ATIENZA: We should find another Speaker
BY ROGER M. BALANZA
Philippine legislators are dismayed at being arm-twisted into supporting a bill re-imposing death penalty and are after the head of the Speaker of the House of Representatives for rail roading approval of the controversial bill with threats.
“We should find another Speaker,” said Representative Lito Atienza of the party-list Buhay Party. Party-list groups have a 20 percent representation in the 286-member House.
“We are here not for the pleasure of the Speaker or the President,” said Gabriela partylist Rep. Emmi de Jesus, chairperson of the House committee on poverty alleviation.
With his arm-twisting, the Speaker is losing the support of his allies, said Kabayan party-list Rep. Harry Roque.
In what is seen as an attempt to railroad approval of the bill, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez on February 8, gathered members of the House “Super Majority” in a caucus to press support for House Bill No. 4727 that has drawn widespread criticism from the public, including opposition and administration legislators.
Vice President Leni Robredo has added fire to the fray by urging legislators opposing the bill to stand up against Alvarez, an ally of President Rodrigo Duterte. Duterte has asked the House to prioritize approval of the bill.
Robredo said members of the House can prove their leadership if they spurn Alvarez and vote against the controversial bill.
This is a “defining moment” for legislators, said Robredo.
HB 4727 has now reached the plenary after House justice committee chairperson Reynaldo Umali tossed the bill for 2nd reading on February 7.
Alvarez had earlier warned that House Deputy Speakers and chairmen of committees would lose their posts if they would not support the bill that would send to death row people committing heinous crimes.
Imposing capital punishment had been removed from the statutes by the Philippine Congress in 1986.
Alvarez reiterated his warning to unseat Deputy Secretaries and House committee chairmen, and kick out legislators from the majority bloc, if they would not support the bill, during the January 8 caucus.
Legislators, in interviews with media, expressed dismay at Alvarez’s arm-twisting as soon as they emerged from the caucus.
In a news conference, apparently aware of Alvarez’s arm-twisting, Robredo urged lawmakers to vote based on principles on the death penalty bill.
“Leaders should be ready to defy the orders (that) are not aligned with their beliefs,” said the Vice President, adding her voice to the opposition. Robredo run and won the vice presidency in the May 2016 polls under the banner of the then administration Liberal Party of then outgoing President Benigno Aquino whose standard bearer former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas was soundly defeated by President Rodrigo Duterte of the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino\Laban (PDP/Laban). Robredo is in the forefront of criticizing some programs of the Duterte administration. The death penalty bill is a priority of the President.
Robredo said legislators would have their “defining moment” when the death penalty bill is placed on a vote.
“This could be a defining moment … and (the legislators’) chance to… stand firm on what they believe in,” she said.
Her urging helped spark speculations over a rumored plan by legislators to unseat Alvarez as House Speaker for arm-twisting legislators into supporting the bill. The rumor spread after the January 8 caucus.
There is a yawning divide among members of the House over Bill No. 4727.
But number, and Alvarez’s arm-twisting, is a crucial factor that could ensure the passage of the bill.
The so-called “Super Majority,” a coalition led by the PDP-Laban, has 269 members of the 286-member House. With the majority bloc’s “party vote,” the bill could easily sail to approval.
At the forefront of the opposition to the bill is the Makabayan bloc, a seven-member group of progressive party-list legislators.
“Unfair,” said Gabriela partylist Rep. Emmi de Jesus, chairperson of the House committee on poverty alleviation, of Alvarez’s attempt to railroad passage of the bill by arm-twisting legislators with threats.
“We are here not for the pleasure of the Speaker or the President. It’s unfair for us because we are here (for) pro-people issues,” she said.
Kabayan party-list Rep. Harry Roque warned the arm-twisting could result to Alvarez losing support of allies in the Super Majority.
“Alvarez (is) driving people to the arms of the (opposition). Do not drive away our numbers to the enemy,” Roque, whose party has joined the Super Majority, advised Alvarez.
Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza said Alvarez’s threat to disenfranchise deputy speakers and committee chairmen is shaking down the majority bloc allied with Duterte, who considers HB 4727 a priority bill.
“If Speaker Alvarez is twisting the arms of (the majority legislators), then he’s committing a very serious mistake … because he is now trampling on the principles of each member of the majority,” said Atienza, a vocal oppositor of capital punishment.
This “could lead to the members of the majority to think twice in following their leader. Maybe we should go find another Speaker,” he added.
Atienza urged legislators to deal the bill with a “conscience vote not a party vote.”
With his arm-twisting, Alvarez, according to Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat Jr, “risks losing the support of the political parties comprising the super coalition.”
“Most of the parties have adopted a policy of conscience vote. But if the Speaker insists, then he wants Congress to become an authoritarian body, not a democratic one,” said Baguilat.
Kabayan’s Roque, said Alvarez’s latest statement could drive several congressmen to rejoin the once-ruling LP, that now leads the minority in the House.
“This is not the right time to discuss the death penalty because it is very divisive. This gives the enemies of this administration the traction they need to get stronger support in the House,” said Roque.
According to sources, about 50 legislators, including administration allies, are expected to interpellate the bill’s sponsors when the bill is deliberated at plenary.
In the Senate, President Franklin Drilon said the death penalty bill would face rough sailing with 10 of the 24-member Senate against re-imposing death penalty.
We only need two more votes to kill the bill, said Drilon, who adds the bill is on the priority list of Senators.
Even if approved by both the Upper House and Lower House, the death penalty bill would run into trouble with the Supreme Court when the legality of the bill is questioned.
Drilon said the Philippines is bound by an international covenant which banned signatory countries from imposing capital punishment.
Drilon said the High Court respects international treaties and was expected to honor the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which the Philippines signed in 1966.
ICCPR was ratified by the Senate in 1986, on the year that it killed death penalty.