‘Change of heart’: Umali supports death penalty due to drug use in PH

Mara Cepeda
‘Change of heart’: Umali supports death penalty due to drug use in PH
'I do support the pro-life stand. But after the Bilibid probe, I had a change of heart,' says Representative Reynaldo Umali on his support for the capital punishment's return in the country

MANILA, Philippines – He used to be against the death penalty, but after leading the House probe into the narcotics trade at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP), House committee on justice chairperson Reynaldo Umali said he had “a change of heart.”

“I was also against death penalty. I do support the pro-life stand. But after the Bilibid probe, I had a change of heart. In the sense that I really wanted to include or restore death penalty for drug-related heinous crimes,” said Umali in a Rappler Talk interview on Friday, January 6.

The Oriental Mindoro 2nd District representative led his committee as it investigated how drugs proliferated at the NBP when Senator Leila de Lima was still justice secretary. 

The probe – controversial as it targeted the fiercest critic of President Rodrigo Duterte – showed that De Lima, her former driver and lover Ronnie Dayan, and other Bureau of Corrections officials are responsible for the continued drug use in the national penitentiary. (READ: House report on Bilibid drugs: ‘Sufficient evidence point to De Lima)

Congressmen also recommended the return of capital punishment for drug-related crimes.  

Reimposing the death penalty is one of the priority bills of the President, who is also waging a bloody war against drugs.

During the interview, Umali said he became pro-death penalty after seeing the crimes committed by drug addicts. 

“I’ve seen worst things happening or which happened because of drug-crazed people. And I’ve seen massacres – families being massacred and senseless crimes being committed, and I feel for the victims, for their families,” said Umali.

“And so I guess, one of the things I felt was necessary was to strike some element of fear among these criminals, especially those who are involved in drugs and or those affected by drugs. Because my understanding is that their minds are affected by the drugs, and therefore, these are the things I want to be reformed,” he added.

The influence of Jaybee Sebastian

Umali also said his “change of heart” on the death penalty was caused by the testimony of high-profile NBP inmate Jaybee Sebastian during the House Bilibid probe. (READ: Jaybee Sebastian: I gave P14 M to De Lima, aide

“Jaybee Sebastian was asked, in the local dialect, ‘Anong kinatatakutan mo?’ Sinabi niya, “Kamatayan lang po,’ (‘What are you afraid of?’ He said, ‘Just death’),” said Umali.

He added that Sebastian’s words seemed to indicate that the inmate “doesn’t fear anything” inside the NBP because the convict is already serving a life imprisonment sentence.

“When he was asked during the Bilibid Probe, that question, he answered very directly and straightforwardly  that he feared death. And so, there’s got to be some fear instilled in these convicted felons,” said Umali.

Last December, the House justice committee approved the bill seeking to reimpose the death penalty for 21 heinous crimes. (READ: House death penalty bill: How they voted)

The House leadership agreed to extend debates on the issue starting January this year. 

Umali said he plans to sponsor the bill on 2nd reading during at the plenary when the Congress resumes session on January 16. – Rappler.com

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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 mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.