Drilon, Sotto: Senate can't stop De Lima's arrest

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate will not be able to do anything if an arrest warrant is issued against Senator Leila de Lima.

Senate President Pro-Tempore Franklin Drilon and Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said this on Monday, February 13, when asked on the supposed impending arrest of their colleague.

The most they can do, Drilon and Sotto said, is to ensure that the warrant won't be served inside the Senate session hall.

"Firstly by tradition, we will not and we will oppose the service of warrant of arrest inside the session hall. The sanctity of the session hall must be respected," Drilon told reporters in an interview.

"That (De Lima's alleged offense) is punishable by more than 6 years imprisonment... We can't do anything except we won't allow any arrest in the session hall," Sotto said.

Article 6, Section 11 of the 1987 Constitution states that a senator or representative cannot be arrested while Congress is in session, if the alleged offense is punishable by less than 6 years of imprisonment.

In De Lima's case, she is accused of protecting drug lords inside the New Bilibid Prison. Republic Act No. 9165 imposes a penalty of more than 12 years to 20 years imprisonment and a fine ranging from P100,000 to P500,000 for such an offense.

On Monday morning, De Lima said she is preparing for a "worst-case scenario," as she expects the immediate release of an arrest warrant.

After all, she said, it's what President Rodrigo Duterte wants. (READ: Duterte: De Lima will surely go to jail)

De Lima also claimed that the Department of Justice (DOJ) plans to file the charges against her before a regular court to expedite the release of the warrant. She argued this is not the proper way, as the Ombudsman has sole jurisdiction over public officials like her.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II previously confirmed that an arrest warrant against the senator would be out "anytime" soon. But he denied on Monday that the DOJ was rushing the proceedings, slamming De Lima's statements as "irresponsible" and "erroneous".

De Lima's fellow Liberal Party senators Drilon, Francis Pangilinan, and Paolo Benigno Aquino IV earlier questioned the impending arrest warrant, saying issuing one without credible evidence is illegal.

They also questioned the truthfulness of inmates' testimonies during a House probe, saying these inmates could have been threatened to testify against De Lima.

"Filing charges and issuing warrants of arrest without credible evidence or witness is illegal and unjust – whether ordinary Filipino or senator. The stabbing of potential witness Jaybee Sebastian also puts a serious cloud of doubt on the veracity of his testimony and those of other inmates made to testify who may all very well be fearful for their lives," the LP senators said in a joint statement– Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com