MEMBERS of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) have arrived in the Philippines this week to examine the condition of Senator Leila De Lima, who is currently being detained over drug-related charges.
The IPU Committee on Human Rights met with Philippine Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III on Monday, May 22, and is scheduled to visit De Lima on Wednesday, May 24.
“We are here on behalf of the IPU, the Inter-Parliamentary Union human rights committee, to see and assess the situation of detention of Senator Leila de Lima,” Fawzia Koofi, president of IPU human rights, told reporters after their meeting.
According to Koofi, the IPU committee members will also meet with Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, Senator Panfilo Lacson, and other “relevant” officials on Tuesday, May 23 to get “first-hand information” about De Lima’s case.
De Lima, who is notably among the fiercest critics of Philippine President Duterte, was arrested last February for allegedly violating the Republic Act No. 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 20. She was accused of profiting from the illegal drug trade at New Bilibid Prison (NBP) when she was the justice secretary.
“The IPU, as a body, expressed concern [on] human rights violation of a member of the Senate in the Philippines, which is Senator Leila de Lima, that’s why the assembly decided to have a mission to the Philippines,” Koofi added.
Earlier in April, the IPU adopted a resolution “calling for a mission to the Philippines where it is deeply concerned over the detention of Senator Leila de Lima and the accusations that she was involved in drug trafficking.”
The union took note that the senator led a series of investigations into alleged extrajudicial killings when Duterte was then the mayor of Davao City and again, as president, when he started to wage the war against illegal drugs last year.
Emphasizing that De Lima has been a vocal opponent of Duterte, the IPU also said that there is serious reason to believe the senator has been “targeted due to her outspoken criticism of the impact of the current government’s policies on human rights in the Philippines.”
Pimentel, who invited the IPU to visit the country during its 136th Assembly in Dhaka, Bangladesh last month, said the group only thanked him during their recent meeting for “inviting” them over.
He said they discussed “nothing” about De Lima’s case.
“They are the ones concerned with Senator de lima…they are here for a fact-finding mission. Let them do their job,” Pimentel added.
Established in 1889, IPU aims to “promote democracy, equality, human rights, development and peace.” The Philippines is among its 171 member parliament.
‘Thinner, paler’ De Lima
Also on Monday, members of the House of Representatives minority bloc visited a seemingly “thinner” and “paler” De Lima in her detention cell at the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center inside Camp Crame.
“Parang pumayat siya nang kaunti, medyo parang maputla siya ‘yun ang napansin ko (I noticed she lost weight and looked pale),” Caloocan Rep. Edgar Erice told reporters when asked about De Lima’s condition.
Other members of the group who visited De Lima include Minority leader Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat Jr., Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano, Capiz Rep. Emmanuel Billones, Northern Samar Rep. Raul Daza, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, and Akbayan Rep. Tomasito Villarin.
During a what he described as a “very light” conversation, Erice disclosed that they talked about De Lima’s bid to attend Senate sessions when they visited her.
Stressing that the senator has not been convicted yet and is still presumed innocent, Erice said the court should at least allow her to occasionally attend sessions whenever there are votings or discussions on important issues.
“Kasi mahalaga din na mai-represent ni Senator De Lima ‘yung constituency niya, being a duly elected senator (Because it is important for Senator De Lima to represent her constituency as a duly elected senator),” Erice explained.
Alejano also said they discussed “current issues” with De Lima, citing in particular Duterte’s seemingly soft stance against China’s reportedly war threat and his administration’s rejection of aid from European Union (EU).
Earlier, Duterte claimed that Chinese President Xi Jinping warned him about the possibility of war if the Philippines conducted an oil exploration in the disputed South China Sea.
The Duterte administration also recently announced that it stopped accepting EU grants “with conditions” that affects the “autonomy of the country.”
De Lima, for her part, thanked the House opposition bloc for visiting and supporting her.
“These lawmakers are the genuine and functioning minority in the House of Representatives,” De Lima said in a handwritten letter.
She went on to say, “In this time of darkness and flagrant violations of human rights that besiege our nation today, it is really an honor to be fighting with them for truth, justice, and democracy.”
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