Court rejects De Lima's request to join Senate hearings via teleconference

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 19 2020 03:07 PM

Senator Leila De Lima emerges from her hearing on drug charges at the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court, June 30, 2017. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA - A Muntinlupa court on Wednesday denied detained Sen. Leila de Lima's request to join Senate proceedings via teleconferencing, saying "the presumption of innocence does not carry with it the full enjoyment of civil and political rights."

In an order dated June 17, 2020, Presiding Judge Liezel Aquiatan said there is "no occurrence of emergency in De Lima's case."

"De Lima is prevented to attend the committee meeting or hearings due to her detention," the decision read.

"Allowing De Lima to participate in the Senate sessions, committee hearing and meetings via teleconferencing from within her place of detention is no different from allowing her to attend there physically," it said.

De Lima, in a statement, said she was "dismayed" over the court's decision.

"With all due respect to the Honorable Court, allowing my online participation in the Senate sessions will not negate the fact that I am still in prison," she said.

"What the court permission can do however is to pay full respect to the mandate that I received from the Filipino people as a sitting Senator," she said.

The senator noted that "there should be no unreasonable restrictions on my rights and legitimate interests" as she is not yet convicted in any court.

The opposition senator's camp earlier argued that she should be allowed to participate virtually after the Senate amended its rules to allow senators to participate through online channels during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis.

Aside from the Muntinlupa court, the Senate leadership had also rejected De Lima's request to virtually participate in the chamber's discussions.

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

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.

De Lima has been detained in police headquarters Camp Crame since February 2017 due to to her alleged involvement in illegal drug operations while she was justice secretary.

De Lima is facing 3 drug-related cases in court. She has denied all allegations and maintained that she was detained for being a vocal critic of President Rodrigo Duterte and his administration's intensified campaign against illegal drugs.

For the first time in her 3-year detention, the detained senator filed for bail earlier this week.