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Congressmen begin debate on return of death penalty

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The House of Representatives opens the floor for plenary debates on the controversial death penalty measure on Tuesday afternoon, January 31.

House justice panel chairperson Reynaldo Umali told Rappler that he will be sponsoring the bill for 2nd reading during the plenary session at 4 pm.

“Sponsorship then plenary debates will ensue. We will be asked on the things that we will say there,” the Oriental Mindoro 2nd District representative said in a phone interview on Monday, January 30. 

His committee approved on December 7, 2016, the bill seeking to reinstate the capital punishment for 21 heinous crimes. 

The measure has the full backing of President Rodrigo Duterte, who believes the death penalty is a way to exact payment from the perpetrators of heinous crimes

Movement for the bill’s passage has been quick in the House, where Duterte counts the majority as his allies. Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez is a principal author of the death penalty measure. (READ: Alvarez on Church opposition to death penalty: 'Why protect evil?’

Umali said he expects pro-death penalty lawmakers – like principal author and Deputy Speaker Fredenil Castro and justice panel vice chairperson Vicente Veloso – to defend the measure on the floor. (READ: Umali: Expect ‘compromises’ in death penalty bill after House debates

“I guess we need to return the law because if we maintain the status quo – meaning the non-imposition of the death penalty – we cannot expect any change to happen…. Wait for my sponsorship speech tomorrow,” said Umali, who became a supporter of the death penalty after seeing the drug problem in the country.

Alvarez initially wanted to have the bill passed on 3rd and final reading by December 2016, but later agreed to extend the debates to this year following the appeal of some congressmen who were undecided on the measure. (READ: Passage of death penalty, criminal liability age bills eyed in June)

Anti-death penalty advocates, however, have long argued that the capital punishment is not a true deterrent to crime. (READ: An eye for an eye: Can the death penalty bring justice to victims?)

The anti-death penalty bloc 

The opposition bloc claims it can gather at least 50 congressmen – including administration allies – to oppose the return of the death penalty.

The first 25 lawmakers lined up to oppose the death penalty are as follows:


“Another list will be submitted next week, so hopefully we can have at least 50 House members who would interpellate the measure,” Villarin said in a text message. 


The group has urged Alvarez to avoid imposing a party vote on the death penalty and instead allow all lawmakers to exercise a conscience vote

The Philippines was the first Asian country to abolish the death penalty under the 1987 Constitution, but it was reimposed during the administration of President Fidel Ramos to address the rising crime rate.

Capital punishment was eventually abolished in 2006, under the presidency of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Now Pampanga 2nd district representative, Arroyo is still against the reimposition of the death penalty.  

The Church and various pro-life groups have been opposing the capital punishment’s return. Alvarez, however, remains “very confident” that the House under his leadership will pass the death penalty bill. –

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 or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.