Senate President Vicente Sotto III said on Tuesday that he is willing to sponsor the proposed revival of death penalty but only if it will be limited to high-level drug traffickers.
Sotto said he will make himself available for the discussions on President Duterte’s call for the passage of a bill that would reimpose capital punishment on offenses under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, which imposes penalties on various degrees of drug offenses, such as illegal drug possession, sale, distribution and manufacture.
He, however, maintained his position that the death penalty bill should be confined only to drug lords.
“If it’s limited to drug traffficking lang (only), I will be willing to sponsor…I will make myself available if the committee or the members of the Senate wish, only if its confined to high level drug trafficking, not just drug trafficking. Drug trafficking has many forms eh, maraming masasagaan sa low-level (many of those in the lower levels will be affected), I’m not supportive [of that] as far as that is concerned,” Sotto, a principal author of the Republic Act No. 9165, told reporters in an online interview.
Citing his experience in legislation since 1992, Sotto said the death penalty has always been controversial. And in their debates, he said he was convinced that the concerns of those opposed to the measure were “correct.”
“For example, anti-poor. Na anti-poor ‘yong death penalty (They say death penalty is anti-poor). Makakakuha ng magagaling na abogado ‘yong mayayaman, at ‘yong mahirap ay hindi (The wealthy can afford the services of good lawyers while the poor cannot). Those who will be meted with the death penalty would be the poor ones,” he said in a separate interview on ABS-CBN News Channel.
“But when it comes to high-level drug trafficking, it does not work. The ‘anti-poor’ cliques does not work because there are no poor drug lords,” he added.
He also acknowledged the distrust of some in the country’s justice system.
Still, Sotto said the Senate will first be testing the waters before starting their hearings on the death penalty bills.
“I could say that I will have difficulty counting who will be in favor as far as the Senate is concerned. Right now, siguro (maybe) 50-50 ang chance,” he said.
“We’ll have to go into a consensus, pakiramdaman muna namin kasi baka maging useless kung puro kami debate,” he said.
If this would not hurdle the chamber, Sotto offered anew his proposal to establish separate and stricter penal facilities for high-level drug traffickers. “If my bill is approved and supported by government, we do not need the death penalty.”
The Senate leader said he and Senator Richard Gordon, Senate justice and human rights committee chairman, have the discussed about possibility of assigning the sponsorship of the death penalty bill to other senators. Gordon, who has been opposed to death penalty, agreed to give way to its proponents.
Defending the death penalty bill for high-level drug trafficking would not violate his pro-life stand, Sotto said.
“[I am] Pro-life for the unborn but not for heinous criminals. Meron akong (I have a) divided line. ‘Pag dating sa heinous crimes wala akong awa (When it comes to heinous crimes I am merciless),” he explained to media.
Sens. Manny Pacquiao, Panfilo Lacson or Ronald dela Rosa, who have filed bills on death penalty, could also defend the measure, he said.
At least 10 bills have been filed in Senate seeking revive death penalty in the country.