HOUSE DEPUTY SPEAKERS PADDED COMMITTEE VOTE?
House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez of Davao del Norte sees an uphill climb for the death penalty in the Senate.
Alvarez made the observation after nine senators from the Liberal Party (LP) vowed to oppose the restoration of death penalty for heinous and drug-related crimes.
“As far as we are concerned [in the House], we can’t control the Senate. What we know is that we want the public to know that we are doing our job [to pass the death penalty]in the House,” Alvarez said in a radio interview.
“We will do what we feel is right and is right for the people,” Alvarez added.
The death penalty bill, House Bill No. 1, is breezing past the House, with the chamber’s justice committee sending the measure to plenary debates last December 7.
Opposition lawmakers on Friday claimed the bill hurdled the committee level because of the support of deputy speakers, whose number ballooned to 14 in the 17th Congress from six in the 16th Congress.
This means the “super majority” bloc of President Duterte’s allies will be able to get their pet measures passed at the committee level, as deputy speakers are ex-officio members of all committees.
The 14 deputy speakers are Representatives Eric Singson of Ilocos Sur, Mercedes Alvarez of Negros Occidental, Fredenil Castro of Capiz, Raneo Abu of Batangas, Romero Quimbo of Marikina, Mylene Albano of Davao City, Gwen Garcia of Cebu, Pia Cayetano of Taguig, Sharon Garin of AAMBIS-OWWA party-list, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of Pampanga, Bai Sandra Sema of Maguindanao and Cotabato City, Ferdinand Hernandez of South Cotabato, Frederick Abueg of Palawan and Rolando Andaya of Camarines Sur.
When the death penalty bill was put to a vote in the House Committee on Justice, 12 lawmakers voted for the measure. Six were against and one abstained. Of the 12 “yes” votes, three were deputy speakers: Garcia, Garin and Castro. The fourth ex-officio member who voted in favor of the death penalty bill was House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas of Ilocos Norte.
Without the ex-officio vote, the final tally would have been 8-6, still in favor of the death penalty bill albeit with a narrower margin.
“Congress works through a committee system that should be a deliberative body with regular members and limited ex-officio members. With too many ex-officio members who are always mobilized come voting time, the committee system has been compromised thus rendering its main function moot,” Akbayan party-list Rep. Tom Villarin, who is against the death penalty measure, told The Manila Times.
Ifugao Rep. Teodoro Baguilat agreed. “Actually, that’s one of our issues with the leadership because they can practically dictate almost any outcome of a committee hearing by sending all ex-officio members, including the deputy majority floor and minority floor leaders,” he said.
House justice committee chairman Reynaldo Umali of Oriental Mindoro said majority of the members of the panel made their decisions based on position papers submitted by various government agencies and nongovernment organizations.
UN issues warning
On Friday, the United Nations warned the Philippine Congress of a possible violation to the international law if it restored capital punishment.
In an open letter dated December 6, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said the Philippines is a signatory to an international agreement that prohibits the country from reinstating the death penalty.
He pointed out that the Philippines ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 2007 that abolishes death penalty. Congress also abolished it through Republic Act 9346 in 2006.
If the Philippines wants to revive capital punishment, the country is allowed to impose the death sentence only on the “most serious crimes,” Al Hussein said.
Drug-related offenses do not meet the threshold of “most serious crimes,” and the International Narcotics Control Board, which monitors states’ compliance with drug control treaties, “considers that the use of the death penalty for drug crimes is incompatible under international law.”
Alvarez was adamant there was a reason the Constitution did not absolutely ban the death penalty.
“The Constitution is clear that we can reinstate death penalty for compelling reasons, including heinous crimes. The Constitution is supreme over any international protocol,” Alvarez argued.