Unlike in House, chances of death penalty bill in Senate still unclear

Camille Elemia
Unlike in House, chances of death penalty bill in Senate still unclear
At present, Senate President Pro-Tempore Franklin Drilon says there are 9 to 10 anti-death penalty senators, including himself

MANILA, Philippines – It may be smooth sailing for the death penalty bill in the House of Representatives, but it will likely be the opposite in the Senate. (READ: Death penalty bill hurdles House committee)

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said long debates are expected on the measure. The earliest time the bill could be discussed is by the 1st quarter of 2017.

“May mga bills nakakatsamba na mabilis, may bills [dadaan sa] legislative mill. Dito, it will be debated in the plenary. It might spend a longer time in the plenary.
‘Di na kaya ngayon, baka January,” Pimentel said on Wednesday, December 7.

(There are bills that are passed quickly, there are bills that undergo the legislative mill. Here, it will be debated in the plenary. It might spend a longer time in the plenary. We cannot start hearing it now, maybe January.)

Pimentel, however, was noncommittal on the passage of the bill – one of the priority measures of his party mate President Rodrigo Duterte. (READ: Duterte: Death penalty is retribution)

“Mahirap magsalita, parati akong mali. (It’s hard to speak because I always end up wrong.) When I make projections as to when a bill is to be approved, mali (it’s wrong),” he said.

But Pimentel added he is now open to the bill reimposing the death penalty for heinous crimes. (READ: Duterte asks lawmakers to revive death penalty)

“Open-minded ako (I’m open-minded) in order to support the President’s initiative. I’m willing to review anti-death penalty and now keep an open mind,” he said.

Asked what form he prefers, Pimentel said: “The most humane and limit it to [the] most heinous of crimes.”

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, who is pro-death penalty, shares the same view that the measure is set to have a hard time in the chamber.

“By February or March mapag-usapan na, 1st quarter of next year mapapagusapan na ‘yan,” Sotto said.

(By February or March it could be discussed, 1st quarter of next year it could be discussed.)

But Sotto said there is a “very strong” possibility that the bill would eventually be approved, especially if his version is adopted. In his bill, Sotto wants the death penalty imposed only for a single crime – high-level drug trafficking.

Citing his experiences in the 9th Congress, he said debates tend to be longer and more complicated if there are additional punishable crimes.

“Next year, sure na mapapagusapan (it will surely be discussed). Mapapasa pero matatagalan (It will be approved but it will take a long time). But I think there’s a very strong possiblity that it will pass especially if it’s my proposal which is only for high-level drug trafficking,” Sotto said.

Numbers still volatile

Senator Panfilo Lacson, another lawmaker in favor of the death penalty, said it would take a long time before the Senate approves the measure because most of his colleagues are difficult to read at the moment.

“Next year ma-te-take up. Kung anong iboboto, mahirap malaman. Mahirap magbilang, mahirap mabasa, actually. (It’ll be taken up next year. How senators will vote, that’s difficult to determine now. It’s hard to count who’s in favor and who’s not, it’s hard to read the situation, actually.) Even the chairman of the committee on justice has already expressed opposition to the death penalty bill,” Lacson said.

Lacson was referring to Senator Richard Gordon, who has already said he is against the measure.

Sotto also described a possible scenario where Gordon would submit a bill to the plenary without the death penalty provision. But that would also be open for debates and amendments, further lengthening the process.

At present, Senate President Pro-Tempore Franklin Drilon said there are 9 to 10 senators, including himself, who are inclined to vote against the death penalty bill. (READ: A lethal mix? Death penalty and a ‘flawed, corrupt’ justice system– Rappler.com

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Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com