MANILA - The Senate on Monday night ousted Sen. Leila de Lima as chairperson of the Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
Voting 16-4, with 2 abstentions, the Senate resolved to grant Senator Manny Pacquiao's motion to declare the chairmanship and membership of the Committee of Justice and Human Rights vacant.
De Lima slammed the move, saying “it’s a numbers game, it’s a political move.”
“I know the president is behind this. I’ll announce my next move tomorrow in the course of my privilege speech,” she said.
The feisty senator's ouster received mixed reactions from colleagues, supporters, and critics alike.
Senator Bam Aquino said the Senate's independence was put to test following the vote on De Lima's ouster.
"The vote that transpired was unnecessary and unprecedented," Aquino said. "Now, our institution's independence is seriously put to the test."
Aquino challenged the new leadership of the Senate Committee on Justice to show its commitment in "bringing out the truth at all costs."
Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director of international advocacy group Human Rights Watch said De Lima's ouster was a move to "derail accountability for the appalling death toll from President Rodrigo Duterte's abusive 'war on drugs.'"
"The Senate is showing greater interest in covering up allegations of state-sanctioned murder than in exposing them. De Lima's inquiry faced relentless harassment, intimidation and threats from Duterte, a measure of his fear of accountability for the killing spree on Philippine city streets that has killed more than 3,000 Filipinos since he took office on June 30. De Lima's removal seems intended to cancel the Senate inquiry she initiated into those killings and removes the sole significant official effort to bringing them to an end," Kine said.
"De Lima's removal also renews serious doubts about the Duterte administration's willingness to respect the basic human rights of Filipinos under the constitution and international human rights law. Senators opposed to the Duterte government's trampling on those rights should urgently seek Senator de Lima's immediate reinstatement," the human rights advocate added.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Vicente C. Sotto III urged his colleagues not to use committee hearings as an avenue for "grandstanding and mudslinging."
"What happened in the committee on justice today should serve as an example that the Senate should remain objective and perform its mandate in aid of legislation," Sotto said.
The Palace said De Lima's ouster was "unexpected" as the executive is "minding its own business."
"It's not for me to decide if De Lima abused her authority. It's up to the senators," Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said in a press briefing Tuesday.
"That's 16 wise men who have their reasons why they voted for the ouster. Let's just accept the decision of the Senate," he added.
Andanar also expressed confidence in Senator Richard Gordon who replaced De Lima as Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights chair, saying the veteran politician will do "an excellent job."