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3rd reading for death penalty bill on March 7 unconstitutional – House opposition

ANTI-DEATH PENALTY. Lawmakers Gary Alejano, Raul Daza, Edcel Lagman, Edgar Erice, and Emmanuel Billones hold a press conference on March 7, 2017. Photo by Mara Cepeda/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Members of the House opposition bloc argued that the leadership cannot schedule the 3rd and final reading for the death penalty bill on Tuesday, March 7, because doing so would be a violation of the 1987 Constitution.

Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman and Northern Samar 1st District Representative Raul Daza, both longtime politicians, made the statement in a press conference hours before House Bill (HB) Number 4727 is set to be read before the House plenary for the 3rd and last time.

"The 3rd and final reading on the death penalty bill which the House leadership scheduled today or tomorrow is premature. It is not seasonable as it violates the 3-day notice rule prescribed by Section 26(2) of Article VI of the Constitution," said Lagman.

That provision under the Constitution states: "No bill passed by either House shall become a law unless it has passed 3 readings on separate days, and printed copies thereof in its final form have been distributed to its Members 3 days before its passage, except when the President certifies to the necessity of its immediate enactment to meet a public calamity or emergency."

Lagman also said the March 7 schedule for HB 4727’s 3rd and final reading will violate Section 58, Rule X of the Rules of the House of Representatives.

House rules state: "No bill or joint resolution shall become law unless it passes 3 readings on separate days and printed copies thereof in its final form are distributed to the Members 3 days before its passage except when the President certifies to the necessity of its immediate enactment to meet a public calamity or emergency."

The House approved on 2nd reading the bill reimposing the death penalty for drug offenses on March 1. (WATCH: Death penalty bill breezes through 2nd reading in House)

According to Daza, the leadership distributed copies of the bill to the offices of congressmen on March 2 which falls on a Thursday, when congressmen are usually out of their offices to visit their districts. The House conducts session from Mondays to Wednesdays only.

Copies of HB 4727 were also emailed to lawmakers on Thursday. Daza said the Constitution and House rules state that physical copies, not just electronic copies, should be sent to lawmakers directly.

"That shows hindi lang nire-railroad ito. Siguro binu-bullet train itong bill na ‘to. So, unconstitutional ‘yung gagawin nila mamayang hapon. Responsibilidad nila ‘yan," said Lagman.

(That shows they aren’t just railroading this. Maybe they’re also rushing the passage of the bill like a bullet train. So, what they’ll be doing this afternoon is unconstitutional. That’s their responsibility.)

"If the leadership insists on passing the bill on 3rd reading tonight, they will be traversing or violating the Constitution. And I’m sure that when this bill goes to the Supreme Court… this will be a clear and incontestable earmark of this bill if it becomes a law, being unconstitutional," he added.

Lagman argued that the constitutionally acceptable time for the House to conduct the 3rd and final reading for HB 4727 is next week.

The death penalty measure is a priority of President Rodrigo Duterte, who counts at least 267 congressmen as his allies.

"Our next step is to wait until the President has signed the bill into law. And once this bill is signed into law, kahit ‘di pa tuyo ang tinta, pupunta na kami sa Korte Suprema (we’ll go to the Supreme Court immediately)," Lagman said.

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez previously warned House leaders that those who will not be voting in favor of the measure will be removed from their posts. – Rappler.com