De Lima, LP to stay with majority
(The Philippine Star) - September 21, 2016 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines – Senators belonging to the Liberal Party (LP) will remain with the Senate majority bloc despite the ouster of their partymate Sen. Leila De Lima as chair of the committee on justice and human rights over her alleged bias in conducting the inquiry into drug-related extrajudicial killings in the country.

De Lima was removed by a vote of 16-4 last Monday.

The four senators who voted for De Lima’s retention were Senate President Pro Tempore Franklin Drilon and Paolo Benigno Aquino IV and Francis Pangilinan, all from the LP, and Risa Hontiveros, who belongs to the Akbayan party-list group that is an LP ally.

De Lima said she was prevailed upon by her LP colleagues to stay with the majority bloc led by Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel.

Despite being voted out as committee chair, De Lima continues to be a member of the justice panel.

De Lima said that despite what happened, she would remain with the majority bloc, just as her fellow LP senators have decided to do.

Aquino, Drilon and Pangilinan said they were deeply saddened by Monday’s events in plenary as “elementary courtesy dictates that we as members of the majority bloc of the Senate should have been consulted.”

They said the concerns of their colleagues on De Lima could have been addressed if there was an opportunity for a dialogue.

“We recognize that the removal of Senator Leila de Lima as chair of the committee on justice and human rights is a political reality,” the senators said in a joint statement.

“Having said that, our alliance with the majority has always been based on the reforms that we believe will propel our nation to greater economic, political and social heights. We will continue to pursue these agenda,” they said.

The senators said as long as they believe reforms could be achieved, they will remain with the majority.

“Coming from the events that transpired yesterday, we must remain vigilant and continue to assert the independence of the Senate,” they said.

The move meant that Aquino, De Lima, Drilon, Hontiveros and Pangilinan would retain the chairmanships of other powerful Senate committees.

Drilon chairs the committee on constitutional amendments; Pangilinan, agriculture committee; Aquino, education, and science and technology committees; and De Lima, electoral reform committees.

Aquino said that the LP will meet in the next few days to discuss what steps they will take.

Aquino said that a possible move to the minority bloc in the Senate is among the issues that would be taken up by the LP senators.

“I don’t know if there’ll be a need to change (whether) majority or minority, but definitely that would be discussed in the next couple of days,” he said.

Aquino said the LP senators were taken by surprise by the action of their colleagues against De Lima.

“This could have been taken up as a collegial body, and yet what happened was a vote was made immediately. From what I heard from the other senators, this hasn’t happened in 10 or 20 years,” he said.

Pangilinan confirmed that the LP senators would discuss the issue in the coming days.

“Yesterday’s vote is also a stark reminder that, as senators, we must remain vigilant and ensure that the Senate, as an institution, remains independent as it performs its constitutional role and duty as a check and balance on other branches,” Pangilinan said.

Hontiveros, who ran under the LP banner in last May’s elections, said that there was no overriding reason to replace De Lima as chair of the Senate committee on justice and human rights.

She said that any complaint about De Lima’s objectivity should have been taken up before the ethics committee.

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said that De Lima lost an opportunity to defend herself last Monday when she decided to walk out of the session hall while Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano was delivering his privilege speech.

Sotto said he believed many senators still had an open mind when Cayetano was delivering his speech and had De Lima stood up to defend herself afterwards, the situation now could have been different.

“She should have interpellated Alan. If what Alan was saying was not true, she should have interpellated Alan and many of us would have been enlightened. It would have been a different story,” Sotto said.

Even when the senators held a caucus after Cayetano’s speech, Sotto said that De Lima was invited to attend but she declined to join them.

“We called her to go down there so we could convey the sentiment of the majority. She did not speak to us, only to Koko (Senate President Pimentel). She had all the chances. She should not have left,” Sotto said.

Drilon said that the move of his colleagues to oust De Lima did not come as a surprise to him.

He said that he received information that his colleagues in the majority bloc held a caucus last Sunday to discuss the plan to remove De Lima as head of the committee.

He said they were not invited to the meeting.

Sotto earlier denied that the effort against De Lima was premeditated.

He said that several senators approached him to air their sentiments about the way De Lima had been conducting the hearings on the alleged extrajudicial killings taking place under the current administration.

Sotto said that he heard about their sentiments as early as two weeks ago but they never discussed this formally.

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