Pimentel on death penalty: 'Close fight' in the Senate

NOT A PRIORITY. Senate leaders say the bill seeking to reimpose the death penalty is not a priority in the chamber. File photo

NOT A PRIORITY. Senate leaders say the bill seeking to reimpose the death penalty is not a priority in the chamber.

File photo

MANILA, Philippines – It would be a close fight between senators who are for and against the revival of the death penalty.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said this on Wednesday, March 1, after the bill seeking to reimpose the death penalty breezed through 2nd reading in the House of Representatives. (READ: After death penalty vote, House a 'chamber of puppets and bullies')

"Close fight. I'm predicting maybe anywhere from 14 versus 10 or 10 versus 14 either way. Depende na 'yun kung ma-convince 'yung mga open (It depends if the senators open to it will be convinced)," Pimentel told reporters in an interview.

Pimentel is a party mate of President Rodrigo Duterte, who wants to revive the death penalty as a form of "retribution." The Senate President used to oppose the death penalty, but has since changed his mind, saying it can be imposed for the "most heinous" crime of "big-time, high-level, syndicated drug trafficking."

The Senate has already conducted two hearings on the matter, which were suspended after then Senate President Pro-Tempore Franklin Drilon argued that the Philippines could not reimpose the death penalty because it would violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR ratified by the Senate.

But Pimentel believes the Senate can argue that treaties and conventions should not "tie our hands." He said the Philippines decides on the solutions to problems in its jurisdiction.

"Do you want a good reputation or do you want a functioning society? Kasi nga, sa mata mo (Because in your eyes), it's the most heinous crime, you have to address it," the Senate President said.

Not a priority

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, meanwhile, said the measure is not a priority of the Senate. (READ: Unlike in House, chances of death penalty bill in Senate still unclear)

"Sa kanila (House), priority ang death penalty. Sa Senate hindi assured, hindi priority sa amin. Sa executive [branch], priority, pero gano'n talaga eh, meron kaming, ika nga, demokrasya tayo," Sotto said in a dzMM interview on Thursday, March 2.

(In the House, the death penalty is a priority. In the Senate, it's not a priority. It is a priority of the executive branch, but that's how it is. As they say, we are in a democracy.)

"Sa amin ite-take up namin 'yan. Ipinangako naming ite-take up namin pero hindi namin maipangako na priority so hindi ko sigurado kung kaya naming ipasa ito by June. Hindi ko kayang ipangako. Mahihirapan siguro, mahaba ang debate nito," he added.

(We will take it up. We promised to take it up but we can't promise that it will be a priority so I am not sure if we can pass it by June. I cannot promise that. It will probably be difficult, with long debates.)

Congress will go on a break from March 18 to May 1. (READ: 3rd reading vote for death penalty bill on March 7 – Fariñas)

Sotto, one of the authors of the bill, reiterated he is for the reimposition of the death penalty but only for "high-level drug trafficking," similar to what Pimentel is eyeing.

Sotto has repeatedly said it would be easier to pass a death penalty bill that only covers few crimes.

Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto has openly opposed the measure, adding that it would "break the majority-minority divide."

Aside from Recto, the 6 minority senators are against the bill – Drilon, Francis Pangilinan, Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, Leila de Lima, Antonio Trillanes IV, and Risa Hontiveros.

Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the justice committee tasked to hear the bill, also opposes it. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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