Allies of President Rodrigo Duterte at the House of Representatives have passed on second reading a death penalty bill that has lost much of the sting the authors had originally intended.
Instead of handing him a sweeping death penalty bill, ardent supporters of the President on March 1 gave him a watered-down version of House Bill (HB) 4727 on second reading via viva voce or voice vote out of their apparent fear that nominal voting would spoil the script of the so-called super majority there.
HB 4727 was set for third and final reading next week. If it is approved, the measure will go the Senate, which is yet to pass its own version of the bill. These congressional exercises underscore the Malacañang tenant’s grip on the already compliant lawmakers.
The House bill seeks to impose capital punishment only on drug manufacturers and drug traffickers like most countries in Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.
The Duterte boys and girls in the august chamber earlier diluted the proposal by excluding plunder, rape and murder among the 21 heinous crimes on which HB 4727 wanted to mete out capital punishment, the apparent copout probably giving the President an idea that he was not going to get what he fully wanted after all.
Still, Duterte comes out as the real winner, not his legislative backers, in the unsurprisingly short battle for restoring the death penalty, no matter the victory having a hollow ring to it.
The President will now be seen as one who listens to dissenting voices who believe that capital punishment has not stopped arson or kidnapping, with Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo, for one, saying “[t]here is no empirical data showing that the death penalty is a deterrent to crime.”
Duterte will also be seen as a leader of a democratic country who finds reason in the strident objections of human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to the death penalty as a punishment for utterly odious crimes.
He perhaps will be seen too by the Catholic Church as a man of compassion, not thoroughly satisfied the bishops may be by the abridged coverage of HB 4727.
The President being merciful may even prevent the faithful who oppose capital punishment from dragging him down from his moral high horse and grudgingly give the thumbs up to his plan to carry out executions in the near future.
Overseas Filipino workers, as well as their families, will certainly give Duterte a pat in the back because those among them facing non-drug charges in their host countries would now be emboldened to fight it out and clear themselves of whatever crime they are accused of committing.
Since HB 2747 only seeks to impose the death penalty to drug manufacturers and drug traffickers, we believe that now is the best time to assess the aborted Oplan: Tokhang, at least to disprove allegations that it had been designed to ensure the summary execution of only poor drug offenders.
If the President draws the battle lines more clearly now, he might just be able to at least appease sectors that his anti-drug war is not an act of genocide against marginalized Filipinos whose only crime is to be poor and who practically are not entitled to anything even under the Duterte administration.
If he does, then maybe he would also be able to control his extremely volatile temper and throw out his notebook of needless expletives that only dilute and water down his admittedly good intentions for the nation and the people.
The President, after all, has been insisting that he reserves the P word, the F word and all other words in between only for criminals, who he says deserve death and nothing less.