unfortunately the bill becomes a law, then we will immediately challenge the constitutionality of the death penalty law, the reimposition, and revival of the death penalty before the highest court," he added. (READ: Approving death penalty is 'blood on our hands' – lawmakers)

After HB 4727’s approval on 3rd and final reading at the House, the measure will be transmitted to the Senate for another 3 readings. 

The bill is expected to be challenged in the upper chamber, with Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III saying the vote could go either way. (READ: Pimentel on death penalty: 'Close fight' in the Senate)

To push for the capital punishment measure's passage, pro-death penalty senators are considering to limit the punishment to only high-level drug trafficking.

"We trust the bill will also be passed in the Senate considering that it is a vital tool in the Duterte administration's war on drugs and criminality," said Abella. – 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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