MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a bill to restore the death penalty by hanging, lethal injection or firing squad for drug offenses despite opposition from the influential Roman Catholic church and human rights groups.
The House said 216 members approved the proposed legislation, 54 voted against it and one abstained Tuesday, bringing nearer to reality President Rodrigo Duterte's campaign promise to restore capital punishment for hardcore criminals, especially drug traffickers.
The death penalty could have been applicable for several crimes, including economic plunder in a country rife with corruption scandals, under earlier House bill versions but lawmakers later agreed to allow it only for drug offenses, including production and trafficking.
House bill 4727 must be merged with the version being deliberated in the Senate and then signed by Duterte to become a law. Both chambers of Congress are dominated by Duterte's allies.
Proponents argue the death penalty would help combat the drug menace, which Duterte has elevated to a national security threat. His anti-drug crackdown has left thousands of drug suspects dead since he took office in June.
Opponents led by the dominant Catholic church held an anti-death penalty rally attended by more than 10,000 people in Manila three weeks ago. More than 200 activists protested against the death penalty outside the House as lawmakers voted on the bill Tuesday.
"The death penalty is an abhorrent punishment. It forecloses the reformation of the convict. It victimizes the poor. It is not the solution to criminality," Rep. Edcel Lagman, a key critic of the bill, said Tuesday. Rep. Tom Villarin cited corruption among law enforcers and weaknesses in the country's judicial system to vote against the bill.
Amnesty International said the House bill's approval sets the Philippines "on a dangerous path in flagrant violation of its international legal obligations," citing the country's 2007 ratification of a treaty that categorically prohibits executions and commits it to the abolition of the death penalty.
The issue has long been divisive in the Philippines, Asia's bastion of Catholicism that has also grappled with widespread crime. Capital punishment was abolished in 1987 but restored in 1993 for heinous crimes such as murder, child rape and kidnapping. Seven people were executed in that period.
Then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo again abolished the death penalty in 2006. Now the deputy House speaker, she voted against its reimposition, despite a threat from House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, a key Duterte ally, to strip lawmakers of committee chairmanships and other key posts if they vote against the bill.