Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez on Wednesday threatened to remove those opposed to the death penalty bill from plum posts in the Duterte-controlled supermajority in Congress.
“If you are deputy speaker, it doesn’t look good if you won’t support the administration-sponsored bill, and if you’re chairman of a committee,” Alvarez said in an interview.
“We will replace deputy speakers who won’t support the administration bill, because it’s awkward if you’re a deputy speaker and you don’t agree with the leadership,” he said.
The same treatment shall also apply to chairs of the House committees, said Alvarez, a principal author of House Bill No. 4727, which seeks to reimpose capital punishment for heinous crimes.
The leader of the 293-seat chamber called two separate caucuses with members of the PDP-Laban party and the supermajority in the morning and afternoon, respectively, to discuss what measures to take to ensure the passage of the bill.
PDP-Laban is the ruling party in the House with more than 100 members in a standing coalition with other parties that comprise the supermajority.
Though capital punishment is one of the priority bills of the administration, some supermajority members have expressed opposition to it, including former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a deputy speaker, and members of the leftist Makabayan bloc, three of whom hold committee chairmanships.
The House is still debating the death penalty bill on the plenary floor, though the process has been far from smooth with opponents employing parliamentary tactics to stall deliberations, such as repeatedly questioning the quorum.
Three proponents have wrapped up their sponsorship speeches.
On Tuesday night, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, a leader of an opposition bloc, was supposed to have begun his interpellation but did not proceed after observing that there were not enough members on the floor.
In spite of entreaties from the floor leader, he moved for an adjournment, forcing a temporary halt to the deliberations.
In the interview, Alvarez said he intended to tell members of the supermajority that the PDP-Laban party was taking a party stand on the death penalty.
“Because it’s a party stand, if you don’t agree with the party stand, you might as well quit your membership to the party,” he said.
Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat, a leader of an opposition bloc opposed to the death penalty, said Alvarez was taking a risk in pushing a party vote on the bill.
“If the Speaker does that, he risks losing the support of the political parties comprising the super coalition. Most of the parties have adopted a policy of conscience vote,” he said.
“But if the Speaker insists, then he wants Congress to become an authoritarian body, not a democratic one,” Baguilat said.
Members of the minority bloc led by Minority Leader Danilo Suarez also warned Alvarez that such a hard-line stance might jeopardize his own hold on the speakership.
Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza, a staunch opponent of the measure, said the Speaker would be committing a very serious mistake if he persisted in “twisting the arms” of the majority members.
Suarez, a co-author of the death penalty bill, has allowed his members to take a conscience vote on the bill.