LEILA de Lima, senator and former secretary of justice, has been detained for more than a year now on non-bailable drug charges. And she wants to take part in the trial of Supreme Court Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno.
Last March 3, she said she’d like to sit as senator-judge when Sereno faces the impeachment charges the House is expected to approve and send to the Senate soon. She wouldn’t miss “such an important proceeding” because, she said, she’s “mandated by the Constitution.”
All up to courts
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said Wednesday he included the senator among 23 senators for whom robes were ordered for the trial. Yet earlier, on May 21 last year, after de Lima asked him if she could join Senate sessions and committee hearings despite her detention, his reply was that it was “up to the courts.”
It’s not like Pimentel is getting an ombudsman order to dismiss a senator, which the Senate, or the House, routinely sits on or rejects. It’s about a lawmaker whom the president wants jailed and kept in jail.
Pimentel washes his hands of De Lima’s wish.
The Supreme Court, in People of the Philippines vs. Jalosjos (GR#132875-76, Feb. 3, 2000), refused to allow Romeo G. Jalosjos, a “full-pledged congressman” to attend sessions and take part in other functions as a member of the House. Jalosjos was convicted of statutory rape on two counts and six acts of lasciviousness.
Jalosjos argued that:
 Voters in his district reelected him; their power was superior to other powers, including police power;
 Not being allowed to function as congressman deprived his district of a representative: taxation without representation;
 It also amounted to removing or expelling him;
 He behaved well each time he was allowed brief furlough from jail;
 The U.S. courts allowed a member of U.S. Congress to attend its sessions.
All those arguments the SC swept aside, dwelling more on two major points: equal protection clause and absence of harm on the House to which Jalosjos belonged.
“Equal protection” guaranteed by the Constitution means Jalosjos cannot be treated differently from others who were convicted and imprisoned. Physical detention is part of the penalty. Like others held behind bars, the congressman must be similarly restrained.
No adverse effect on the House means that even without Jalosjos, the House could very well function, citing that it had 250 members and the Senate 24 members.
She might if...
De Lima, like Jalosjos, may be refused by the SC. This tribunal has lately been known to decide for the administration, at times even against popular sentiment. This court allowed Marcos to be buried at the heroes’ cemetery and granted what the president wanted about martial law and habeas corpus.
Will de Lima have the chance to wear the robe that Pimentel ordered from the tailors?
If her jailers would allow her, she might be able to wear that toga -- in her cell at the PNP Custodial Center in Camp Crame. Maybe while watching the Sereno trial on TV.