House ends death penalty debate after 7 session days

Mara Cepeda
House ends death penalty debate after 7 session days
Congressmen also approve the amendments to only list 10 crimes under the bill, remove the mandatory penalty of death, and to add safeguard measures for the accused

MANILA, Philippines – The controversial death penalty bill continues to breeze through the House of Representatives after congressmen agreed to terminate the debate on Wednesday, February 22.

Deputy Majority Leader Juan Pablo Bondoc moved to end the period of sponsorship for House Bill (HB) Number 4727 after Dinagat Islands Representative Kaka Bag-ao finished her interpellation of Deputy Speaker Fredenil Castro, principal bill co-author. 

Three anti-death penalty lawmakers – Northern Samar 1st District Representative Raul Daza, Buhay Representative Lito Atienza, and Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman – tried to stop Bondoc’s motion.

But the majority voted to thumb down all appeals made by the 3 for the debate to continue. Deputy Speaker Sharon Garin then ruled past 7:30 pm that the period of sponsorship was already terminated.

A majority of congressmen also agreed to the amendments that were first decided upon during several majority caucuses:

Copies of the amended version of HB 4727, which House justice committee chairperson Reynaldo Umali called “amendments made by the Majority Leader,” were circulated during the session.  

The ruling on Wednesday means that the House only allotted 7 session days for the period of sponsorship and debate for HB 4727.

The measure is a priority of President Rodrigo Duterte, who counts more than 260 congressmen as his allies.

HB 4727 is opposed by the Catholic Church as well as other religious and civil society groups, who have argued that the measure does not respect the sanctity of life, violates international agreements, and is also detrimental to the poor. (READ: Cardinal Tagle urges ‘active non-violence’ amid killings)

Only 7 anti-death penalty lawmakers were able to interpellate the 3 sponsors of the measure – Umali, Castro, and House justice committee vice chairperson Vicente Veloso. (READ: Return of death penalty will fix faulty justice system – lawmakers)

The timeline for the HB 4727 debate is as follows:

February 1: Castro delivered his speech arguing that the 1987 Constitution allows the reimposition of the death penalty as long as Congress finds “compelling reasons involving heinous crimes.”

February 7: Veloso said in his speech that the death penalty is “not anti-God.” Umali formally sponsored the bill on 2nd reading.

February 8: Lagman and Cebu City 1st District Representative Raul del Mar interpellated Umali and Veloso.

February 14: Siquijor Representative Ramon Rocamora interpellated Veloso.

February 15: Agusan del Norte 1st District Representative Lawrence Fortun interpellated Umali.

February 21: Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin interpellated Castro.

February 22: Dinagat Islands Representative Kaka Bag-ao interpellated Castro.

Next week, the lawmakers are expected to conduct nominal voting for individual amendments that will be proposed on the floor. Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said the bill is targeted to be passed on 2nd reading on February 28. 

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez also wants HB 4727 passed on 3rd and final reading before Congress takes a break on March 18.  

Alvarez earlier said he will be replacing House leaders who will vote against the measure, even former president and now Deputy Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. It was under Arroyo’s term when the Philippines abolished capital punishment in 2006. – 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.