A CAPITAL Defense Unit (CDU) that would provide topnotch private attorneys, with the State footing the bill, to poverty-stricken persons who may be charged with death penalty-eligible offenses in court needs to be created if the plan to reimpose the death penalty succeeds.

Assuming Congress decides to revive death verdicts for the worst criminal offenders, the State should at least guarantee that nobody gets wrongfully doomed on account of his or her being poor and unable to obtain superior legal representation.

We have to ensure that disadvantaged individuals accused of capital felonies receive the best legal defense available.

As proposed, the CDU would be run by the University of the Philippines College of Law’s Institute of Human Rights and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, retain highly experienced criminal defense attorneys, and pay for all the legal fees of underprivileged defendants facing potential death sentences.

Our proposal is the definitive answer to deep fears that only destitute defendants would receive death sentences due to their inability to get effective legal representation. We have to acknowledge that in the real world, getting hold of adequate legal remedies has a price not everybody can pay. This is why the State has to come in.

The bill reinstating capital punishment gives trial judges the full discretion to mete out either 30-year prison terms or death sentences to persons found guilty of heinous crimes, based on the consensus reached by a House super-majority caucus last week to remove the mandatory death penalty.

But House senior deputy minoritylLeader and Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza has warned that only impoverished citizens inadequately represented at trial would get death sentences. Moneyed people who are able to retain high-priced lawyers would always escape conviction, or get the lesser punishment of 30 years imprisonment.

As proposed, only truly needy or low-income individuals, as determined by the Department of Social Welfare and Development, would get the CDU’s legal representation. An initial appropriation of P260 million has been sought for the CDU.--Rep. Luis N. Campos