MANILA - Death penalty advocate Sen. Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa on Wednesday was appointed as a member of a Senate panel that will vote on bills seeking to revive the capital punishment in the Philippines.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian relinquished his seat in the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights in favor of Dela Rosa, a former national police chief who won as senator with a campaign promise of killing convicted drug lords.
"I can sense the candor and determination of Sen. Dela Rosa on the matter," Gatchalian said in plenary.
"I am yielding my membership in the Justice Committee to Sen. Dela Rosa so he can participate in the deliberation [of death penalty bills]," he said.
Under the Senate rules, only members of a panel can vote if a bill should be brought in plenary for debates or killed at the committee level.
Dela Rosa's membership in the committee also qualifies him to sponsor the death penalty bill in plenary should panel chair Sen. Richard Gordon, a critic of the capital punishment, allow it.
Discussions about Dela Rosa's inclusion in the committee that would tackle measures on the reimposition of death penalty began after the neophyte senator volunteered to spearhead the passage of those in the Senate.
"In the 2019 elections, I ran with a single platform: that is the reimposition of death penalty," said the former chief implementor of the government's deadly war on drugs.
"Hundreds of people are inquiring in my Facebook account, asking 'What happened to death penalty, bakit hindi hini-hear?'" he said, noting 10 capital punishment bills have been languishing in the Justice committee.
Prior to Dela Rosa's inclusion in the committee, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon thumbed down the former police chief's proposal to head a sub-committee that will focus on death penalty bills since he was not a member of the Senate Justice panel.
Gordon said capital punishment bills will be discussed "at the proper time," but underscored that he would still steer the deliberations at the committee level.
"I think I can objectively steer the deliberations," he said.
"But I will not sponsor it because I do not believe in it... We can let Sen. Bato or Sen. [Manny] Pacquiao sponsor it," he added.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III earlier said that the reimposition of the death penalty may have a "better chance" of getting Congressional approval if the measure is limited to high-level drug traffickers.
Dela Rosa agreed with Sotto, saying that limiting capital punishment to drug lords "cancels out one predominant issue against death penalty: that it is anti-poor."
Calls for the revival of death penalty resumed in Congress shortly after President Rodrigo Duterte, in his 5th State of the Nation Address, urged the legislative branch to pass a measure for it.
The imposition of death penalty in the Philippines was abolished by a law in 2006 under the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a devout Catholic.
The capital punishment was initially allowed through Republic Act 7659 signed in 1993 by then-President Fidel Ramos.
Another law, Republic Act 8177, specifically designated lethal injection as the mode of carrying out the capital punishment. This was imposed in 1999 by then-President Joseph Estrada, followed by a moratorium until the passage of RA 9346 in 2006.
Amnesty International said the death penalty is not only cruel, inhumane, and mostly affects those living in poverty, it does not also work as an effective way to deter people from committing crime.