SENATE President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto assured members of the chamber that everyone would be given the right to say their piece once debates on the proposed death penalty law begin.
Recto said there would be “full-blown, no-restraints” debates on the measure, in accordance with Senate tradition.
“That has been the way bills are made in the Senate: they go through the filter provided by members. There’s no gag rule here. Everyone has the right to say his piece,” the newly installed Senate No. 2 added.
The Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights has yet to start its deliberation on the various bills on death penalty after its first public hearing was indefinitely suspended amid worries the country might violate the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) that the government signed in 1986.
The treaty prevents states from carrying out executions as punishment for crimes.
Recto said he expected “tough and thorough” debates on proposals to restore capital punishment, because the hardest vote for a legislator to cast is on bills that would “send men to war or to death.”
The House of Representatives on Wednesday approved on second reading House Bill (HB) 4727, or the death penalty bill. It is expected to pass on third and final reading next week.
HB 4727 limited the re-imposition of the death penalty to individuals convicted of high-level manufacturing and trafficking of illegal drugs, removing crimes such as rape, kidnapping and plunder from the list.
Despite the approval of the House, Recto said the death penalty bill was not an “urgent priority measure” in the Senate.
He said many good measures in the Senate agenda should be disposed of first, citing the Free Public College bill, the creation of the Coconut Industry Development Fund, the proposed Emergency Powers Act to deal with the traffic crisis, tax breaks, women empowerment bills, the New Corporation Code, and anti-money laundering law amendments.
Atienza to go to SC
At the House, Buhay party-list Rep. and Senior Deputy Minority Leader Jose Atienza vowed to pursue the fight against the re-imposition of the death penalty in court, in case the bill gets approved by the Senate.
“The bill is fraught with legal and constitutional questions that have remained unanswered. The Constitution states that there should be a compelling reason to justify the re-imposition of the death penalty. Why did the drug problem worsen? Because the police are part of the problem. Even the President said the police are corrupt to the core. Then the solution should be to reform the police and our criminal justice system,” Atienza said in a statement.
Atienza noted that the House bill passed on second reading was a watered-down version that would give any judge the discretion to decide whether the sentence would be life imprisonment or death.
“Unless we reform the criminal justice system, this law is prone to abuse by corrupt judges. The rich will pay the courts to get life imprisonment. Poor Juan de la Cruz who does not have money to pay for a good lawyer will be sentenced to death,” he said.
Atienza also pointed out that the Philippines was one of the first signatories to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.
“If the Senate approves this bill, then we will have no recourse but to go to the Supreme Court for a definitive ruling on the matter. This is a question of law—does this law take precedence over an international covenant that our country is a party to?” Atienza asked.
Atienza then hit back at his colleagues for the hasty passage of the bill through a viva voce or voice vote on Wednesday.
“Such a crucial bill as the re-imposition of the death penalty is legislation that would affect everyone—the more reason that it should have been thoroughly discussed and debated upon. Why the undue haste in passing it? …
You abruptly and unreasonably closed the period of interpellation and debates. You abruptly and unreasonably terminated the period of amendment doing both unilaterally without asking the body…We will continue to fight and speak out against the death penalty even if it means going all the way to the Supreme Court,” Atienza stressed.