Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza on Thursday hailed reports that a bill reviving the death penalty is dead in the Senate
‘’If Senator Franklin Drilon’s claim is true, then that is very good news. We’ve always maintained that the death penalty is useless in fighting crime, it does not serve any purpose that is not already being served by the punishment of long-term imprisonment,” Atienza said in a statement.
“The certainty of capture and incarceration of criminal offenders is our best deterrence to other would-be felons,” according to the congressman, also House senior deputy minority leader.
Atienza was among those who fought hard against the passage of the death penalty bill in the House of Representatives, arguing forcefully that the extreme punishment is anti-poor and violates the sanctity of human life.
Voting 217 in favor, 54 against with a lone abstention on March 7, the House approved on final reading House Bill (HB) 4727, which would impose death sentences on drug-related offenses.
“Our sense is, even Senate President Aquilino Pimentel 3rd will likely vote against the death penalty in the event of a deadlock in the Senate,” Atienza said.
Pimentel’s father, former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel Jr., is a staunch human rights crusader, and vehemently opposed the death penalty during his time, he pointed out.
The younger Pimentel has repeatedly said the bill reinstating capital punishment is not among the Senate’s priority measures.
President Rodrigo Duterte has publicly said on several occasions that he intends to send hundreds of convicts to the gallows once Congress brings back death sentences.
“The death penalty is a travesty. Only indigent citizens inadequately represented at trial will receive death sentences. Wealthy defendants who are able to retain the best criminal defense lawyers will always escape conviction, or get the lesser punishment of life imprisonment,” Atienza said.
HB 4727 would give trial judges the leeway to hand out either the lighter sentence of 30 years’ imprisonment, or the heavier punishment of death, to those found guilty of drug-related crimes.
“If their expensive lawyers are not enough, the rich will simply buy their way out of death sentences, or even out of prison, by bribing corrupt prosecutors and judges,” Atienza said.
“If they can’t buy their way out of incarceration, they will surely buy themselves extravagant lives in detention, as we’ve clearly seen in the cases of convicted big-time drug traffickers having the time of their lives at the New Bilibid Prisons,” he added.
The New Bilibid Prisons (NBP) is the national penitentiary located in Muntinlupa City (Metro Manila).
Some members of the Senate majority bloc also on Thursday said a recent survey of the Social Weather Stations (SWS) showing 61 percent of Filipino favor the restoration of the death penalty should serve as message to lawmakers on what to do with the proposed measure on capital punishment.
Senator Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito noted that results of the survey have indicated the position of most of the people on the death penalty and lawmakers being the representatives of the people should listen to it.
He said anti-death penalty senators have more numbers in the Senate because of the Liberal Party members and the woman lawmakers but that would not stop him and other chamber members who are for death penalty to push for it.
“We will fight for what is right and put an end to this drug menace,” Ejercito added.
He said the Philippines became the hub of the international drug trade because it is the only country in Southeast Asia that does not impose capital punishment.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto 3rd said the SWS survey could help influence senators into supporting the proposal to reinstate death penalty especially those who are running for reelection.
There are six incumbent senators can still seek a second term in 2019 namely Paolo Benigno Aquino 4th, Juan Edgardo Angara, Nancy Binay, Grace Poe, Cynthia Villar and Ejercito.
It is not clear if Senate President Aquilino Pimentel 3rd could still run for reelection because he is on his second term as senator after he won his election protest against Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri and was declared the winner in the 2007 senatorial race.
From the six reelectionists, only Aquino and Poe have expressed their opposition to death penalty while the rest were either in favor or are yet to come up with a stand.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said the support of other senators for capital punishment will depend on the number of crimes that will be included in the bill.
He noted that most of the senators support the administration’s fight against illegal drugs and, if the imposition of death penalty would only be limited to that, more senators might be convinced to back it.
“If the death penalty will be limited to drug-related crimes, then it will get ample support from the senators,” according to Gatchalian, who is in favor of the reinstatement of death penalty.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan, president of the Liberal Party, said the survey can’t change his stand against capital punishment, adding that it does not address criminality.
Drilon said the recent SWS poll is a mere reflection of the people’s frustration over a poor justice system.