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Opposition lawmakers in the House of Representatives on Tuesday scored the leadership’s plan to railroad the death penalty bill by bypassing the plenary debate and putting the bill to a vote next week.
In a press conference at the House of Representatives, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said a “train terminal has been installed menacingly in the plenary hall of the House of Representatives” due to the planned railroad of House Bill 4727 seeking to restore the death penalty on Feb. 28.
Lagman said the leadership led by Majority Leader Rodolfo “Rudy” Fariñas wanted to railroad the bill following opposition from lawmakers who constantly questioned the quorum during sessions in a bid to block the prompt passage of the bill.
“The advance voting was a reaction to the quorum calls of those objecting to the retrogressive measure,” Lagman said.
Lagman said the Lower House could not act on passing the death penalty bill on Feb. 28 if there is no quorum in the plenary.
“It is a puzzle why the House leadership gets peeved when the absence of a quorum is raised considering that under the Rules no business can be conducted in the absence of a quorum,” Lagman said.
Lagman said moving to adjourn the session due to absence of a quorum is permitted in the Rules of the House, under Article 75 of Rule XI as a legitimate parliamentary motion.
“It is the duty of the House leadership to maintain a quorum after the roll call is held in order to assure that the interpellations and debates would continue,” Lagman said.
Asked why the House leadership is rushing the passage of such a controversial measure just less than a month after it reached the plenary for debates, Lagman said the leadership is railroading the bill because it is not confident with its numbers to pass it.
“If they are acting this way, they don’t have the numbers,” Lagman said.
Lagman scored the leadership for rushing the bill while muzzling the opposition by putting a deadline for the plenary debates.
“They appear omnipotent. When we use the rules legitimately parang sila napipikon (it’s like they are the ones peeved). I cannot understand why we should rush the voting on this very important although retrogressive measure,” Lagman said.
Lagman said this is the first time in Congress’ history to stifle the brewing opposition on any legislation in the House of Representatives.
“This kind of muzzling has not happened before. This is a way of continuing the culture of violence because suppressing freedom of expression is a form of violence,” Lagman said.
For his part, Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin said the leadership is railroading the bill fearful that it would not be passed once President Rodrigo Duterte’s political capital erodes.
Duterte faces anew the issue of his involvement in death squads when he was Davao city mayor as divulged by his former right-hand man SPO3 Arturo Lascañas, who claimed Duterte ordered the death squad to kill criminals and his vocal critics, including broadcaster Jun Pala.
READ: Davao cop says Duterte ordered killings, DDS real | Duterte ordered killing of Jun Pala—confessed DDS leader
“Baka by the second year of the Duterte presidency, pabagsak yung political capital (Maybe by the second year of the Duterte presidency, his political capital would go down). That is the only pragmatic and political reason on why they want to rush this bill. Right to life cuts across sectors,” Villarin said.
On Monday, Fariñas said that the House majority agreed to limit the offenses punishable with death to drug-related offenses, plunder and treason.
He said that mere possession of illegal drugs has been removed from the drug-related offenses in the bill.
Accoding to the original version of the bill, the following are punishable with death under the Revised Penal Code—treason, qualified piracy, qualified bribery, parricide, murder, infanticide, rape, kidnapping and serious illegal detention, robbery with homicide, rape, intentional mutilation or arson and destructive arson.
The following offenses under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act are also punishable with death—importation; sale, trading, administration, dispensation, delivery, distribution and transportation; maintenance of a den, dive or resort; manufacture; possession of certain quantities of dangerous drugs; cultivation; unlawful prescription; misappropriation or failure to account confiscated, seized or surrendered dangerous drugs; and planting of evidence.
Carnapping is also a criminal offense punishable with death under the Anti-Carnapping Act or Republic Act 6539.
Plunder is also punishable with reclusion perpetua to death according to Republic Act 7080 or the plunder law as amended by Republic Act 7659.
Lawmakers initially wanted to remove plunder from death row, which garnered public backlash compelling Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to call for plunder as punishable with the death penalty.
Meanwhile, the death penalty bill in the Senate hit a gridlock after senators centered on the country’s obligations to the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which under the Second Optional Protocol states that “Each State Party shall take all necessary measures to abolish the death penalty within its jurisdiction.” RAM/rga
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