THE Senate will honor a court order to arrest Sen. Leila de Lima over drug trafficking charges, but warned arresting officers against enforcing any warrant during sessions.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel 3rd said the Senate will not interfere with any order issued by the courts in connection with the three criminal cases against de Lima for her alleged involvement in illegal drug operations inside the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) when she was secretary of the Department of Justice.
Pimentel said the chamber will observe the separation of powers of the three branches of government, even if a warrant of arrest is issued against one of its members.
However, he said arresting officers must also respect the chamber and not cause interruption while the Senate is holding sessions.
The Senate chief said it would be best if the arresting officers will coordinate with de Lima first before serving the warrant, to come up with a process on how to execute it in an orderly manner.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Friday filed three criminal complaints against de Lima for violating Section 5 (sale and trading of illegal drugs) in relation to Section 3 (jj), Section 26 (b) and Section 28 (criminal liability of government officials and employees) of Republic Act (RA) 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act.
Pimentel said he was not expecting the court to come up with an order soon because the judge would have to determine probable cause before issuing a warrant.
“But if a warrant has been issued, who are we not to honor it,” the Senate president added.
De Lima, he said, would not be covered by immunity from arrest, a privilege given to members of Congress, because her cases carry a jail term of more than six years. Immunity only covers offenses with jail terms of less than six years.
De Lima, a known critic of President Rodrigo Duterte and his war on drugs, on Friday said she was ready to be arrested, but appealed that she be held in a “safe and secure” place.
She maintained her innocence and claimed she was never involved in the drug trade, accusing the President of waging a personal vendetta against her.
Pimentel said it was up to de Lima’s legal team to negotiate where the senator would be detained, just like in the case of former members of the chamber who were involved in the pork barrel scam.
Drop charges – HRW
On Sunday, New York-based Human Rights Watch urged Philippine authorities to “immediately drop politically motivated charges against one of the few lawmakers openly critical of President Rodrigo Duterte’s ‘war on drugs.’”
“The prosecution of Senator Leila de Lima is an act of political vindictiveness that debases the rule of law in the Philippines,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at the rights watchdog. “The Duterte administration seems intent on using the courts to punish prominent critics of its murderous ‘war on drugs.’”
“The politically motivated case against de Lima shows how Duterte‘s ‘war on drugs’ threatens not only the thousands of people targeted, but the criminal justice and political systems,” Kine said. “It’s more important than ever that concerned lawmakers and foreign governments step up to denounce the Duterte administration’s disregard for basic human rights.”