MANILA, Philippines – The House of Representatives is expected to pass on 2nd reading the controversial death penalty bill on Ash Wednesday, March 1, the day the predominantly Catholic Philippines marks the start of Lent.
On Tuesday, lawmakers approved amendments to House Bill (HB) Number 4727, which seeks to reimpose the death penalty for several drug-related crimes.
Should the 2nd reading vote push through on Wednesday, HB 4727 needs to go through the 3rd and final reading approval before the House transmits the measure to the Senate.
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."
Congressmen agreed to give judges the option to punish perpetrators of heinous crimes with either life imprisonment or death.
Safeguard measures have also been added for the accused, the pro-death penalty lawmakers said, such as furnishing copies of information involving any offense punishable by death to the Commission on Human Rights, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, and other religious and civic organizations.
The Public Attorney's Office will also be mandated to only assign senior lawyers to those accused of crimes punishable by death.
Lawmakers removed rape, plunder, and treason from crimes covered under the bill and only retained the following drug offenses:
Critics of HB 4727 accused lawmakers of trying to save their own skins by removing plunder from the measure, since several incumbent lawmakers are facing plunder complaints. (READ: Plunder cases in the Philippines: Was anyone punished?)
Bill principal co-author and Deputy Speaker Fredenil Castro reasoned that when he and Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez wrote their version of the measure, plunder was included, along with 20 other crimes.
"But it so happened that there is a concession that if we are going to remove other crimes, we might as well remove the rest and only leave the crime related to drugs so that we could expedite the approval in support of the President's program or war against drugs. There is nothing wrong with that," said Castro.
"[This is so] because...we are not prevented from amending the law to include other crimes. What is only important at this point in time is to hasten the approval of drug-related cases that we love to be punished by death because we want to support the programs of the government in its war against drugs," he added.
Opposition lawmakers have repeatedly accused the House leadership of rushing the passage of HB 4727 just because it is a legislative priority of President Rodrigo Duterte. (READ: Lagman on death penalty amendments: House leaders ignoring rules)