IT read like fake news because it was absurd that detained Sen. Leila De Lima would ask the Senate leadership to convince the court to allow her to leave prison to attend sessions.
But there was a copy of the letter of De Lima to Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III that was posted on news websites and there was no denial or attempt to take back the letter.
De Lima asked the Senate leader to support her bid to attend Senate sessions on important bills, including the re-imposition of the death penalty, despite her detention on drug charges. She asked that Pimentel and the Senate support her appeal for the court to grant her furlough “occasionally” to attend deliberations and vote on special bills.
Pimentel is allied with President Rodrigo Duterte while De Lima ran and won under the now minority Liberal Party.
Most Senate members voted to oust De Lima as justice committee head last year as the body heard allegations of extrajudicial killings in the country since Duterte assumed office. Her ouster came before her arrest in February for allegedly allowing the proliferation of illegal drugs at the national penitentiary when she was Justice secretary under the previous administration. De Lima said her arrest was harassment by Duterte after she had pushed for investigations into extrajudicial killings.
In her letter to Pimentel, De Lima said, “The minimum that I request is for an expression of support for my desire to occasionally be granted furlough by the court in charge of my detention, for purposes of voting on crucial landmark legislations on a case-to-case basis.”
“This is not too much to ask considering that I have not yet been stripped of my office and no penalty has yet been imposed on me,” she added. Since she has not yet been convicted of any crime, she still has political and civil rights that includes voting in Senate deliberations. Citing how prisoners get to vote on elections, she said, “I see no legal barrier in the applicability of the same principle to the case of a detained senator who, in the absence of a final judgment of conviction, still possesses that mandate of public office bestowed upon her by no less than fourteen million Filipinos, to vote for them as one of their representatives in the Senate,” she said.
De Lima took the 12th slot in the Senate with 14,144,070 votes in the May 2016 elections. To make those votes count, she said she should be allowed to participate in Senate decisions.
Furloughs are usually granted by the court for compelling reasons such as to seek medical treatment or on the death of a family member of the prisoner.
In De Lima’s case, it would be almost impossible that the Senate leadership would grant her request, considering the inclination of senators to go with Duterte’s wishes, at least in her ouster from the justice committee. Pimentel dismissed De Lima’s letter as propaganda.
Instead of asking for a furlough, De Lima should just insist on her right to a speedy resolution of her case. A decision in her favor would be the best way to serve those who voted to make her senator.
Published in the SunStar Cebu newspaper on May 23, 2017.
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