Philippines: death penalty bill must not be passed by Congress

The ICJ today urged the Philippine Congress to bring a halt to the Government’s attempt to bring back capital punishment.

The Philippine Congress’s attempt to restore this heinous practice is in blatant breach of its international legal obligations.

The ICJ condemned the approval on second reading of a bill to restore the death penalty by the Philippines’ House of Representatives on 1 March 2017 and called on legislators to vigorously oppose it and prevent it from being passed on final reading.

If adopted, the legislation will place the Philippines at odds with its legal obligation under international treaties to which it is party, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and its second Optional Protocol aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.

The ICJ also expressed concern at the manner in which the bill was effectively railroaded through the Philippine House of Representatives this week when it passed on second reading House Bill 4727, which seeks to reintroduce the death penalty for drug-related crimes.

House Bill 4727 will be put to a final vote on third reading next week. Nominal voting will be done on the third reading of the bill, which means that one by one, legislators would be called to explain their vote.

To marshal enough support for the bill, pro-death penalty legislators struck off all other crimes that were proposed in the original bill to be punishable by death, such as plunder, treason, and rape.

As it stands now, House Bill 4727 imposes capital punishment only on commission of drug-related crimes. Proponents of the bill claim that this is to support the President’s “war on drugs”.

The controversial measure was approved only eight session days after it reached the plenary for debates on 1 February 2017.

“It is obvious that proponents of State killing as means of “justice” were intent on rushing the passage of the death penalty bill by thwarting any substantial discussion thereon and by pressuring into silence those who oppose it,” said Emerlynne Gil, ICJ’s Senior International Legal Adviser for Southeast Asia.

A similar bill proposing to bring back the death penalty has been filed at the Philippine Senate. The Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights conducted the first hearing on the bill last 7 February 2017. The Committee Chair, Senator Richard Gordon, indefinitely suspended the hearing until the Department of Justice is able to submit its opinion on the Philippines’ obligations under the ICCPR and its Second Optional Protocol.

“Until recently, the Philippines had set an example of regional and global best practice on the abolition of the death penalty. Reintroducing the death penalty will be an enormous move backward for the country,” Gil emphasized.

The move by the Philippines goes against a global trend towards abolition of the death penalty.

In December, the United Nations General Assembly voted by a large majority, for the sixth time, to adopt a resolution which called on states that have abolished the death penalty not to reintroduce it. It also called on all retentionist States to impose a moratorium on the death penalty with a view to abolition.

The ICJ opposes the death penalty in all cases and considers its use to be a violation of the right to life and freedom from cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment.


The leadership has sought to bypass normal procedures in hastily pushing through the bill seeking to re-impose the death penalty at various stages of the Philippine Congress.

9 November 2016: the Sub-Committee on Judicial Reforms began hearings on the bill seeking to re-impose the death penalty.

29 November 2016: the Sub-Committee approved the bill after it rushed through the proceedings, ignoring important questions from other lawmakers questioning the need for such legislation. The bill was thereafter referred to the Committee on Justice for further deliberation.

7 December 2016: the Committee on Justice approved the bill and moved that it be debated in plenary.

1 February 2017: the plenary debate on House Bill 4727 began.

8 February 2017: the Speaker of the House of Representatives, in a closed-door caucus among members of the supermajority, threatened that those who oppose the bill will be stripped of their leadership posts in Congress, i.e. committee chairmanships and Deputy Speakerships.

28 February 2017: amidst vehement objections from the opposition, the debate in plenary was ended. This was done despite the fact that only nine out of at least 50 members of Congress who had registered to interpellate the sponsors of the bill had been given the opportunity to do so.

1 March 2017: during the period of individual amendments, the sponsors of the bill invoked omnibus rejection to all proposed amendments, rejecting every proposal that was deemed inconsistent with the House leadership’s agenda of immediately passing the bill. Later that day, the period of individual amendments was ended, despite calls from legislators who wished to make further changes to the bill.


Ms. Emerlynne Gil, ICJ’s Senior International Legal Adviser, tel. no. +66 840923575, email: emerlynne.gil(a)

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