‘Foul and unfair:’ De Lima deplores continued exclusion from Senate sessions
MANILA, Philippines — Detained Senator Leila de Lima deplored on Thursday her continued exclusion from participating in Senate sessions as “foul and unfair.”
De Lima voiced her sentiments following the remarks by Senate President Vicente Sotto III that De Lima might not be allowed to participate in the chamber’s online sessions once it resumes next week because she remains under the jurisdiction of the courts and the Philippine National Police (PNP).
“The decision of the Senate leadership to exclude me from participating in Senate sessions via teleconferencing, under amended rules to be adopted, is nothing but a continuation of this administration’s efforts to silence me and prevent me from fully performing my duties as a Senator,” De Lima said in a dispatch from Camp Crame.
“Foul and unfair! This is petty politics,” she said. She added that Sotto’s remarks were “completely and absolutely misinformed.”
De Lima, who has been detained since February 2017 over “trumped-up” drug charges, argued that her detention only limits her mobility and ability to travel.
“The ruling of the Supreme Court on this matter is clear. As long as I stay in the detention center, there is nothing that prevents me from performing my job as a duly-elected Senator,” she said.
“The jurisdiction of the court is not affected by my participation in Senate hearings via electronic means,” she added.
Earlier, 15 senators signed and filed a resolution that would amend the Senate rules allowing the chamber to conduct plenary sessions and hearings via teleconferencing.
The move was made as Metro Manila remains under an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) until May 15. Congress is set to convene for the resumption of the regular session on May 4, which falls within the extension of the ECQ period.
“Now, there is pressure to amend the Rules to allow members to participate in hearings and sessions via teleconferencing and they make up an inexistent rule or reason that supposedly prevents me from doing even that,” De Lima went on.
She said if she had not been part of the opposition, she would have been allowed to participate in sessions and hearings remotely.
“I reckon that if I were not a member of the opposition there would have been no ifs and buts in allowing me to participate remotely, just like everybody else, under the proposed new rules,” De Lima said.
“If my colleagues really believe in the role of the Senate in our democracy, I should be allowed to participate regardless of my political affiliation and views,” she stressed.
Responding to De Lima’s statement, Sotto pointed to the case of Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., and former senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada, who were all charged and detained over the pork barrel scam.
Revilla, an incumbent senator, was acquitted in December 2018 while Enrile and Estrada are out on bail.
“Then why did they not allow (them) when they wanted to participate? I was in the minority then and I was asking that they be allowed,” Sotto told reporters in a Viber message when asked to comment on De Lima’s remarks.
“What I said earlier was the response given to me. As the saying goes, ‘The sauce for the goose is the sauce for the gander’,” he added.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said that whether or not De Lima would be allowed to participate in both physical or online congressional sessions and hearings is “well-settled in our legal jurisprudence.”
He said the Supreme Court had previously ruled “that all prisoners whether under preventive detention or serving final sentence can not practice their profession nor engage in any business or occupation, or hold office, elective or appointive, while in detention.”
“This is a consequence of arrest and detention. Thus, in the case of Jalosjos, the Supreme Court ruled that Jalosjos cannot be allowed to attend to his duties as lawmaker by allowing him to participate in congressional sessions and hearings,” he said in a separate statement.
“To do so would violate the principle of equal protection clause enshrined in our Constitution,” he further said.
Zubiri added that De Lima could appeal these rulings to the court and if granted, the Senate would comply.
“Unfortunately it is a decision we cannot decide on ourselves without violating the rules of the court and Legal Jurisprudence,” he said.