Manolo Quezon has a ready answer to the question I raised late last night. Yes, the repeal of the death penalty (and the related law providing for lethal injection) happened because the President is meeting with the Pope late this month. She needed a suitable, substantial gift — and she got it a couple of weeks before her flight.
I have no doubt that, once the audience with Pope Benedict XVI was confirmed, the word went out to the House: Support Edcel Lagman’s bill, now. The chamber’s own website today offers its own kind of confirmation: This picture, with this caption: "Speaker Jose de Venecia and with the new apostolic Nuncio in the Philippines, H.E. Most Rev. Fernando Filoni, hold the copy of the Conference Committee Report on the abolition of the death penalty following its ratification by the House of Representatives Wednesday night. Joining de Venecia and Filoni are (from left) Deputy Speaker Raul del Mar, with Reps. Eduardo Veloso, Augusto Baculio (partly hidden), Luis Villafuerte, Edcel Lagman (principal sponsor), Simeon Kintanar and Constantino Jaraula."
As it turns out, the new Nuncio was at the Batasan, witness to and special guest at the final vote in the House. (A precedent I do not welcome, I must say.)
So, yes, the House (congressmen with tough-on-crime reputations included) got its marching orders, and off to the valley of death rode the 200.
What puzzles me, however, is the speed with which the Senate also passed its version of the bill, and the greater speed with which the Senate panel in the bicameral committee agreed to the consolidated bill. Yes, I do know that many senators (but certainly not all) have long had anti-capital punishment advocacies. I know that a number of them welcomed the President’s Easter Sunday commutation of all existing death sentences to life imprisonment. And yes, I know that the toughest of the tough-on-crime set, the mother-and-son tandem of Senator Loi Ejercito and Senator Jinggoy Estrada, have realized only too well that a repeal would benefit the paterfamilias (already five years, and counting, in detention).
But just this afternoon I saw Senator Ping Lacson, another law-and-order politician in the Joseph Estrada mold, describe the upper chamber to Pia Hontiveros on ANC as an "opposition Senate." If it were, what happened to its repeal bill? Why was it passed with alacrity? More to the point, why was it passed without winning any concessions from the Palace — treated like a gift, by politicians acting like they were beholden to Malacanang?
I wrote the following comment in Manolo’s indispensable blog (which, incidentally, is now harder to read, because of its new, reverse, white-on-black look):
I meant the politics of it, Manolo. The repeal seemed to have happened in a vacuum or, rather, as a separate issue altogether from other pending legislation (such as, you know, the budget). Of course many senators have been against the death penalty, but since when has personal conviction always translated into political action? What puzzles me is the alacrity with which the measure passed. Couldn’t (to ask only one question) the Senate have used the repeal as leverage in the budget deliberations? It was obviously something Gloria wanted.
Let’s face it: In the budget war, the opposition was badly outplayed. The terms were positively Ramosian, "win-win," for President Arroyo: She gets the 2006 budget, as proposed; she wins. She gets the reenacted 2005 budget, which would allow her to realign allocations previously allotted, and she wins too.
Which makes the Senate’s non-use of the leverage it enjoyed in the death penalty repeal all the more perplexing. Perhaps the senators were too busy haggling over the senate presidency to notice?