Death penalty debates conclude; opposing lawmakers decry 'railroading'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Capital punishment in the country is another step closer to being restored.

After only seven days, the House of Representatives ended the period of sponsorship and debates on the controversial bill late Wednesday.

Only seven out of the 25 congressmen who were on the roster to express their opinions or question the bill's sponsors were able to do so.

Those opposing the bill could not hide their disappointment on what they called "railroading" of the bill's passage.

"Garapalang railroading iyong naganap," ACT Party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio said. "Pinagkait sa mga kasapi ng House 'yung karapatang magsalita, magpahayag."

[Translation: There was a brazen railroading. Some members of the House were denied of their right to speak and to express freely.]

Only representatives Edcel Lagman, Raul Del Mar, Rav Rocamora, Harry Roque, Lawrence Fortun, Tom Villarin, and Kaka Bag-ao were able to interpellate in plenary debates.

Those who were cut short were representatives Teddy Baguilat Jr., Antonio Tinio, Jocelyn Liumkaichong, Gabriel Bordado Jr., Geraldine Roman, Emmi De Jesus, Gary Alejano, Sarah Jane Elago, Emmanuel Bilones, Carlos Zarate, Ariel Casilao, Jorge "Bolet" Banal, Edgar Erice, France Castro, Sitti Turabin-Hataman, Arlene Brosas, Manuel Zubiri, Raul Daza, and Henedina Abad.

Also read: House ends death penalty debates ahead of schedule

Albay Rep. Lagman, a staunch critic of the death penalty, said in a statement that lawmakers who wanted to interpellate were deliberately "rammed down" in the course of the House leadership's "railroading" of House Bill No. 4727 seeking the reimposition of capital punishment.

"The gagging or muzzling of legislators is anathema to a democratic institution", Lagman said.

Majority bloc claims 'delaying tactics' by Death Penalty oppositors

For 1-Ang Edukasyon Party-list Rep. Salvador Belaro, who is in favor of the bill, the decision to end the plenary debates is merely a "political process" that is "governed by the law of the majority."

House Majority Leader Rudy Fariñas earlier said he would call for an end to the debates, since he believed those opposing the bill were engaging in delaying tactics to block the bill's passage.

Most congressmen have already decided on their stand and want to cast their vote in favor of restoring the death penalty, he added.

Meanwhile, the lower chamber adopted a substitute bill on Wednesday night, which contains a set of amendments approved by the majority.

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The substitute bill also includes under the provision of drug-related crimes, liability of a public officer or employee for misappropriation, or failure to account for the confiscated dangerous drugs, and criminal liability for planting of evidence.

It also gives judges the option to punish perpetrators of heinous crimes with reclusion perpetua or death.

Also read: Bumpy road for capital punishment: Lawmakers, government officials divided

Opposition's 'Plan B'

Lagman said that the substitute bill which was denoted as committee amendments by the House Committee on Justice, is improper and invalid because these amendments were not approved by the committee itself in a meeting.

Tinio said he will move to re-open the period of interpellation when session resumes on Monday.

If they can't muster enough votes to re-open the debates, ACT Party-list Representative France Castro said they will just propose amendments to water down the bill.

"Sa bawat time na babanggitin ang death penalty, i-o-oppose natin iyon or i-a-amend natin iyon," Castro said. [Everytime they will speak of death penalty, we will oppose it or we will amend it.]

But for some members of the majority, there was nothing wrong with concluding the debates.

Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat Jr., meanwhile, called for "people power" to prevent the Duterte administration from "forcing Congress" to approve the measure.

The specter of Martial Law was present in the House of Representatives with the end of the debates, said Baguilat.

"Because of pressure from the Speaker and House leaders, those who are voting 'no' because of their personal convictions based on their faith and ideological persuasions are now being forced to toe the administration line," said Baguilat.

With the way that the Speaker and the House "was forcing the passage" of the death penalty bill, "it was as if dictatorship has returned," he added.

The death penalty was abolished in the Philippines under the 1987 Constitution. Former President Fidel Ramos reinstated the death penalty in 1993, only for it to be abolished again in 2006 after then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed a law reducing maximum punishment to life imprisonment.

The Philippines is also signatory to international conventions that prohibit it from imposing the death penalty in the country.

Hope for the scuttling of the death penalty bill lies with the Senate, which has been lukewarm to the move to restore capital punishment.

Earlier this month, 14 senators filed Senate Resolution No. 289, which states that the Senate must vote on the termination and withdrawal of the Philippines from such international treaties and agreements.

It requires two-thirds of the senate vote before the agreement is dropped.

Watch: Duterte defends death penalty