Manny Pacquiao was an absentee congressman. Although he was elected to attend House sessions, Pacquiao spent almost all of his time preparing for and slugging it out in the boxing ring. Why Pacquiao was not sued for shortchanging his constituency, and for drawing a salary which he obviously did not earn, is a mystery. Under the law, his extended absences should have warranted an anti-graft case against him.
Because Pacquiao was an absentee in the House, his presence in the Senate last week shocked many Filipinos watching the proceedings on television. The freshman senator was dressed to the nines, beard and all, and looked determined to disprove that he is unfit for membership in the Senate. In fact, he was able to deliver his first privilege speech.
As expected, Pacquiao’s speech consisted of many sentences in broken English. From what could be discerned from his disorganized discourse, Pacquiao wanted the restoration of the death penalty because drug syndicates are not deterred by current laws from pursuing their nefarious activities. Pacquiao also cited the Bible repeatedly.
There is no problem about the Bible. The problem is that the Constitution mandates the separation of Church and State. It seems inappropriate that a senator of the republic, who is expected to be aware of that constitutional mandate, based his legislative proposal on sectarian grounds. Since it is reasonable to assume that many Muslims and other non-Christians voted for Pacquiao, the senator should not anchor his legislative proposals on the Christian Bible. Pacquiao should be told that any law based solely on religious considerations is vulnerable to intense scrutiny, on constitutional grounds, in a suit before the Supreme Court.
Another freshman senator, Leila De Lima, interpellated Pacquiao. This also came as a surprise because De Lima was not too keen on being interpellated when she delivered her first privilege speech as a senator.
From the way Senator De Lima began her interpellation, it seemed like she was certain that she will be able to reveal to the public that although Pacquiao can practice for a speech, Pacquiao cannot answer questions relating to his speech. De Lima’s style was almost condescending.
In the May 2016 election for the Senate, Pacquiao got more votes than De Lima, who placed last among 12 winning candidates. Did De Lima want to upstage Pacquiao?
Actually, De Lima performed more miserably than Pacquiao did, not because Pacquiao did better, but because De Lima’s remarks were legally unsound for a lawyer.
De Lima started by announcing that she is personally against the death penalty. For her, the death penalty has all the badges of a cruel or unusual punishment prohibited by the Constitution.
It seems that De Lima forgot that she was elected to enact laws in accord with the Constitution, and not to object to laws for personal reasons, especially reasons which are incompatible with the charter.
Anyway, De Lima threw many questions at Pacquiao.
First, De Lima asked if Pacquiao was aware of an existing treaty by which the Philippines bound itself to the international community to do away with the death penalty. Pacquiao admitted he had heard of that treaty, but did not elaborate on it.
De Lima then asked Pacquiao for statistics to support his proposition that the death penalty will be an effective deterrent against drug-related offenses and other heinous crimes. She was almost visibly delighted when Pacquiao was unable to cite figures.
Pacquiao does not understand the Constitution because he has no actual involvement with it. As stated earlier, De Lima is a lawyer and is expected to know what the Constitution is all about. From her remarks and style of questioning during the interpellation, De Lima gave herself away.
In the first place, the Constitution does not prohibit the death penalty, and even allows Congress to impose it for heinous crimes. If the Constitution itself allows the imposition of the death penalty in certain instances, then the death penalty cannot be considered as unconstitutional punishment. That is why even if the Constitution disallows the imposition of any cruel or unusual punishment for crimes, the death penalty cannot be considered cruel or unusual punishment within the context of the constitutional ban, precisely because it is allowed by charter itself.
Thus put, the view that the death penalty is a cruel or unusual punishment, as stressed by De Lima, is untenable.
Next, the Constitution can only be amended or modified with the consent of the Filipino people expressed through a plebiscite. A treaty cannot supersede, amend or modify any provision of the Constitution because a treaty does not enjoy the express consent of the people. Surely, a document that does not have the direct approval of the people cannot take precedence over one which has, like the Constitution.
Moreover, the inferior status of a treaty to that of the Constitution is underscored in the charter itself. Under the charter, the Supreme Court has the power to declare a treaty unconstitutional.
In other words, a treaty cannot be cited against the Constitution.
Since the Constitution does not prohibit the imposition of the death penalty and even allows it in certain instances, the treaty cited by De Lima is not a valid impediment against the restoration of the death penalty.
De Lima wanted statistics which support the view that the death penalty is an effective deterrent against drug syndicates. If De Lima wants empirical justification, she should take a look at what repeatedly took place in the national penitentiary during her watch as Justice Secretary. Convicted drug lords, snug in the knowledge that they cannot be put to death, continued their criminal activities inside prison, and in living conditions almost akin to five-star hotel accommodations, in violation of prison rules De Lima failed to enforce in the first place!
Perhaps the ongoing investigation of that unprecedented prison anomaly will disclose the real reasons why De Lima is very much against the restoration of the death penalty.