How lawmakers will argue vs death penalty bill

Mara Cepeda
Opposition lawmaker Edcel Lagman says the Philippines must first address 'much delayed' reforms in the police and justice systems before reviving the death penalty

ANTI-DEATH PENALTY. Opposition lawmakers Emmanuel Billones, Raul Daza, Edcel Lagman, and Teddy Baguilat Jr are all opposing the revival of the capital punishment. Photo by Mara Cepeda/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – The opposition bloc outlined its main arguments against the return of the death penalty as the House begins the plenary debates on the measure on Tuesday afternoon, January 31.

Around two hours before the start of session, opposition lawmaker and Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman reiterated that House Bill Number 4727 is not the solution to end crime. 

“The first argument is that the death penalty is not the solution to criminality, including the drug menace. Because the process of solving the incidence of crimes is a multi-dynamic process, which would range form sustainable poverty alleviation to reforms in the police, prosecutorial and judicial systems,” said Lagman. 

He argued that it is also “the worst of times” to revive the death penalty, citing the involvement of cops in the murder of South Korean businessmen Jee Ick Joo as well as the Supreme Court sacking 17 judges as part of its efforts to clean its ranks. (READ: A lethal mix? Death penalty and a ‘flawed, corrupt’ justice system)

“While no time is right and ripe for pushing the reimposition of the death penalty, now is the worst of times to enact the revival of capital punishment when scalawag cops are the felons and rogues in robes preside over the life or death of citizens,” said Lagman.

“Justice is not only delayed but also wantonly waylaid, due to the flawed, inept and corrupt police, prosecutorial and judicial systems. We must put the death penalty bill irretrievably in the backburner and address and implement much delayed reforms in the police and justice systems,” he added. 

The House of Representatives is expected to begin its debate on the death penalty bill after House justice committee chairperson and Oriental Mindoro 2nd District Representative Reynaldo Umali sponsors the measure on 2nd reading Tuesday afternoon.  

No less than President Rodrigo Duterte, who is allied with a majority of congressmen, said the death penalty is a way to exact payment from the perpetrators of heinous crimes. (READ: An eye for an eye: Can the death penalty bring justice to victims?)

Sacredness of life, ‘fallible’ justice system

The opposition bloc, however, remains unfazed, saying they have gathered at least 50 congressmen to oppose the bill. As of posting, 25 lawmakers are already lined up to interpellate against the return of the death penalty. 

Apart from the argument that the capital punishment is not a true deterrent to crime, Lagman said they will be arguing that life is sacred. (READ: CBCP hits death penalty: ‘No person beyond redemption’)

“Another reason is that life is sacrosanct. No one should be allowed to deprive man of his life. And even the Pope instructs that a viability of life is both for the criminal and for the innocent,” he said. 

“Another is justice is fallible so much so that even the innocent can be sent to the gallows. The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that it will be better to free 10 accused who are possibly guilty of the crime they are charged than to convict one person who is innocent,” Lagman added. 

He also said that Duterte’s retribution defense for the death penalty is an “anathema to the modern trend of penology which is reformative justice.” 

Anti-death penalty lawmakers will also argue that the measure is anti-poor. 

“Another ground is the death penalty further marginalizes and victimizes the poor who cannot afford competent counsel and who will not have access to court processes,” said Lagman.

International repercussions  

The Philippine is also a state party to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as well as the Second Protocol on the ICCPR, wherein all signatories are mandated to abolish the death penalty and ensure it will not be reimposed. (READ: UN on death penalty: PH will break int’l law)

“We will be losing our preeminent leadership in the ASEAN and Asian regions, wherein we have been acknowledged as leader of advocating the promotion of human rights and the abolition of the death penalty,” he said.

He added that the Philippines stands to lose tariff-free exports to country-members of the European Union, “where the only condition is we abide by the tenets of human rights.” 

There are other reasons or grounds,  but we will be ventillating these during the debates. All of these reasons are all compelling reasons why the death penalty should not be reimposed,” 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.