Lagman’s counter-SONA: Death penalty is ‘anti-poor’

Mara Cepeda
Lagman’s counter-SONA: Death penalty is ‘anti-poor’
Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman opposes the death penalty, lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility, and the shift to federalism

MANILA, Philippines – Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman on Wednesday, July 27, thumbed down what he called the “anti-poor” priority measures of President Rodrigo Duterte, such as the proposed revival of the death penalty and lowering the age of criminal responsibility.

Lagman, who is part of the so-called “authentic and real minority” in the House, aired his opposition to some of Duterte’s priority measures in a privilege speech.

“The death penalty is anti-poor because indigent and marginalized litigants could not afford the high cost of top caliber and influential lawyers to secure their acquittal,”  the lawmaker said in his counter-State of the Nation Address (SONA). 

“During the campaign for the abolition of the death penalty, it was shown that 73.1% of death row inmates belonged to the lowest and lower income classes, and only 0.8% came from the upper socio-economic class,” he added.

According to Lagman, the death penalty is not a deterrent to the commission of heinous crimes “as validated by worldwide empirical and scientific studies.” 

“What deters the commission of crimes are certainty of apprehension, speedy prosecution, and inevitable conviction once warranted,” he said. 

“Human justice is fallible….Only God can forfeit life. No human authority has the power to kill, even if judicially mandated as a recompense for another lost life,” Lagman added.

In his first SONA, Duterte bared his legislative agenda which includes a shift to federalism, tax reform, extending the validity of passport and driver’s licenses, and emergency powers to address traffic, among others. (FULL TEXT: President Duterte’s 1st State of the Nation Address)

Duterte did not mention the reimposition of the death penalty for heinous crimes as well as the lowering of the minimum age of criminal responsibility in his SONA. (READ: Congressmen want 9-year-old kids charged for crimes)

But the two measures are among the priorities of Duterte’s PDP Laban party mates, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III. (READ: Death penalty, urban problems top House legislative agenda)

No to lowering age for youth offenders 

In his speech, Lagman said owering the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 9 years old is a “retrogression” like the death penalty revival. 

Alvarez co-authored the bill lowering the age for youth offenders in a bid to address the problem of criminal syndicates using children 15 years old and below to commit crimes. He clarified that juvenile violators would be rehabilitated, not imprisoned with hardened criminals.

Lagman, however, said lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility is not the proper solution.

“The correct response is to make the use of children 15 years old and  under in criminal activities as an aggravating circumstance which cannot be offset by a mitigating circumstance, and charge parents or guardians with culpable default in due exercise of parental authority and discipline in the rearing of their children,” he said.

Lagman added that Alvarez’s bill violates the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which the Philippines is a signatory. 

“Lowering the age of culpability to 9 years old is a patent backsliding which is inconsistent with our treaty obligations,” he said.

Federalism ‘nebulous’

Lagman also opposed Duterte’s proposal to have a Constitutional Convention to pave the way for a federal parliamentary form of government. (READ: How many states should PH have under federalism?)

Under federalism, the country will be broken down into autonomous regions with a national government focused only on interests with nationwide bearing, such as foreign policy and national security. (READ: Will federalism address PH woes? Pros and cons of making the shift)

“It appears the centerpiece agenda of the present administration is to convert the Philippines from a unitary to a federal state. However, the anchorage of the proposed federalism is nebulous and the project benefits are grossly tentative,” said Lagman.

He outlined 7 arguments against federalism:

  • It would heighten ethnic and regional rivalries, and create fissures in national unity
  • Previous studies have shown that only Central Luzon, Southern Luzon, and the National Capital Region are capable of being self-sufficient
  • It would create overlaps in jurisdiction as to where the responsibilities of state government end, and where the responsibility of the national government begins
  • The bureaucracy would balloon since federalism, by its nature, calls for more bureaucrats im the national and regional levels
  • Separatists in Mindanao may not be satisfied because they want their own separate state rather than belong to a larger, federal Philippines
  • The shift federalism would cost billions of pesos
  • Political and economic dynasties will be further entrenched as they would operate relatively smaller areas of influence

“We must not be galvanized into frenzied approbation of the proposed federal system, which is principally based on motherhood statements of superior efficacy and unvalidated benefits,” said Lagman. –

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at or tweet @maracepeda.