Pacquiao: Trust Supreme Court justices in deciding death penalty cases

MANILA, Philippines – Athlete-turned-pastor Senator Manny Pacquiao insisted that the people should trust the capability of Supreme Court justices in deciding cases should death penalty be reimposed, even as he agreed that humans are prone to committing errors.

In what turned out to be like a class recitation, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Tuesday, August 6, grilled Pacquiao after the latter delivered a privilege speech on his proposal to reimpose death penalty for cases involving high-level drug traffickers.

Drilon cited the case of People of the Philippines vs. Mateo where the Supreme Court admitted that almost 72% of the cases reviewed had been wrongfully imposed the death penalty from 1993 to 2004. Pacquiao said he has not come across the case.

Pacquiao defended his measure, saying that he is proposing for the "automatic review of cases" by all 15 justices of the Supreme Court.

But Drilon asked: "Is it possible that there could also be some errors because Supreme Court justices are fallible also?" (READ: Pacquiao defends death penalty: Even Jesus was sentenced to death)

The Born-Again Christian senator said that the minority leader is being speculative. Drilon pressed on, "If it's speculation, then it can still include wrongful execution?"

Pacquiao, who dismissed Drilon's argument as mere "opinion," had earlier agreed that humans are fallible. And yet, he took exception to Supreme Court justices.

"As I've said we commit mistakes. But we have trust and confidence in all the justices of our Supreme Court," Pacquiao said.

Drilon said in response: "In this imperfect world, death can be imposed. And this imposition of death penalty is irrevocable because you can't bring back the life." (READ: ‘No rectification of error’ if death penalty returns – Aquino)

Sotto intervenes

The minority's interpellation was suspended on Tuesday, to give way to Senate President Vicente Sotto III, who had gone down his seat as presider of the session, to interject the heated discussion. (READ: A lethal mix? Death penalty and a 'flawed, corrupt' justice system)

Sotto said that he will be sponsoring the death penalty bill and not Pacquiao. He pointed out that the problem on drugs can be attributed in the failure of the government to reduce the demand for drugs.

"Our demand reduction strategy program is bad. There is none. There is the big issue. We won't need the death penalty; We wont need these laws, if it's very successful," Sotto said.

He said that there should be a drug use resistance education program at elementary level for Grade VI pupils and massive drug rehabilitation program for those who have been addicted.

"Because the bottomline is: The day we stop buying is the day we stop selling," Sotto said.

Sotto urged the committees on justice and public order and dangerous drugs to consider discussing the demand reduction program of the government. Only then, the Senate President said, that the senators may be able to "focus on the issue of death penalty." 

Capital punishment was abolished in the Philippines in 2006 under the presidency of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

In his 4th SONA, President Rodrigo Duterte pushed again for the return of death penalty, especifically on cases related to illegal drugs and plunder. He had since advocated for it since he was a presidential candidate.

The measure was not passed in the Senate in previous Congresses but the "highly divisive" bill as Sotto called it is among the first measures to be debated in the upper chamber this time.

In the 18th Congress, at least 4 senators have already filed proposal to reinstate capital punishment. – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey is a business reporter for Rappler. She covered the Senate of the Philippines before fully diving into numbers and companies. Got tips? Find her on Twitter at @reyaika or shoot her an email at aika.rey@rappler.com.

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