MANILA— The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Tuesday said it will respect the court decision on whether to allow detained Sen. Leila de Lima to participate in Senate sessions particularly in the deliberations of measures.
Sought for a comment, DOJ Undersecretary Ercikson Balmes said it is the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) has the jurisdiction to allow De Lima, now detained at the PNP Custodial Center, to leave detention to participate in Senate deliberations.
“The matter is for the court, which now has jurisdiction over Senator De Lima, to decide. The DOJ respects the rule of law and the separation of powers of the branches of government,” Balmes told reporters, adding that Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre is with the President Rodrigo Duterte for official visit in Moscow, Russia.
Separate cases for three counts of drug trafficking were filed against De Lima before the Muntinlupa RTC which were assigned to three different courts.
The cases for sale and trading of illegal drugs and liability of government officials under Republic Act 9165 (Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act) were assigned to RTC Branch 204 Judge Juanita Guerrero, Branch 205 Judge Amelia Fabros-Corpuz and Branch 206 Judge Patria Manalastas-De Leon.
Balmes said that the DOJ is ready to comment on de Lima’s move if it is required by the court to do so.
“We have asked our legal staff to look into law and the prevailing jurisprudence on the matter so that if our comment is asked by the court, we can comply. For now, it is still under study,” Balmes noted.
De Lima, in a letter to Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, asked for his support for her to be occasionally granted furlough by the court for purposes of voting on crucial pieces of legislation adding that it was her only recourse since the Supreme Court had previously ruled that detained lawmakers should not be given the privilege of attending all legislative sessions and hearings.
De Lima said she also has yet to be convicted by the court nor stripped of her post.
Earlier, Aguirre said that they will oppose any move of De Lima to attend Senate deliberations, including the hearing on the administration’s plan to revive the imposition of the death penalty.
Aguirre said it is within De Lima’s right to ask the Muntinlupa court to allow her to leave detention to participate in Senate deliberations.
“She can file it in court and it will be up to the court to decide but we will definitely oppose it,” the DOJ chief noted.
Aguirre, whose office initiated the investigation and subsequent filing of criminal cases against de Lima in connection with her alleged involvement in the illegal drugs trade inside the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City, said de Lima, as a lawyer, should know that as a detainee, some of her rights and privileges are curtailed.
“When once is incarcerated, some of your rights and privileges are suspended. She’s in jail so why should she be entitled to what other senators are doing? If you’re jailed, your rights should be lesser,” Aguirre said adding that this is also happened with de Lima’s colleagues when they’re also incarcerated such as then senators Jinggoy Estrada, Juan Ponce Enrile and Ramon “Bong” Revilla.
De Lima argued that the allegations against her do not actually constitute sale and trading of illegal drugs and liability of government officials under Republic Act 9165 (Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act), but rather only direct bribery.