By Genalyn Kabiling and Hannah Torregoza
Malacañang is looking forward to the potential revival of the death penalty amid the entry of more newly elected administration allies in the 18th Congress.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the lawmakers are expected to vote in favor of death penalty if they agree with President Duterte’s stand on the issue.
“Palaging depende sa kanila iyon [It always depends on them]. If they share the President’s stand on death penalty, then they will be voting in favor,” he said during a Palace press briefing.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III reportedly saw a strong possibility of restoring death penalty for drug-related offenses as more candidates backing capital punishment will join the next Senate.
Sotto expected though the proposed death penalty will still face intense debate among the senators.
Sotto was pointing to the imminent entry of former presidential aide Christopher “Bong” Go, former Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) chair Francis Tolentino and former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa in the next Congress.
Sotto noted that most of those who got into the “Magic 12” are lawmakers who have voiced their preference for a law that would impose the death penalty for heinous crimes particularly illegal drug trafficking.
“That’s a possibility now dahil nga dumagdag yung pro-death penalty (na lawmakers), pero sino ang bumoto sa kanila? Yung mga tao, di ba? Alam nila kung sino ang pro-death penalty at hindi (na mga kandidato),” Sotto pointed out during a Kapihan sa Senado.
“So I’d rather not say that it’s a Palace(-backed) bill kung tutuusin. I, for one, filed (such a proposal) without any egging from the Palace,” Sotto stressed.
But Sotto said there is a chance some senators might not support its passage if lawmakers pushing for it would insist on including other crimes under the scope of the death penalty.
“Ako payag na ako dun sa ‘wag penalty eh because nakita ko rin eh. You could say that I’ve seen the light. Payag na talaga ako na huwag ‘yung death penalty,” Sotto said.
“But for high level drug trafficking, it has to be there. It is a high defense mechanism of the government against high level drug traffickers. Because we are the only country in this part of the world that has no death penalty for high level illegal drug trafficking,” the Senate leader pointed out.
“Kaya paboritong paborito tayo ng mga (drug syndicate) eh. Pag nahuli sila nakakapag-operate pa sa Muntinlupa. Kung ilalagay mo yan parang sword of Damocles, it cannot be used, but it should be there,” he explained.
Sotto clarified that the death penalty bill has never been a priority of the Senate in the 17th Congress, but it was a priority legislation of Sen. Manny Pacquiao, who is also an ally of the Duterte administration.
“So I can say it is possible, di ko pwedeng sabihin mas madali, again because of the no-cloture rule in the Senate,” he said.
Asked if the Palace welcomes Sotto’s statement on the possible restoration of capital punishment, Panelo said: “Lahat naman iyan welcome basta pabor sa bayan [That’s all welcome as long as benefits the nation].”
The President earlier called on Congress to pass a bill restoring capital punishment for heinous crimes including trafficking of illegal drugs. Duterte said despite the gains in improving peace and order, there was so much to be desired to completely eradicate the scourge of drugs and criminality.
The House of Representatives previously passed the bill restoring capital punishment in the country but the senators of the 17th Senate remained divided on the issue.
As to the bill lowering the minimum age of criminal liability, Sotto said there is a chance that senators would be able to pass it on third reading before the 17th Congress ends.
“But if not, then the 18th Congress can take it up,” Sotto said. “There’s a big chance we can pass it on third reading if we will really fast break everything, unless the House adopts our version, then there is no need for a bicam,” he explained.
However, Sotto said he doubts that the proposal to shift to a federal form of government would also have a chance in the 18th Congress.
“Passage of federalism in the Senate depends on the merits of the federalism (bill) itself,” he said, adding that the members of the new Senate in the 18thCongress will surely debate on the controversial measure extensively.
He said even his party, the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) is having a hard time studying the implications of shifting to a federal form of government.
“That is why the NPC had a briefing on whether we are going to support it or not, the sentiment of the NPC is to study it thoroughly. That’s how hard it is. Because we anticipate that transition alone would need us at least five to 10 years of preparation from shifting to the present form to federalism. Even debates on that bill would be lengthy and difficult,” Sotto said.