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De Lima says excluding her from Senate virtual sessions mere 'petty politics'

Detained Senator Leila de Lima slammed on Thursday, April 30, her colleagues in the Senate for not allowing her to join the virtual sessions of the chamber, calling it as "petty politics."

"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 strongly worded dispatch.

Fifteen senators have filed a resolution seeking to amend the Senate rules to allow video conferencing to convene committee hearings and plenary sessions during a emergency situations.

Earlier, Senate President Vicente Sotto III told Rappler that De Lima could not participate should the resolution be approved, citing "lack of jurisdiction." Sotto said jurisdiction rests on "the courts and the Philippine National Police."

De Lima called this move as "foul and unfair."

"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 said.

"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 added.

In 2019, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senator Panfilo Lacson filed a resolution in 2019 seeking to allow De Lima to join plenary sessions from Camp Crame. This resolution was  unacted on.

"Are my other colleagues now saying that the arguments presented in said resolution, and backed up by sound legal principles and case law, are wrong?" De Lima said.

If the chamber really believed in a democracy, De Lima said, then she should have been allowed to participate in the virtual meetings.

"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. Di ba?" the opposition senator added.

(It's now clear that those in power don't want me to join Senate deliberations. If they don't want, there's a lot of reason. If they really want me to join, then they will look for a way. Right?)

'It's not us, but the jurisprudence'

Reacting to De Lima's statement, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said that the participation of a detained or jailed senator is "well settled in the legal jurisprudence."

Zubiri cited the experience of former Zamboanga del Norte Romeo Jalosjos, ex-senator Antonio Trillanes IV, and the People v. Maceda.

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

"This was reiterated by the Supreme Court in the case of Trillanes. These are not my opinions but that of the court," he added.

The majority leader suggested that De Lima appeal her case. "If her request is granted, then we will comply. Unfortunately, it is a decision we cannot decide on ourselves without violating the rules of the court and legal jurisprudence," he said.

Meanwhile, Sotto said that he was merely reiterating what he was told when he asked for other previously detained senators to conduct legislative work virtually.

"Then why did they not allow Senators [Juan Ponce] Enrile, [Bong] Revilla, [Jinggoy] Estrada, and Trillanes when they wanted to participate? I was in the minority then and I was asking that they be allowed and what I said earlier was the response given to me," Sotto said.

The Senate president added: "As the saying goes, 'The sauce for the goose is the sauce for the gander.'" – 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.

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