De Lima staff, family barred from visiting her in Camp Crame

Aika Rey
(UPDATED) Even phone calls to detained Senator Leila de Lima have to be first approved by PNP chief Archie Gamboa

NO VISITORS. Senator Leila De Lima leaves the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court on September 6, 2019, after the court rescheduled her trial. File photo by Lito Borras/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – For over a month now, the family and staff of detained Senator Leila de Lima have been barred from visiting her at Camp Crame in Quezon City, with the Philippine National Police (PNP) citing quarantine policy on “social gatherings.”

Rappler learned that De Lima’s personal assistants have not been allowed to visit her since April 25. Even phone calls were restricted.

In an email sent by Police Lieutant Colonel Jigger Noceda, De Lima’s staff was informed that the visitation rights of persons detained at the PNP Custodial Center were temporarily suspended, except for personal doctors, through an April 16 PNP memorandum signed by Police Brigadier General Alexander Sampaga.

PNP Spokesperson Brigadier General Bernard Banac confirmed the no-visitor policy in jails and detention centers at the national police main headquarters.

“Visits not allowed this time as part of biosafety measures to prevent spread of COVID-19. Similar to other custodial facilities under BuCor and BJMP, visits are temporarily restricted,” he said.

Despite formal letters and informal requests to allow limited visits by the family, the PNP denied such requests.

On May 18, De Lima wrote to Noceda to allow her at least two phone calls a week with her executive assistant while the no-visitor policy is still in effect.

So far, De Lima was able to receive 4 phone calls from her staff on different occasions, the last being on May 4.

Then on May 11, the PNP apparently issued a policy requiring a written request for phone calls, which has to be approved by no less than PNP chief General Archie Gamboa, according to De Lima’s staff.

Up until now, De Lima’s office said, the PNP has yet to respond to the senator’s request on phone calls.

De Lima’s office finds the PNP’s moves to deny communication with the senator “utterly discriminatory and degrading.”

In a May 23 letter to Gamboa, opposition senators Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Senator Risa Hontiveros, and Senator Francis Pangilinan questioned why the PNP cannot exempt De Lima, a sitting senator, from the policy.

The senators said that incommunicado detention or solitary confinement is prohibited under the Charter. Article III, Section 12(2) of the 1987 Constitution, which states that “secret detention places, solitary, incommunicado, or other similar forms of detention are prohibited.”

“The action of the PNP Custodial Center is unconstitutional, illegal, and violates the cardinal precept of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Politial Rights that solitary confinement and incommunicado detention are universally outlawed,” the senators said.

The Liberal Party (LP), in a statement on Sunday, May 31, reiterated the call to restore De Lima’s “right to be seen and be heard by her family, friends, and associates.”

“The coronavirus pandemic must not deprive Senator Leila of her right to information, vital health services, and communication with her loved ones. These rights know no lockdown and should be respected,” the LP said.

“The visits and communication are essential to allow Senator Leila to continue fulfilling her duties as a senator of the Republic, which she pursues despite being behind bars.”

De Lima, a fierce critic of the Duterte administration, has been imprisoned for over 3 years now over drug charges, which she said were fabricated by the government. (READ: De Lima in jail: ‘I never imagined Duterte would be this vindictive’– with a report from Rambo Talabong/Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey is a business reporter for Rappler. She covered the Senate of the Philippines before fully diving into numbers and companies. Got tips? Find her on Twitter at @reyaika or shoot her an email at aika.rey@rappler.com.