Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has expressed dismay over the rejection by the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 205 of her omnibus motion seeking to allow her to participate in Senate sessions via teleconferencing from within her place of detention at the PNP Custodial Center in Quezon City.
De Lima, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development, maintained that disallowing her from taking part in online sessions, hearings and meetings of the Senate prevents her from fully performing her mandate as a lawmaker who was elected by more than 14 million Filipinos in the 2016 elections.
“In denying my motion, the trial court may have failed to see what the Supreme Court has doctrinally acknowledged in the cases of Jalosjos and Trillanes that it is possible for a person deprived of liberty (PDL) to still legally pursue a profession or legitimately perform the functions of a public office as long as he or she can do it within the confines of his or detention cell. As the Senate rules now allow for teleconferencing as a mode of participating in sessions and hearings in crisis or emergency situations or pandemic, I can easily do it if I will be provided with a laptop and internet connection, without need for me to get out of the PNP Custodial Center,” De Lima emphasized.
Explaining that her cases are still at the trial stage, thus, she has not been convicted of any crime, De Lima points out that she is still in full possession of her civil and political rights, which she intends to assert and fully exercise.
Last June 1, De Lima filed her omnibus motion to join plenary sessions through teleconferencing, declaring that there is no longer any valid reason to discriminate against her now that “participation in Senate sessions and Committee hearings and meetings by all members of the Senate is made possible and, more importantly, necessary to be done via teleconferencing” in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a Joint Order dated June 17, Muntinlupa RTC Branch 205, presided by Judge Liezel Aquitan denied De Lima’s omnibus motion concluding that the presumption of innocence does not carry with it the full enjoyment of civil and political rights.
For her part, De Lima opined that, “With all due respect to the Honorable Court, allowing my online participation in the Senate sessions will not negate the fact that I am still in prison. What the court permission can do however is to pay full respect to the mandate that I received from the Filipino people as a sitting Senator. Please note that there is no civil interdiction imposed on me by any court, thus, there should be no unreasonable restrictions on my rights and legitimate interests.”
It may be recalled that last May 4, in a plenary session, the Philippine Senate amended its rules to allow the attendance of its members via teleconferencing during extraordinary times, such as the quarantine measures in Metro Manila as a response to the pandemic.
The Senator from Bicol, who has been in detention for trumped-up drug charges more than three (3) years ago since 24 February 2017, has recently suffered incommunicado detention due to strict enforcement of no visitor policy at the PNP Custodial Center from 25 April 2020 to 10 June 2020. As for the court’s denial of her motion to be allowed to join the online sessions at the Senate, De Lima intends to file a motion for reconsideration with the same judge, hoping that the court will take a second look at the legal merits of her position. (30)