Passage of death penalty, criminal liability age bills eyed in June

MANILA, Philippines – House justice committee chairperson Reynaldo Umali said he is hoping the measures that would reimpose the death penalty and lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility would be passed on 3rd and final reading by June. 

"My personal target is for the death penalty bill to be passed by the end of the first regular session… I don't know if this has already moved in the Senate, but this will probably coincide with the action of the Senate on the matter," said Umali in a mix of English and Filipino during a press conference on Monday, January 16. 

Last December, his panel already approved the bill seeking to bring back capital punishment for 21 heinous crimes in the Philippines. (READ: 'Change of heart': Umali supports death penalty due to drug use in PH

Umali is hoping to sponsor the measure on 2nd reading soon to finally begin the House debates on the death penalty.  

"But this is on top of our priority because of the priority given by no less than the President (Rodrigo Duterte) on the matter and of course the Speaker of the House (Pantaleon Alvarez) and the rules committee. This is what kept me busy for quite some time now, preparing for the [bill's] sponsorship on 2nd reading before the plenary," said the lawmaker.  

Likewise, Umali said he wants the bill aiming to lower the minimum age of criminal liability from 15 to 9 years old be passed on 3rd and final reading before Congress adjourns its first regular session on June 3. 

"This is why we created subcommittees – to hear these simultaneously so we can propose outputs simultaneously in time of the presentation and approval before the end of session of Congress," he said.

The two measures, both part of Duterte's legislative agenda, have been strongly criticized by pro-life and pro-children's rights advocates.  

Some have argued that if both bills become laws, the country might end up sentencing a youth offender to death in the future. Umali allayed this fear, saying the provisions in the said bills are still subject to changes. (READ: Umali: Expect 'compromises' in death penalty bill after House debates)

"Well, to my recollection, when you lower the juvenile age, merong (there is) corresponding rehabilitation or 'yung (the) penalty is not necessarily like they will be jailed together with hardened criminals. Sabi ko nga nag-e-evolve pa ito. 'Di pa natin masabi how it will be (Like I said, these are still evolving. We can't say yet how it will be)," he said.

Umali then urged the public to continue voicing out their concerns on the two measures so his committee members may consider these issues. 

"Hopefully, we can come up with a more acceptable version that will pass the whole of Congress, including the Senate. Please continue raising these issues so that the members of my committee will be reminded of things we need to consider in voting for or against the measure," he said. – 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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