New members of the House of Representatives are being cautioned on voting against and asking questions on the proposed death penalty bill, a lawmaker said on Tuesday.
According to Rep. Tom Villarin of Akbayan party-list, House leaders have been calling the attention of the lawmakers who did not vote for the bills favored by the super majority bloc namely the proposed two-tier tax scheme for cigarettes and the renewal of the franchise of Smart Communications.
The proposed death penalty law covers heinous crimes and including drug-related offenses and deems the possession of 10 grams of illegal drugs as drug trafficking that is punishable by death.
“The feedback I have been getting [among the new lawmakers]is that when you are a member of the House Committee on Justice or a member of the House Committee on Rules, you have no right to interpellate during plenary debates. This is tantamount to scaring the members of Congress not to speak up against death penalty. Why does it have to be this way?” Villarin, who is against the death penalty, said.
The super majority bloc in the House, led by President Rodrigo Duterte’s PDP-Laban, is in coalition with the Nacionalista Party, Nationalist People’s Coalition, National Union Party, Liberal Party and Lakas-CMD.
The Speaker of the House is Pantaleon Alvarez of Davao del Norte, while the House Majority Leader is Rodolfo Fariñas of Ilocos Norte.
“This is a move to silence the members of the House; an attempt to stifle opposition. We should allow free discussion on the measure. It’s tough for the [new super majority]lawmakers [to vote against the death penalty]because the House leaders will summon you. There’s the amendment to the Sin Tax law [providing for two-tier tax scheme for cigarettes], and the bill on the Smart franchise. There were lawmakers with the majority who voted against, and the House leaders called their attention,” Villarin pointed out.
Rep. Edcel Lagman of Albay renewed his call on the House leadership to allow aconscience vote, instead of a party vote, on the death penalty bill.
“We call on the leadership not to insist on a party or pressure vote. A conscience vote is necessary for this important and retrogressive measure. Members of the House should be allowed to fully exercise their conscience and conviction in this. Many members of the super majority will go against the party decision and will vote against the reimposition of death penalty,” Lagman said.
He added that, there is no overriding reason involving heinous crimes that would justify the restoration of the death penalty as provided for by the 1987 Constitution, which the Duterte administration also wants revised.
“The burden of proving otherwise is on those proposing the death penalty. But so far, they have failed to make a justification since crime incidents have been reduced,” Lagman said.
Lagman added that the Philippines is a signatory to the 1988 United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, which only provides imprisonment as punishment for drug-related crimes.
“That commitment cannot be violated by a mere legislative action on the part of the House or the Senate, even an action accrued by the President,” Lagman said.