House delays start of death penalty debate

MANILA, Philippines – The House of Representatives delayed the sponsorship of the controversial death penalty bill after congressmen opposing it asked the House leadership to move the debate a day later. 

House justice panel chairperson Reynaldo Umali was supposed to sponsor House Bill (HB) 4727 for 2nd reading during the 4 pm plenary session on Tuesday, January 31.  

At past 5:30 pm, however, the Oriental Mindoro 2nd district representative left the plenary hall and said the debates on the revival of the capital punishment would be moved to Wednesday.

Nakiusap sila na puwede bukas na lang – sina [Buhay Representative] Lito [Atienza] and [Albay 1st District Representative] Edcel [Lagman] kay [Majority Leader] Rudy Fariñas…. Pumayag na rin out of respect for the gentlemen,” Umali told Rappler in a phone call.

(They asked if we can just sponsor tomorrow – Buhay Representative Lito Atienza and Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman talked to Majority Leader Rudy Fariñas…. He allowed it out of respect for the gentlemen.)

This was confirmed by Deputy Speaker Fredenil Castro, also Capiz 2nd District representative, who said the majority and minority blocs agreed on the delay in the debate. He was due to deliver a speech in favor of the death penalty as well, but he left the hall before 6 pm.

Fariñas said he allowed the delay following the request of those opposing HB 4727. 

“Upon the request of the antis, I granted their request to move it tomorrow,” he said in a text message.  

Why ask for a delay?

During the session, pro-life lawmaker Atienza said that before the House tackles the death penalty bill, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez must first name the 3 incumbent congressmen who are part of President Rodrigo Duterte’s narco list.

So 3 members in our body are branded or noted or qualified as drug coddlers. Iyon pa naman po ay isang bagay na napakaseryoso na 'di natin p'wedeng palagpasin…. Ayaw natin na pagdudahan tayo ng ating mga kababayan. Ayaw nating pagsuspetiyahan tayo na meron tayong kinalaman sa droga,” said Atienza. 

(So 3 members in our body are branded or noted or qualified as drug coddlers. That’s a serious accusation that we can’t just ignore…. We don’t want our countrymen to doubt us. We don’t want them suspecting we are involved in drugs.)

In an interview with reporters, Lagman also said it is important for Alvarez to identify the alleged narco politicians “so they can defend themselves with alacrity and so that the rest of the members of the House will not be rendered suspect.” 

Alvarez already said two of the lawmakers come from Luzon and the other is from Mindanao, but he refused to give further details. 

Lagman also said they asked the leadership to move the debates to Wednesday because they cannot just rush HB 4727’s passage at the expense of other important issues lawmakers need to deal with.  

“There are important and relevant concerns which the House would have to address before we tackle an important although retrogressive measure like the death penalty,” said Lagman.

“Moreover, we would like to send a clear message to the House leadership that they cannot fast-track the enactment of this retrogressive measure,” he added.

The opposition bloc has lined up 25 lawmakers to interpellate congressmen who will be speaking in defense of the death penalty. The sponsors of the bill are Umali, Castro, Fariñas, and House justice committee vice chairperson Vicente Veloso. (READ: How lawmakers will argue vs death penalty bill

More than 250 representatives of various civil society and pro-life groups also trooped to the Batasang Pambansa to protest against HB 4727. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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