MANILA, Philippines – Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has chided the Catholic Church, saying its strong opposition to the return of the death penalty in the country protects those who have committed heinous crimes.
"We are not talking about people who were convicted of ordinary crimes. These are heinous crimes – meaning, the real crimes, crimes that are difficult to imagine being committed by a human being against another human being. So much so that we say sometimes, if that happens, the people who committed these are demons, right?" Alvarez said in a mix of English and Filipino.
House Bill 1 lists a total of 21 crimes punishable by death, including treason, parricide, murder, infanticide, rape, qualified piracy, qualified bribery, kidnapping and serious illegal detention, robbery with violence against or intimidation of persons, destructive arson, plunder, drug-related cases, and carnapping.
Alvarez questioned why the Church is fighting to protect these "evildoers."
"Now, here comes the Church that wants to protect these evildoers, right? Why? Why do you want to protect evil? Why do you want evil to triumph over the good? I can’t understand that," said the Speaker, a co-author of the death penalty bill.
Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas have denounced the reimposition of the capital punishment, a priority bill of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Tagle has also made an impassioned appeal for criminals, saying they deserve a second chance. (READ: Cardinal Tagle: 'I will not give up on criminals')
Other groups and lawmakers expressed opposition to the death penalty as well, saying it is not a deterrent to crime.
No killing of youth offenders
The death penalty bill, however, is not the only controversial bill co-authored by Alvarez. He is also behind HB 2, which would lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 years old to 9 years old.
Groups have warned that should both House bills 1 and 2 be enacted, the country is in danger of possibly sentencing a 9-year-old child to death in the future. (READ: Pangilinan to Alvarez: Gravity of crime, not kids' age, should matter)
Alvarez, however, said this would not happen. He explained that young offenders will not be sent to jail with hardened criminals. They will be rehabilitated by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
"Tingnan mo, mga bugok 'yang mga 'yan eh. Ang prinopose natin, ibalik sa 9 years old, 'yung sa dati sa Revised Penal Code. Meron bang nabitay na 9 years old dati? Wala," said Alvarez. (Listen to those eggheads. We are proposing to return the minimum age of criminal responsibility as stated before in the Revised Penal Code. Were there any 9-year-olds killed then? None.)
"Why is this so? The 9-year-olds and 12-year-olds, they will not be imprisoned with hardened criminals. They will be brought to the DSWD for rehabilitation. It will be explained to them that they have responsibilities to society," added the Speaker.
Republic Act 9344 or the Juvenile Justice Act of 2006 spares convicts who are below 15 years old from imprisonment, provided they undergo intervention and rehabilitation. (READ: Children in conflict with the law: Cracks in Juvenile Justice Act)
In 2013, the Juvenile Justice Act was amended through RA 10630. Section 20-A of the new law allows children as young as 12 years old to be detained for serious crimes, such as rape, murder, and homicide, among others.
RA 10630 also mandates local government units to manage their own Bahay Pag-Asa (Houses of Hope). These are 24-hour child-caring institutions, as well as centers for intensive juvenile intervention and support, jointly managed by LGUs and non-governmental organizations. – Rappler.com