Fariñas warns: Don't use quorum to delay death penalty debate

MANILA, Philippines – House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas warned congressmen opposing the reimposition of death penalty that if they continue questioning session attendance as a delaying tactic, the House leadership will terminate the debate on the capital punishment bill.

The Ilocos Norte 1st District Representative made the warning on Tuesday, February 7, the day House justice panel chairperson Reynaldo Umali is expected to sponsor House Bill (HB) Number 4727 for second reading.

Assistant Majority Floor Leader Cristina Roa-Puno made the motion for the plenary to continue considering the proposed death penalty bill.

But Buhay Representative Lito Atienza argued that they have yet to check the attendance for the day. The Rules of the House state that congressmen “shall not transact business without a quorum.”

Fariñas then said that the House leadership is already accommodating the 50 lawmakers who want to interpellate the sponsors of HB 4727.

"In fact, the leadership is accommodating the 50 by starting the debates already. But if they want to have strict quorum only to be able to discuss this, then we will not have enough time to accommodate all the 50," said Fariñas.

"I wish to cite to them our rule regarding debates. When it comes to debates on any matter, when 3 [in] favor have spoken and 3 anti or against have spoken, we can move to close the period of debates," he added.

Deputy Speaker Mylene Garcia-Albano then temporarily suspended the session for 25 minutes as more congressmen were urged to arrive at the plenary hall.

A total of 217 lawmakers were present, constituting a quorum.

Umali was then called to deliver his speech to sponsor the controversial death penalty bill.

No less than President Rodrigo Duterte is supporting the return of capital punishment, which he argued would be a way to exact payment for the victims of heinous crimes.

Umali said he is eyeing the passage of HB 4727 on 3rd and final reading by the end of the first regular session of the 17th Congress.

The Philippines was the first Asian country to abolish the death penalty under the 1987 Constitution. It was reimposed during the administration of former President Fidel Ramos to address the rising crime rate. It was eventually abolished in 2006, under the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. 

The Catholic Church, human rights groups, and some lawmakers have objected to the reimposition of capital punishment, saying it is not a deterrent to crime. – 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.