Death penalty removed from bill amending Dangerous Drugs Act

MANILA, Philippines – The House of Representatives removed all provisions that would reimpose the death penalty in the bill seeking to amend provisions of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

During the session on Thursday, February 7, House Senior Deputy Majority Leader Rodante Marcoleta moved for a substitute bill to replace House Bill (HB) 8909, whose earlier version sought to punish drug possession at parties or social gatherings with "life imprisonment to death."

The House withdrew its 3rd reading approval of the earlier version of HB 8909 on Wednesday, February 6.

The phrase "life imprisonment to death" was removed from the substitute bill and replaced with just "reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment."

The amended version of HB 8909 was immediately approved on 2nd reading by lawmakers through viva voce voting or a vote of ayes and nays.  

Why the death penalty provision was removed: The original version of HB 8909 was already approved on 3rd reading on Monday, February 4. But it seems several lawmakers – even the authors themselves – were unaware of the existence of the phrase "life imprisonment to death," which in effect means the bill also seeks to revive the capital punishment for drug crimes.

Even Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo – who abolished the death penalty in the Philippines when she was still president in 2006 – was a co-author of the original version of HB 8909. 

It was only when news reports were published on Wednesday about the House's passage of a bill that would punish drug possession with death did legislators realize the issue with HB 8909. 

They withdrew the 2nd and 3rd reading approvals of HB 8909. Arroyo was seen grilling House Majority Leader Fredenil Castro on the sidelines of the Wednesday session following the bill's withdrawal. 

On Thursday, Castro said in a statement that the House decided to withdraw its approval of HB 8909 so that the death penalty provisions will be removed. 

"We decided to reconsider final reading approval in order to clarify provisions of the bill that refer to the death penalty.  This will prevent double or multiple interpretation of the death penalty provisions that might mislead Filipinos into believing that death sentence has been restored," said Castro.

He explained that the death penalty bill – which the House approved in March 2017 – must become a law first before the capital punishment can be revived. (READ: When the House whips go to work for the death penalty)

The death penalty bill is not a Senate priority and has been pending in the upper chamber since 2017.

What's in HB 8909 now? Under the bill, a third-party owner of a property turned into a drug den "shall be criminally liable as co-principal," but only if the owner is a partnership, corporation, association, or any juridical entity.

This means the partner, president, director, manager, trustee, estate administrator, or officer "who consented to or tolerates such violation" would face criminal charges. 

Section 36 of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act was also amended so that professional and non-professional athletes would be required to undergo mandatory drug testing twice a year.

Any athlete who would test positive for drugs would be suspended and would be investigated by the appropriate government agencies. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the Senate 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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