MANILA –The House of Representatives has further watered down the bill restoring the death penalty by limiting the number of crimes punishable by death to just drug-related offenses, Justice Committee Chair Reynaldo Umali said on Monday.
In an ambush interview, Umali said this was agreed upon by members of the supermajority coalition during a caucus on Monday afternoon.
“The bill will be limited to drug-related heinous crimes,” Umali said.
Earlier, members of the supermajority have agreed to reduce the crimes covered by the death penalty bill to just four offenses including plunder, treason, rape, and certain drug-related crimes
Umali explained that the coverage of the bill was narrowed down to just drug-related crimes in order to gain more support and push for a consensus among members of the lower chamber.
“It is more of getting the consensus of the group. It became easier when we limited it to just one crime. After all, this was the original intent after we have conducted (the) illegal drug trade in Bilibid prison inquiry,” Umali said.
The House leader also said that the gravity of the Philippine drug problem already provides a compelling reason for the reinstatement of capital punishment.
“It will be a lot easier to present facts and figures about reimposing the death penalty for drug-related heinous crimes,” he said.
“The whole point, what is important, is that we get a headway on the reimposition of the death penalty,” he added.
When asked if the House majority has enough numbers to push for the bill’s passage, Umali said that there are over 50 lawmakers who will vote in favor of the death penalty bill.
“The ultimate vote will be more in favor of death penalty,” he said.
Umali said the second reading vote on the contentious measure will be postponed to Wednesday to give the House Justice Committee more time to “polish” the final version of the bill.
Of the eight-drug related offenses included in the bill, possession of illegal drugs will be struck off the list.
The drug-related offenses punishable by death include the following:
(1) importation of dangerous drugs and/or controlled precursors and essential chemicals;
(2) sale, trading, administration, dispensation, delivery, distribution and transportation of dangerous drugs and/or controlled precursor and essential chemicals;
(3) maintenance of a den, dive or resort where any dangerous drug is used or sold in any form;
(4) manufacture of dangerous drugs and/or controlled precursors and essential chemical; possession of dangerous drugs;
(5) cultivation or culture of plants classified as dangerous drugs or are sources thereof;
(6) unlawful prescription of dangerous drugs;
(7) criminal liability of a public officer or employee for misappropriation, misapplication or failure to account for the confiscated, seized and/or surrendered dangerous drugs, plant sources of dangerous drugs, controlled precursors and essential chemicals, instruments/ paraphernalia and/or laboratory equipment including the proceeds or properties obtained from the unlawful act committed.
Anti-death penalty lawmakers, however, stood pat amid the major tweaks in the death penalty bill.
Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat said this shows how “arbitrary” the House majority is in defining a compelling reason to justify the restoration of the death penalty.
“They started with 21 crimes then limited coverage while excluding plunder. Then they brought it back along with 4 more crimes and now, it’s just (drug-related) offenses,” Baguilat said in a text message.
“It also betrays how tenuous their alliance is in supporting DP (death penalty). Because they are adjusting the provisions based on the whims of their coalition members,” he added.
Akbayan Partylist Tom Villarin, for his part, said that death penalty, in a global backdrop, has not been an effective deterrent to drug trafficking, manufacturing and use of illicit drugs in countries that execute those convicted of drug-related crimes.
“It is mostly the poor who will be arrested and convicted, not the syndicate bosses. As benefits in the drug trade far outweighs the risk, even death, the trade will continue,” Villarin said.
Villarin suggested that a comprehensive solution be implemented instead by treating drug dependency as a health problem.