At the invitation of some friends, I  signed up as a former senator in support of proposed Senate Resolution No. 51, authored by Sen. Franklin Drilon and Panfilo Lacson, calling on the Senate to allow Sen. Leila de Lima, now detained on drug charges at Camp Crame, to participate actively in its official proceedings by means of teleconferencing, video-conferencing and other remote or electronic communication facilities.  De Lima is detained for two years and five months now, but continues to be presumed innocent until her guilt is proved, and in full possession of  her political and civil rights.

The resolution does not call for De Lima’s release from detention. But I would have understood if some senators had called for nothing less, after hearing that  former Mayor Antonio Sanchez of Calauan, Laguna, who had been convicted to serve seven life terms in prison for the 1993 multiple rape and murder of UP Los Baños student Mary Eileen Sarmenta and the murder of her boyfriend Allan Gomez, was about to be released for “good behavior.”

“I was seven years old, when the rapist-murderer was sentenced to seven life terms. I am now 32. That’s hardly one life-term,” said a distressed young woman, to whom the sky had fallen.

But we’ll return to that in another column.

The proposed Senate resolution offers enormous  possibilities, and President Duterte will be performing a statesmanly act if he finds the courage and wisdom to support it. Former senator Antonio Trillanes IV, who was termed out last June 30 after serving two consecutive terms, was able to participate in Senate proceedings while under detention on security-related charges; this creates a valuable precedent for De Lima’s purposes.

De Lima, who turns 60 this month, chairs the Senate Committee on Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development and is a member of 23 standing committees. She has authored 138 resolutions and 116 bills, some of which have become  significant laws, like the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4 Ps), Magna Carta of the Poor, and National Commission of Senior Citizens. 

Approval of the Senate resolution will enable De Lima to attend plenary sessions, Senate meetings, caucuses, and committee hearings, and vote on bills and resolutions.  It will allow her to participate in floor debates, despite  any  tendency of  DU30’s supermajority to control the discussion of vital issues. DU30 need not be bound by her interventions, but by allowing her to be heard, the Senate makes sure that no single member is shut out of the deliberative process, except by a self-imposed vow of silence.

We can be sure De Lima’s position on any issue, if judged to be partisan,  will be voted down, but there is little chance it can be suppressed. The Senate, for all its flaws, will have to live up to the ideal,  best expressed by John Stuart Mill, that if all mankind minus one were of the same opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. 

De Lima will always be in the minority, if not the lone minority herself, but as some dissenting high court opinions have proved to be more persuasive and enduring  than some majority decisions, her dissenting voice, if rooted in the truth and reason, could prove infinitely more helpful than some majority decisions. One senator alone, arguing from a strong commitment to the truth and fundamental principles, could spell all the difference.

I saw this on my first term in the Senate in 1992, which coincided with the last term of Sen. Arturo Tolentino, one of the best parliamentary minds that ever graced the Senate. “Ka Turing” did not have to author a single measure to influence the thinking of his colleagues. All he had to do was  raise a simple question on the issue at hand to illumine the debates. De Lima could aspire to do something like it. 

With De Lima busy with her duties,  curiosity-seekers will have fewer reasons to bother with her situation as a “lawmaker in prison.”  On a few occasions,  DU30 had to call out some foreign lawmakers  for showing so much interest in her situation.  He saw this as foreign intervention, which was an unfortunate misunderstanding. Within the international community of elected parliamentarians, such as the 130-year-old Inter-Parliamentary Union in Geneva, and some regional parliamentary organizations like the Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum, this is an accepted universal convention. 

In every IPU or APPF assembly an agenda item compels the parliamentarians to inquire into the situation of some local parliamentarians or writers in prison, in cooperation with the host government. The detainee/s may not be as well-known as Aleksander Solzhenitsyn,  Vaclav Havel, Nelson Mandela, Kim Dae-jung or Aung San Suu Kyi, but their situation is always of legitimate interest to global parliamentarians.

As a former delegate to some of these assemblies, I used to take part in this particular discussion. I do not recall any host government taking umbrage over the interest  shown by any group of foreign parliamentarians in the situation of a jailed writer or politician. At the 2001 IPU Assembly in Havana, for example, President Fidel Castro was particularly gallant about this question.  

Allowing De Lima to function as a senator even under detention is not as good as freeing her altogether.  But it could have some healing effect on the inflamed partisanship that has engulfed the politics of this administration. It could be and should be a step forward in promoting a more civilized discourse between DU30 and his critics and “dissenters,” who deserve to be called by a better name than potential putschists, seditionists or rebels.