Pro administration and opposition senators jointly filed a resolution seeking to allow Duterte arch-critic Senator Leila de Lima to allow her to participate in the Senate’s sessions and committee hearings through teleconferencing or other forms of electronic communications.

Crossing party lines, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto and Minority Senators — Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Risa Hontiveros and Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, jointly filed Senate Resolution 658 to allow De Lima to join Senate sessions as she marked her 1,462nd day at the PNP Custodial Center in Camp Crame, Quezon City.

The four senators stressed that there is available technology to allow De Lima to perform her functions as a duly-elected lawmaker.

Back in July 31, 2019, Senators Drilon and Panfilo Lacson filed a similar resolution seeking to allow De Lima to participate in plenary “through teleconferencing, video conferencing, or other forms of remote or electronic communications.” The resolution is still pending at the committee level.

Ironically, the Senate on May 4, 2020 adopted Resolution 43 amending its rules that allowed the conduct of plenary sessions and committee hearings through remote electronic means due to the raging Covid-19 pandemic.

Since then, the Senate has been conducting its plenary sessions and committee hearings through remote and electronic means.

The Supreme Court also allowed litigants to appear before the courts via teleconferencing. Camp Crame has three facilities that allows De Lima to attend her court hearings via remote access from her detention center.

The four senators stressed that the Supreme Court allows detained legislators to perform their duties as long as they are done within the confines of their detention centers, as in the case of then-Senator Antonio Trillanes.

As a duly elected member of the Senate of the 18th Congress, De Lima must be accorded “the privilege of participating in its plenary sessions and committee hearings via remote access,” the four senators said.

Back in 2019, eight former senators namely: former President Benigno Aquino III, Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV, Sergio Osmeña III, Mar Roxas, Rene Saguisag, Wigberto “Bobby” Tañada, Francisco “Kit” Tatad and Antonio Trillanes IV, issued a joint statement supporting moves to allow de Lima to join Senate sessions through electronic means.

“We support any similar initiative to enable Senator De Lima to vote on key bills and resolutions tabled in the plenary sessions, to participate in important meetings and caucuses with her fellow senators, and to personally conduct public hearings of her committee within Camp Crame in Quezon City,” the statement said.

In June 2020, Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 205 Judge Liezel Aquitan, denied De Lima’s omnibus motion asking the court to allow her to participate in Senate sessions via teleconferencing from within her detention center. The court concluded that allowing her to participate in the Senate sessions via teleconferencing “is no different from allowing her to attend there physically.”

De Lima, a former justice secretary, said that she is “utterly at a loss” on the legal basis for the court’s denial of her motion.

“With all due respect, the Honorable Court’s reasoning is neither here nor there in terms of applying the Supreme Court ruling in Trillanes and [Romeo G.] Jalojos that legislators under detention are expected to have legislative output and perform the functions of their office within the physical limitation imposed upon them by the conditions of their detention,” she noted.

“Substantially, the last word of the Supreme Court on the matter is that so long as the detained legislator is able to perform legislative functions within his or her place of detention, there is nothing in the law that prevents him or her from doing so,” she added.

The Muntinlupa RTC Branch 205 ruled that allowing De Lima to participate in Senate sessions via teleconferencing “would be tantamount to allowing her to participate even after the state of public health emergency.”

De Lima has been detained since her arrest over drug charges in February 2017. She maintains that the charges are a form of political persecution against her by President Rodrigo Duterte. 

On February 17, the Muntinlupa City RTC dismissed one of three drug cases file against her. Her lawyers described Criminal Case No. (CCN) 17-166 as the weakest of the three drug cases against her.  He petition for bail, however, was denied pending the resolution of the two other cases. – Rommel F. Lopez