MANILA - There was death on Ash Wednesday.
The House of Representatives has approved House Bill 4727, or the proposed Death Penalty Law, on 2nd reading in a viva voce vote.
The approval came on Ash Wednesday, which kicks off the Lenten season in the Roman Catholic Church's calendar. Lent commemorates the passion, execution, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The approved version of the bill makes the death penalty an option for judges to impose on those convicted only for drug-related offenses.
The proposed law imposes the penalty of reclusion perpetua to death and a fine ranging from P500,000 to P10 million in addition to absolute perpetual disqualification from any public office, on any public officer or employee who misappropriates, misapplies, or fails to account for seized dangerous drugs.
The bill adds: "Any elective local or national official found to have benefited from the proceeds of the trafficking of dangerous drugs as prescribed in this Act, or have received any financial or material contributions or donations from natural or juridical persons found guilty of trafficking dangerous drugs as prescribed in this Act, shall be removed from office and perpetually disqualified from holding any elective or appointive positions in the government, its divisions, subdivisions, and intermediaries, including government-owned or controlled corporations."
"Any person who is found guilty of 'planting' any dangerous drug and/or controlled precursor and essential chemical, regardless of quantity and purity, shall suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua to death."
The death penalty will not be imposed on a guilty person below 18 years of age at the time of the commission of a drug-related crime.
Court of Appeals and Supreme Court review of any death penalty ruling will be mandatory. The bill would also require that the most senior lawyers of the public attorneys' office assist in the appeals.
The bill authorizes hanging, firing squad, and lethal injection as modes of execution.
The approval came amid questions from opponents of the bill who wanted to tackle each of the individual amendments and put them to a vote separately before the entire bill is voted upon.
The opponents likewise repeatedly asked for nominal voting each time a subject matter is put to a vote, instead of a mere viva voce.
All proposals inconsistent with the results of the supermajority caucus were refused.
Opponents of the bill wanted to delete the death penalty from the bill but they were all rejected.
After 2 hours, House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said the bill's opponents were not really interested in amending so he acceded to the motion for a 2nd roll call and indicated he will terminate the period of amendments.
The vote to approve on 2nd reading then came later.
Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin wanted the bill remanded to the Dangerous Drugs Committee. Villarin cited Section 28 (k) of the Rules of the House, which states that the Committee on Dangerous Drugs has authority over all "matters directly and principally relating to illegal and prohibited drugs, controlled precursors and essential chemicals, the production, manufacture, use and trafficking thereof, as well as the rehabilitation and treatment of drug dependents."
"Hindi dapat mauna ang karitela sa kabayo. How can we properly discuss the penalty if we won't tackle the nature of the crimes?" he said.
Kabayan Party-List Rep. Harry Roque earlier said a viva voce keeps the votes of each congressmen anonymous under the cloak of loud voices while nominal voting compels each lawmaker to put on record his or her vote.
Usually, votes on 2nd reading are done viva voce while nominal voting is done on 3rd and final reading. However a nominal vote earlier than the 3rd reading vote telegraphs or gives a good indication of the stand of each lawmaker, allowing pressure groups the opportunity to do some last-minute jockeying for votes.
The death penalty was abolished during the Arroyo administration in 2006. Former President Gloria Arroyo, now a House deputy speaker, has expressed her opposition to the bill despite the threat from House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez that those who oppose the bill will be stripped of their positions.
The bill has become a divisive matter in the lower House, taking the majority several caucuses to get a consensus.
Alvarez asked members of the majority back the measure, calling for party votes among supermajority member parties.
The death penalty is also expected to determine whether the Liberal Party lawmakers will stay in the majority . The LP has adopted a party stand against the death penalty but allowed its members to vote based on their conscience without fear of party sanctions.
Opposition LP members are hoping those who would be punished for voting against the bill will join the ranks of the minority at the lower House.