Demanding fair play, Revilla blocks De Lima teleconferencing
MANILA, Philippines — Unable to participate in Senate proceedings when he was detained on plunder charges, Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. on Tuesday opposed moves to allow Sen. Leila de Lima to join her colleagues at work through teleconferencing.
Revilla had been accused of plunder for allegedly pocketing P224.5 million in kickbacks from projects financed with his share of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), in the P10-billion pork barrel scam believed to have been masterminded by businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.
He was acquitted of plunder on Dec. 7 last year, but he still faces trial on 16 counts of graft involving a total of P517 million allegedly siphoned off the PDAF, a pork barrel that the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional in 2013.
Revilla said allowing De Lima to participate in Senate proceedings would be special treatment and would show that she was favored above all other detainees.
De Lima, a former justice secretary who investigated the plunder charges against Revilla and other lawmakers, is detained for alleged drug trafficking.
She says the charges are bogus, brought against her in retaliation for her investigation of extrajudicial killings in Davao when President Duterte was mayor of the city and for her opening an inquiry into the thousands of killings in Mr. Duterte’s brutal war on drugs.
Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Sen. Panfilo Lacson have filed a resolution to allow De Lima to join Senate deliberations through teleconferencing, a move backed by Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto.
But Revilla blasted the move on Tuesday.
“The double standards and sense of entitlement of some people are frankly quite disheartening,” he said in a statement.
He said that in the spirit of fairness, De Lima should not be allowed to participate in the hearings and to vote after deliberations.
“Equal protection and fair play dictates that Leila de Lima cannot be allowed to participate in Senate proceedings, even if only remotely,” he said.
“First, to do so would amount to giving her favor over and above other detainees. And second, to allow her to vote in absentia would be a travesty against the Senate as a whole as this has no basis in the rules. And even if the rules are amended, it will lead to absurd results,” he added.
He also said that when he was detained for the “politically motivated” charges of pocketing his pork barrel funds, a “very vocal” group that included De Lima objected to his participation in Senate proceedings.
Also part of the group were people now calling for De Lima to be allowed to join the Senate hearings, he added.
He also said the Senate leadership during his incarceration made light of his and two other detained senators’ absence from the proceedings.
Detained along with Revilla in the pork barrel scam were former Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile. Both have been granted temporary liberty.
“In fact, it was the official position of the Senate leadership at that time that the absence of three senators would have no impact on legislation,” Revilla said.
He said De Lima’s situation was no different from his own when he was undergoing trial.
“The special treatment would be very obvious if she [would] be allowed [to join the Senate proceedings],” he said.
Recto said he supported the resolution of Drilon and Lacson because De Lima was presumed innocent and had duties to fulfill.
“She may be imprisoned, but Senator Leila remains an incumbent who, lest we forget, was elected by 14.1 million citizens of this country,” he said.
De Lima’s incarceration should not bar her from fulfilling her task, especially since there is available technology to help her, Recto said.
“By tradition, the Senate work on legislation is an all-hands-on-deck affair, in which every member, regardless of political affiliation, is expected to contribute in pointing out the mistakes in a bill and pouring more merits on it,” he said.
While ordinary workers are able to work from home because of the telecommuting law, De Lima should also be able to work from her prison cell, he added.
“We have also been crowdsourcing ideas, inviting stakeholders to speak before us in order to enrich the discussion on a measure, except one, whose name ironically appears on our rolls,” said Recto.
He sought to ease concerns that allowing De Lima to speak during Senate sessions could affect President Duterte’s popularity.
“If, for example, she states something false in plenary, I believe that it is not the DDS (Die-hard Duterte Supporters) detachment in the Senate who will be the first to stand to correct and challenge her, but her friends, because in the democratic space that is the Senate, friendship is not a factor in upholding the truth,” he said.
De Lima turns 60
On Tuesday, De Lima celebrated her 60th birthday in her detention cell, officially becoming a senior citizen.
“Now wiser but humbler. Life’s detours and lessons have a palpable humbling effect,” she said in a statement.
“I will, however, remain defiant, fighting for the causes of truth, justice and human rights,” she added.
De Lima said she would reflect on her life’s triumphs and failures, but she had no regrets.
“It’s still a beautiful life, overall,” she said.
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