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Human rights advocates back De Lima plea to participate in virtual Senate sessions

By Mario Casayuran

Opposition Senator Leila de Lima said Saturday lawmakers and human rights advocates from different corners of the globe have declared support to her plea that she be allowed to fully discharge her mandate as a duly elected senator, including her right to attend Senate sessions via teleconferencing.

De Lima revealed this after the leadership of the Philippine Senate decided to exclude her from attending on-line sessions that was intended as a temporary safety measure against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Senator Leila de Lima (MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

Senator Leila de Lima (MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

“Senator Leila De Lima’s voice is needed more than ever to defend democracy in The Philippines. Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA) joins allies worldwide in demanding that she be allowed to participate in legislative proceedings,” PGA, an international alliance of legislators, said in a statement.

Canadian Senator Anita Vandenbeld shared the same view, when she tweeted that “[Senator de Lima] should be allowed to take her seat using audio-visual technology and speak during parliamentary sessions via teleconference.”

“Denying [De Lima] the possibility to join Senate sessions online is yet another attempt at silencing her and preventing her from fully exercising her mandate as a directly-elected representative,” said Charles Santiago, a Malaysian Parliamentarian and Chairperson of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR).

“The continued exclusion of Senator de Lima from Senate sessions is ridiculous. Since all Senators will be able to join parliamentary sessions from their home through online teleconferencing, there are no plausible reasons to prevent [De Lima] to do so from her prison cell,’’ Santiago stressed.

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 current enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Metro Manila as a response to the pandemic.

The on-line sessions have enabled members of the Senate to discuss, deliberate and vote on proposed measures from the safety of their own homes, especially on key issues related to the government’s response to the ongoing pandemic.

“The decision to prevent Senator De Lima from exercising her mandate reflects a clear attempt to restrict her right to freedom of expression and to silence the voice of a lawmaker involved in the defense of human rights in the Philippines,” added Alice Mogwe, President of Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), the oldest human rights organization in the world.

Gerald Staberock, Secretary-General of the World Organization Against Torture, also said that the decision to disallow De Lima from participating remotely in Senate proceedings “has no legal basis and represents the latest act of persecution against her.”

Citing jurisdictional issues, the Senate leadership claims that De Lima will not be able to enjoy the same privilege of her colleagues because she is under the authority of the Courts and the Philippine National Police (PNP).

Some legal experts, lawmakers and political experts however disagreed.

According to Liberal Party President and opposition Senator Francis Pangilinan: “What the Supreme Court earlier ruled against is the physical presence of the person in detention in sessions and committee meetings. It did not prohibit a person from participation in sessions and hearings through electronic means.”

“Performing her job as senator as long as she can do this inside the detention facility is part of her rights. Thus, there is no constitutional or legal impediment to disallow Senator de Lima from taking part in the online sessions, hearings, and meetings of the Senate,” lawyer Antonio La ViƱa, former Dean of the Ateneo School of Government, added.

EveryWoman, a progressive group advocating for women’s rights, as well as the Committee for the Freedom of Leila de Lima have published similar statements to let the lady Senator from Bicol join online Senate sessions.

Statements of support were also offered by other fellow progressive women lawmakers from other countries, including Jayanthi Balaguru, incumbent chairperson of the Council of Asian Liberal and Democrats (CALD) Women’s Caucus; and Emily Lau, a former Hongkong Legislator.

De Lima, who is in her fourth year in detention, has constantly received broad international support since her detention in 2017.

Last February 2020, over 500 local and foreign individuals and groups called for her immediate release from arbitrary detention as well as the dismissal of the trumped-up charges filed against her.


Source: Manila Bulletin (https://news.mb.com.ph/2020/05/09/human-rights-advocates-back-de-lima-plea-to-participate-in-virtual-senate-sessions/)

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