MANILA, Philippines – Long at odds over the issue of human rights, newly-elected Senator Leila De Lima is not backing down from President Rodrigo Duterte's call to revive the death penalty, even if she is part of the majority bloc.
In fact, De Lima is set to file a bill countering death penalty.
"I will be filing soon a qualified reclusion perpetua bill which is sort of an alternative bill, an 'antidote' to death penalty," De Lima told Rappler.
The neophyte senator said the penalty of "qualified reclusion perpetua" would be imposed for the "most heinous crimes," which she and her team are threshing out at present. De Lima said it is "graver" than the current reclusion perpetua but gave no details.
Reclusion perpetua is a penalty for a crime committed under the Revised Penal Code. It mandates the imprisonment of a convict from 20 to 40 years.
De Lima said she hopes her bill would be acceptable to pro-death penalty movers, as it would serve the purposes of retribution.
De Lima vs Duterte?
It will not be an easy fight for the senator. She herself knows this, as it is a fight against the major plans of the highest official of the land.
But De Lima maintained she would work hard to stop the reimposition of the death penalty. She intends to partner with other anti-death penalty advocates here and abroad.
"It will again be a tough battle but we just have to persevere and stand firm," she said.
With these moves against Duterte's proposal and the history between the two, it is not far-fetched that De Lima would be accused of being anti-administration.
De Lima said, however, that she would remain with the Senate majority, with her other partymates in the Liberal Party. If the present talks in the chamber push through, she would be the chairperson of the Senate committees on justice and human rights and on electoral reforms.
The senator added that labels are hardly an issue. She reiterated that she is supportive of the anti-crime and anti-corruption drive of the Duterte administration but not without prioritizing the Constitution over anything else.
"I'm not really concerned about labeling. Just being true to my principles and advocacies," she said.
What she plans to do, De Lima said, is to strike a balance between the two.
"I need to do a lot of balancing act between those twin roles. I am in full support [of] this administration's fight vs criminality [and] drugs, but will continue to defend our Bill of Rights," the senator said.
Duterte and De Lima have long been on opposing sides. In 2014, she had expressed outrage over Duterte's statements that he was ready to kill alleged smuggler Davidson Bangayan.
During De Lima's watch, the Department of Justice (DOJ) launched an investigation into Duterte's alleged involvement in the Davao Death Squad.
The DOJ stopped the probe in May due to the unwillingness of the sole witness to participate after Duterte won in the presidential elections.
De Lima's stance earned the ire of Duterte, who threatened to file charges against her for failing to stop drug peddling at the New Bilibid Prison under the DOJ.