Politics as compromise
If, despite popular opposition, you take a stand on a political issue not out of expediency but from what you believe is a matter of just, inviolable principle, it’s a safe bet you won’t be writing an apologia afterwards that begins with “Politics is compromise.”
That’s how Bataan Rep. Geraldine Roman has tried to excuse and explain the “yes” vote she cast for the restoration of the death penalty, joining 216 other “ayes” at the House of Representatives. Roman, a trailblazer in Philippine politics as the first openly transgender woman to be elected to the legislature, has made it her central advocacy to fight for the rights of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community, specifically through an antidiscrimination bill that she, along with a number of other progressive legislators, have been working hard to pass. The philosophical bedrock of that proposed law, of course, is that LGBTs have as much right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as the rest of their heterosexual fellow citizens.
But here was Roman agreeing with the majority in voting for the return of a law that allows for the state-sanctioned killing of Filipinos, on drug-related grounds. In the face of irate, almost disbelieving reactions on social media, Roman defended her action as essentially nothing more than a tactical step.
“As much as I would’ve wanted to follow my conscience and vote against death penalty, I have the interests of my constituents,” she said. “What about my other advocacies? … Should I have held on to a sinking ship and dragged along with me my constituents and my other advocacies?”
For good measure, she added that her “ideals are intact.”
Roman’s intention with her explanation was clearly to cast her and her colleagues’ “aye” vote in a better light. But what it did was merely to confirm the wholesale politicking and sordid horse-trading that underpinned the congressional discourse—if it could be called that—on so grave an issue as the official killing of citizens by the state. From the beginning, when President Duterte made known his wish to reimpose the draconian law as a vital plank in his war on drugs, the House leadership under Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has treated the issue as but a question of brute numbers and a test of political loyalties.
Does the death penalty actually deter crime? It didn’t matter. Empirical data are “not necessary” to prove the need for it, declared Rep. Reynaldo Umali—ironically the chair of the House committee on justice.
The fact that crime incidence has, in fact, been dropping, according to police records; that the rate of judicial error in death penalty cases has been found by the Supreme Court itself to be a shocking 71.77 percent, or about three out of four people sentenced to execution based on wrongful conviction; that the law ends up disproportionately targeting the poor who are unable to afford competent counsel; that worldwide multiyear data do not support the supposed efficacy of capital punishment; that the Philippines stands to suffer internationally, not only in terms of standing but also in practical economic terms as it could lose trade privileges (with the European Union, for instance)… None of these defining considerations were taken to account in the rush to steamroll the bill through the mill.
What governed the proceedings was pure political hardball, with Alvarez threatening to strip lawmakers of choice committee posts should they fail to toe the line. In the end, unsurprisingly, he managed to get more than enough to give his boss in the Palace what he wanted, and damn the public opposition with its pesky data. Politics is compromise, indeed—in this case, a country compromised to regress into a more nasty, brutish place, by a cabal of lawmakers casually trading favors on the matter of killing in the people’s name.
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