AN interesting twist in the push by lawmakers in the House of Representatives to reimpose the death penalty via House Bill 4727 is the proposal to remove plunder from the listed crimes that are punishable with death. A government official can be charged with plunder if the amount allegedly stolen from the public coffers reaches at least P50 million.
The House is set to subject House Bill 4727 to amendments in the plenary. But before that, the House majority gathered in a caucus last week and agreed to remove plunder from the 21 heinous crimes sought to be punished with death. That sparked widespread criticism that had some lawmaker claiming the proposal is not final.
“This is just a money matter, anyway, as they say, too lame for others to include it.” That’s Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, co-author of the death penalty bill, explaining their plan. By the way, the methods proposed by the measure as punishment are lethal injection, firing squad or hanging.
So plunder of government coffers is “just” money matter? In another report, Umali framed his argument this way: “There is a bigger chance that a person would change when the issue is just money. But if you kill, you commit a heinous crime. That’s different. It’s like you’ve already lost your mind.”
Umali’s argument is actually the one that’s “lame.” He muddled the issue on plunder by not differentiating it with ordinary graft. It’s the magnitude of the thievery—and the damage it brings to governance and the lives of the Filipino people--that makes plunder heinous. Plunderers, in a way, have lost their minds also, making plunder not less of a crime than, say, rape. (Aren’t plunderers “rapists” of government coffers?)
And lawmakers won’t have to worry that the innocent may be wrongly convicted of the crime. Unlike ordinary rapists and murderers, plunderers have all the money to spend in their defense to hire the best lawyers and even pay off the corruptible people in the criminal justice system. We have already seen how plunderers have escaped prosecution through the years and are even now still among the dominant forces in the country’s politics.