Speaker Alvarez vows to include Plunder in Death penalty crimes

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Just when plunder punishable by death was supposed to be a thing of the past insofar as the House of Representatives is concerned, the issue takes a twist thanks to a supposed anomaly involving the gaming regulator.

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez on Tuesday vowed plunder will be included in the final version of the bill reviving the death penalty after a committee hearing on the allegedly anomalous lease contract between the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) and Vanderwood Management Corporation — with government at the losing end.

PAGCOR admitted paying Vanderwood a total of P234 million in advance for the lease of a casino-hotel in Manila — despite the absence of a facility.

"Ito malinaw, niloko talaga ang gobyerno," Alvarez said. "Hangin ang inarkila ng PAGCOR? Wala pa iyong structure bayad na sila?"

[Translation: It's clear, they intend to fool the government.  PAGCOR leased air? The structure is not even there, but they're already paid.]

"Masyado namang unconscionable iyong ginawa na talagang talong talo ang gobyerno," Alvarez added. [What they did is really unconscionable, the government clearly is in the losing end.]

Former PAGCOR Chairman Cristino Naguiat reasoned out the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC) cleared the deal.

"Iyong binayad namin is within government rules," Naguiat stressed. [What we paid for is within government rules.]

But former OGCC head Raoul Creencia claimed PAGCOR was allowed to pay Vanderwood once the construction was done.

But more than a year since the payment was made, the building remains incomplete.

"An occupancy permit and all other permits evidencing the completion of the building… should already be presented," Creencia added.

Citing the questionable transaction, Alvarez said plunder should remain in the list of crimes punishable by death.

"Sabi ko nga with more reasons na talagang dapat isama natin e, kagaya nga nito. Sus, hindi ko ma-imagine talaga kung bakit pinayagan itong kontrata na ito," he said.

[Translation: Like what I said, with more reasons that it should be included in the list, like this one. Jesus, I can't really imagine how this contract was allowed.]

Watch: Plunder removed from crimes punishable by death

Plunder to be discussed in plenary

Now that Alvarez has said his piece, plunder will most likely make its way back to the list of heinous crimes, said Citizens' Battle Against Corruption (CIBAC) Party-list Representative Sherwin Tugna.

"The status is the Speaker being the leader of the House, having pronounced it not merely in a meeting among congressmen, even before the media and (to) the public, I believe it will now be included in the list of crimes may be punishable by death," Tugna told The Source on Wednesday.

Tugna and his party-list favor the bill, particularly for heinous crimes. Because of their advocacy against corruption, Tugna agrees with the inclusion of plunder on the list.

"So when he said it to the media yesterday, more likely it will now be considered in the plenary," he reiterated.

Tugna said while he "cannot speak for the Senate," he believes most of his colleagues in Congress favor death penalty.

"In the Lower House, there is a good chance that it will be passed on third reading," said Tugna. "I believe the supermajority has [the numbers]," he added.

More time for debates

Meanwhile, Minority Leader Edcel Lagman called on the House leadership to allow full debates on the bill before putting it to a vote.

"We will insist that all those who want to interpellate must be given their time to interpellate," said Lagman, who is opposing the measure.

Lagman said cutting debates short to meet a deadline is against House rules which allows freedom to debate.

Even so, Alvarez remains firm - the House will vote on the bill before session goes on break on March 8.

Also read: Deputy Speaker: Amended death penalty bill getting more lawmakers' support

CNN Philippines multi-platform writer Regine Cabato contributed to this report.