De Lima dismayed over court’s dismissal of motion to join Senate ‘hybrid’ sessions

Robie de Guzman

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Leila de Lima on Friday expressed dismay over the decision of the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 205 to junk her motion seeking to join the “hybrid” Senate sessions and hearing while in detention at the PNP Custodial Center in Camp Crame for drug-related charges.

“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,” De Lima said in a statement.

“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,” she added.

It can be recalled that on May 4, the Senate amended its rules to allow both physical and online attendance to legislative proceedings in a bid to prevent the possible transmission of novel coronavirus disease among its members and employees.

However, De Lima was still not allowed to participate in “virtual” sessions as Senate leadership claimed that she is “not under the chamber’s jurisdiction.”

The opposition senator 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.”

“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,” De Lima said.

“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,” she added.

She also asserted that she is still in “full possession” of her civil and political rights as her cases as still at the trial stage and has not been convicted of any crime.

De Lima filed her omnibus motion on June 1.

But in a Joint Order dated June 17, Muntinlupa RTC Branch 205, presided by Judge Liezel Aquitan denied De Lima’s motion, concluding that “the presumption of innocence does not carry with it the full enjoyment of civil and political rights.”

The court also said that the amendment in the Senate rules states that hearings and sessions via teleconferencing in the upper chamber are only allowed when there is force majeure or an emergency which may prevent senators from physically attending.

“De Lima is prevented to attend the committee meeting or hearings due to her detention. Detention is not a force majeure,” the court order read.

The court said that allowing De Lima to attend the Senate sessions, hearings, and meetings via teleconferencing within her place of detention is “no different from allowing her to attend there physically.”

“Allowing her to do so today would be tantamount to allowing her to participate even after the state of public health emergency,” it added.

De Lima said she is planning to file a motion for reconsideration.

De Lima, one of Duterte administration’s fierce critics, has been detained since 2017 over her alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade while she was Justice Secretary. She has repeatedly denied the charges.

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