Philippine lawmakers' U-turn on death penalty for party drugs

Bill revising narcotics law is recalled so provisions that could reimpose capital punishment can be removed
Philippine lawmakers' U-turn on death penalty for party drugs

Students and teachers from a Catholic university in Manila show their opposition to the re-imposition of capital punishment in the country through a noise barrage. (Photo by Jhun Dantes)

Philippine legislators have decided to drop provisions in a bill that could reimpose the death penalty for people found possessing illegal drugs at parties and social gatherings.

In a dramatic U-turn, members of the Lower House of Congress recalled the proposed measure, which was approved on Feb. 4.

"We decided to reconsider approval [of the bill] in order to clarify provisions that refer to the death penalty," said Rep. Fredenil Castro, majority leader of the House of Representatives.

Castro said legislators wanted to prevent "multiple interpretation" of the death penalty provisions in the proposal "that might mislead Filipinos into believing that the death sentence has been restored."

He pointed out that even if the bill is passed in its original form, the death penalty would not be implemented unless Congress passes a law that restores capital punishment.

The original version of the bill states that, "any person found possessing any dangerous drugs during a party, or at a social gathering or meeting ... shall suffer the penalty of life imprisonment to death."

Violators may also be subjected to a fine of between 500,000 pesos (US$9,550) to 10 million pesos "regardless of the quantity and purity of such dangerous drugs."

"We are going to amend by substitution, erasing all provisions that refer to the death penalty. We have to be categorical that the maximum penalty to be imposed is reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment," said Castro.

Church leaders maintained their stand against capital punishment

Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon said it is "ridiculous to kill a person just because he possesses an illegal drug."

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo said legislators who would insist on approving the death penalty are "people who promote killings."

He said the inclusion of the death penalty in an anti-illegal drugs law "is anti-poor and can easily be abused."

Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga called on legislators to instead make laws that will give drug offenders more access to rehabilitation.

The prelate, however, said that laws must be severely applied to drug lords.

In 2006, former president Gloria Arroyo, now Speaker of the House of Representatives, abolished the death penalty.

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When President Rodrigo Duterte took power in 2016, he asked congress to prioritize a bill to bring back the death penalty for heinous crimes, including drug-related offenses.

Mark Saludes contributed to this report.

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