De Lima decries 'foul and unfair' exclusion from Senate's online sessions

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 30 2020 01:46 PM | Updated as of Apr 30 2020 04:32 PM

MANILA (UPDATE) - Detained Sen. Leila de Lima on Thursday decried the Senate leadership's decision to disallow her from joining the chamber's virtual sessions next week, describing it as "petty politics" that is "foul and unfair."

Senate President Vicente Sotto III earlier said that De Lima, who has been detained due to drug charges since February 2017, may not be able to participate in online sessions as she remains under the jurisdiction of the judiciary 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 statement.

"Foul and unfair! This is petty politics," said De Lima, a staunch administration critic who has long denied drug charges against her, saying they were part of political persecution. 

De Lima said Sotto's reason for her exclusion in the planned online session was "completely and absolutely misinformed."

"The ruling of the Supreme Court on this matter is clear. The only limitation brought about by my detention is my mobility and ability to travel," she said.

"As long as I stay in the detention center, there is nothing that prevents me from performing my job as a duly-elected Senator. The jurisdiction of the court is not affected by my participation in Senate hearings via electronic means," she said.

De Lima said her participation in the virtual sessions would not have been questioned had she been part of the majority bloc.

"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," she said.

Under Senate rules, at least half of the legislative body needs to be physically present before the chamber can declare a quorum and begin its floor discussions.

At least 15 senators earlier agreed to amend the Senate rules to allow online conferences as several areas remain under enhanced community quarantine to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), leaving some lawmakers stuck in their home provinces and others wary of contracting the virus.

"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," De Lima said.

"Malinaw na ayaw lang talaga ng mga nasa kapangyarihan na ipalahok ako sa mga deliberasyon sa Senado. Kung ayaw, maraming dahilan. Kung gugustuhin, hahanap ng paraan... And they say there’s no persecution in my case. Really?" she said.

(It's clear that those in power just don't want me to be part of Senate deliberations. If you don't won't something to happen, you find many reasons. If you want it to happen, you find a way to make it happen.)

SENATE LEADERSHIP CITES JURISPRUDENCE

The Senate leadership's decision to exclude De Lima from virtual proceedings was based on the actions of the Senate in previous Congress sessions, Sotto told reporters in a text message.

Sotto said he had asked the chamber to allow former senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr. to join Senate sessions virtually while they were detained for allegedly pocketing billions-worth of discretionary funds through ghost non-government organizations.

"I was in the minority then and I was asking that they be allowed [to join Senate sessions while detained] and what I said earlier was the response given to me," Sotto said.

"As the saying goes, 'The sauce for the goose is the sauce for the gander,'" he said.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri backed Sotto's statement, citing earlier Supreme Court decisions that barred lawmakers from performing their functions as Congress members while in detention.

"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," Zubiri said in a separate text message, referring to former Zamboanga del Norte Rep. Romeo Jalosjos who was convicted for rape.

"To do so would violate principle of equal protection clause enshrined in our Constitution," the Senate Majority Leader said.

"These are not my opinions but that of the court. Our dear colleague may appeal these rulings from the court and if her request is granted then we will comply," he said.

De Lima has been detained at the PNP detention facility at its headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City for over 3 years for her alleged involvement in the drug trade at the national penitentiary during her stint as Justice Secretary.

De Lima has repeatedly denied the allegations, insisting she was detained for being a vocal critic of President Rodrigo Duterte and his intensified campaign against illegal drugs.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra earlier said that De Lima has yet to apply for bail.

"She has questioned many orders of the court, even her own indictment which reached all the way to the Supreme Court, which the petition was dismissed by the Supreme Court, but she has not applied for bail," Guevarra told ANC in a January 2020 interview.

"If you think that the evidence of the prosecution is weak, if you're the accused you would probably consider filling a petition for bail. But she has not done so," he said.