Last Saturday morning, Congressman Cesar Sarmiento invited members of the local media to a breakfast meeting at a fastfood restaurant where he defended his affirmative vote for the passage of the controversial death penalty bill at the House of Representatives.
The congressman argued for the constitutionality of the bill, saying that the measure does not allow the imposition of the death penalty except for compelling reason, especially heinous crimes, and cited as well the humanitarian aspects and safeguards of the proposed law
He said illegal drugs and drug-related crimes do not only affect an individual but entire families, it destroys the community.
In a sense, Cong. Sarmiento added, the death penalty measure values the sanctity of life. “It is a message also to the perpetrators of crimes that the government will not tolerate the killing of innocent victims,” he stressed.
A subsequent posting of the interview video on facebook naturally generated expectedly acidic comments from netizens, several of whom wondered why plunder was not included in the list of crimes punishable by death. Some pointedly attributed Cong. Sarmiento’s vote to his fear of losing the chairmanship of the House Committee on Transportation.
Only one defended his decision by saying that CS’ solitary vote would not change the outcome of the DPB vote compared to the benefits that the province would get. The commenter was probably referring to the numerous programs and projects for the island that the good congressman was able to allocate in the 2017 General Appropriations Act.
To idealists, their representative in Congress, or any other public official, should take a stand on a contentious political issue not out of expediency but as a matter of inviolable principle, despite popular opposition.
But in an unfortunate reflection of the quality of Philippine democracy, what is obtaining in this island province and elsewhere is not an ideal political situation where everything is in black and white, where people freely elect their representatives in clean, orderly and honest elections.
As an editorial of the Philippine Daily Inquirer on the “yes” vote of a Bataan congressman clearly pointed out, politics is compromise in this country. This has been the bane of the nation ever since the Filipinos, as a whole, failed to capitalize on the gains of the 1986 EDSA Revolution to reorient themselves into choosing elective officials on the basis of their qualifications, and not on the amount of money they offer in buying votes.
Many voters in this island would probably understand Cong. Sarmiento’s position on the Death Penalty Bill, as well as the underlying reasons for his vote, as simply the result of pragmatic politics.
But they know for sure that his take on the DPB’s anti-crime aspect as somehow valuing the sanctity of life is as good as the Duterte administration’s stand that there is no pork barrel in the national budget and that extrajudicial killings do not exist.