Group that includes Aquino asks Duterte to let De Lima fully discharge duties as senator
MANILA, Philippines—A group composed of former President Benigno Aquino III, former senators and top government officials on Monday (Aug. 26) called on the Duterte administration to let detained Sen. Leila de Lima fully discharge her duties as senator, even through technological means.
The Committee for the Freedom of Leila M. De Lima said the senator’s detention on what the group said were trumped up drug charges prevents her from “fully performing her duties to participate in the legislative process.”
In a statement read by Rene V. Saguisag, the group said it wants De Lima to fully discharge her functions as senator including attendance in plenary sessions and committee hearings and to preside over the hearings of her committees.
Aside from the former President and Saguisag, the group counts as its members former senators Wigberto Tanada, Francisco Tatad, Sergio Osmena, Mar Roxas, Antonio Trillanes IV and Bam Aquino. Also member is former Cabinet member Ging Deles and Professors Solita Monsod and Antonio La Vina.
It called on the Duterte administration, which used drug convicts as witnesses against De Lima, to let the detained senator perform her duties through various forms of remote communications.
“As former senators, we know the importance of taking part in all these vital aspects of lawmaking,” said the group’s statement read by Saguisag.
Last Aug. 1, Senators Franklin Drilon and Panfilo Lacson filed Senate Resolution No. 51 seeking to allow De Lima to participate in plenary sessions through teleconferencing or video conferencing, technologies that allow someone to take part in meetings or discussions from anywhere he or she is.
De Lima, one of President Rodrigo Duterte’s fiercest critics, is currently detained at the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center in Camp Crame over drug charges for supposedly allowing the drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison to proliferate when she was still secretary of justice.
Opposition members and De Lima herself claimed that the charges were intended to persecute her, for criticizing Duterte even before he became President.
As then head of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), De Lima launched an investigation of the so-called Davao Death Squad, a vigilante group in Davao City being linked to then Mayor Duterte.
La Viña said the long-term goal of the group was to see De Lima set free and the trumped-up charges against her dismissed.
“Our effort is to get as many former senators to sign this modest plan to allow Senator Leila to function as a senator,” said La Vina. “But it’s very clear between me and Senator Trillanes that the ultimate goal was for the unconditional release of Senator Leila,” La Vina said at a press conference of the group, talking in a mix of Filipino and English.
“But baby steps are also okay right now,” he said. He said the group is pinning its hope for a consolidation of the resolution filed by Drilon and Lacson with other similar proposed measures.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros, another prominent figure in the campaign to free De Lima, said the opposition hoped that the resolution to allow De Lima to fully discharge her duties would gain traction at the Senate dominated by allies of Duterte. She said the support of Lacson, a member of the majority, could turn the tide in the resolution’s favor.
“All three of us with Senator Leila in the minority are solidly behind the resolution and I think the odds are good because Senator Ping joined Senator Frank in filing it,” Hontiveros said.
“That means not just the whole minority but Senator Ping will also be campaigning among our colleagues in the Senate to give this the broadest possible support,” she added.
De Lima, who is turning 60 years old on Tuesday (Aug. 27), has been in detention for more than 900 days now.
According to Trillanes, the aim of statements like that released by the group was to raise awareness about the trumped up charges against De Lima.
“I think the clearest objective of this movement is to inform the public again and revisit the case filed against Senator De Lima,” Trillanes said in Filipino.
He said people would see that this is really “bogus, that until now there are no witnesses being presented in her trial because they won’t survive cross examination.”
La Viña and Deles also revealed plans to include other members of the international community, especially those who have previously called for De Lima’s release, to join the campaign and present a stronger voice against the political persecution of De Lima.
“Our next step, as Secretary Deles said, is to expand the committee to include foreign colleagues, high-level foreign individuals, to be able to consolidate the pressure on the government,” La Vina said, speaking in a mix of Filipino and English./TSB
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