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Sotto expects 'heavy debate' over death penalty for plunder convicts

MANILA, Philippines – Senators on Monday night, July 22, said the prospects of reinstating capital punishment might be dimmer, as President Rodrigo Duterte wants to include plunder among the crimes punishable under the proposed law. 

Senate President Vicente Sotto III earlier expressed confidence in passing the death penalty bill to cover high-level traffickers, but when President Duterte mentioned plunder as additional crime in his 4th State of the Nation Address, the Senate leader said he would have to discuss it with other senators.

"We'll try to convince some of our colleagues. It's a heavy debate. But we'll just have to work on it," Sotto said.

Even Senator Ronald dela Rosa, who is poised to head the Senate committee on dangerous drugs, was not as confident. He interpreted bills mentioned during the SONA as mere "suggestions." (FULL TEXT: President Duterte’s 2019 State of the Nation Address)

"Hindi naman siya namumuwersa. Hindi naman siya nagdidirekta…. Mag-uusap-usap kami sa komite. (He is not forcing anyone. He is not directing anyone. But we will talk about this in the committee)," Dela Rosa told reporters.

Dela Rosa reiterated his stance that it "would have been easier" for the bill to be approved if it only involved drug trafficking. That was among his the initial bills he filed in his first week as senator.

Earlier, Senator Bong Go claimed that lawmakers who would oppose the measure that covers the crime of plunder probably "fear" for their lives.

Dela Rosa, along with senators Panfilo Lacson, Manny Pacquiao, and Go, filed separate death penalty bills.

But it was Go's bill that included capital punishment for plunder convicts, which was backed by the President in his SONA. (READ: Even as senator, Bong Go to still 'assist' Duterte)

Despite the President's endorsement, some senators still oppose the bill.

Senator Richard Gordon said he does not support the bill, him being the head of pro-life Philippine Red Cross. He also said that death penalty does not serve as deterrent to crime.

He cited the experience of Alabama in the United States, where capital punishment is allowed, yet school shootings still happened.

"'Pag sinabing heinous crime, malamang sumuporta, but all over the world, hindi naman 'yan nasusunod eh. 'Di naman napigil 'yung mga shooting sa eskuwelahan," Gordon said.

(When we say heinous crime, maybe more people will support it, but all over the world, people don't follow that. School shootings were not prevented.)

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, being a "fellow Red Crosser," also opposed the bill. 

Senator Grace Poe also reaffirmed her position against the death penalty.

As for the minority, Senator Franklin Drilon said that no matter the crimes involved, they would still be opposed to capital punishment.

"Para sa amin sa minorya, hindi kami papayag na ibalik ang death penalty dahil mahihirap lamang ang mapaparusahan," Drilon said.

(For us in the minority, we will not allow for death penalty to be reinstated because only the poor will be punished.)

Sotto earlier on Monday said that death penalty will be among the measures to be "tackled first" given that more proponents filed the bill in 18th Congress.

The 17th Congress senators rejected the passage of the bill, while the House of Representatives passed it on 3rd and final reading.  Rappler.com

For highlights of President Duterte’s 4th SONA, check out our live blog. 

Rappler takes a deeper look at the first half of Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency – its highs and lows, its achievements and shortcomings:
Duterte Year 3: The Halfway Mark 

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.

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