Senators divided over Arroyo's push for PH withdrawal from IPU

MANILA, Philippines – Senators are divided over Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s proposal for the Senate to withdraw the Philippines from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), a global organization of lawmakers critical of the Duterte administration.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senator Panfilo Lacson, members of the Senate delegation that attended the assembly, opposed Arroyo's move.

Drilon, former chairman of the IPU Committee on Human Rights of Parliamentarians, called Arroyo’s proposal "despairing" and "defeatist."

"Arroyo's proposal is despairing, defeatist, and will be seen by the world as a tacit admission that indeed critical lawmakers are being persecuted under the Duterte administration," Drilon said in a statement.

Drilon said respect for human rights of citizens, not just lawmakers, “is a basic pillar of democracy.”

"It is folly for Speaker Arroyo to suggest that the IPU should be punished for performing its mandate to protect fellow members of the legislature from abusive and over-reaching tendencies of certain officials of the executive," Drilon said.

"The respect for human rights, not only of members of Parliament, but of ordinary citizens, is a basic pillar of democracy. We must all do our share to uphold civil and human rights as well as the rule of law, both here and abroad," he added.

Lacson said Arroyo’s recommendation is "based on the wrong premise" because the IPU has yet to act on the human rights committee's recommendation. He also questioned Arroyo’s statement, as the Senate, not the House of Representatives, is a member of the IPU.

Lacson also partly shared Drilon’s sentiment that withdrawal from the group would admit political persecution of opposition Senators Antonio Trillanes IV and Leila de Lima. He said the decision of Makati City Regional Trial Court Branch 148 Judge Andres Soriano denying an arrest warrant against Trillanes proves that the judicial process and separation of powers work in our country.

"It is premature, if at all, to denounce the IPU as a whole, much less withdraw membership from the body. Second, by withdrawing, it would imply that the Philippine Senate acknowledges the political persecution of opposition senators," Lacson said in a statement.

"Third, it is the Senate, not the House of Representatives, that is a member of the IPU, so I'm not sure where Speaker GMA is coming from," he added.

Arroyo made the recommendation after she attended the 139th IPU General Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, on October 17, where the IPU expressed deep concern over the alleged human rights violations against De Lima and Trillanes, two of the fiercest critics of President Rodrigo Duterte. (READ: Global lawmakers' group eyes visit to PH for Trillanes case)

"This time, over the objection of the Philippine delegation, again they did the same thing so since this is the second time they did it to my knowledge, I am recommending to the Senate which heads the delegation that we should withdraw our membership with the IPU," Arroyo said on Monday.

Open to proposal

But for staunch Duterte allies Senate President Vicente Sotto III and former Senate president Aquilino Pimentel III, Arroyo’s proposal has weight and should be considered to some degree. Sotto, however, said he would have to discuss it with his colleagues.

He also reminded the IPU’s human rights committee that the Philippines is "a sovereign state."

"I am inclined to concur but after due consultation with my colleagues. Before that, perhaps the IPU's human rights committee should be reminded that the Philippines is a sovereign state with a working judicial process, and a Constitution that decrees the separation of powers for the executive, legislative, and judicial branches," Sotto said in a text message to reporters.

But Pimentel, who as Senate leader attended IPU assemblies condemning De Lima’s arrest in 2017, said Arroyo’s recommendation is too extreme. Instead, the Senate should file an official protest.

"I think we should talk about it; keep an open mind. Maybe withdrawal is such an extreme step to take but maybe [we can consider] some official protest from the Senate," Pimentel said in an interview with ANC.

Pimentel said the IPU "overreached and refused to understand" the situation in the country.

"The committee on the human rights is doing its job but part of your job is investigating and listening to the complainants but also to the other side…. I also appeared before the committee and explained to them our constitutional setup. They're so obsessed in protecting rights of fellow parliamentarians," Pimentel said. 

Malacañang, for its part, slammed the IPU for "prying" and interfering  in domestic affairs.

The IPU, established in 1889, has 171 member parliaments. It seeks to "promote democracy, equality, human rights, development, and peace." – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, 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

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