De Lima seeks relaxed visit restrictions as solitary confinement drags on

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Sen. Leila de Lima is escorted by police officers as she emerges from her hearing at the Muntinlupa Trial court on November 16, 2017. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA – Sen. Leila de Lima on Saturday called on police to ease her visitation restrictions after more than a month of "incommunicado" confinement at Camp Crame – a policy she condemned as oppression in the guise of COVID-19 crisis precautions.

In a dispatch from her cell at the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center in Camp Crame, Quezon City, the lawmaker, detained on drug charges since February 2017, criticized PNP's “standard” policy on visitation rights during general community quarantine as disproportionate and arbitrary.

“Plainly, what PNP authorities are doing to me is disrespect to me and my status as a duly elected and working senator. It smacks of oppression,” she wrote.
“Nasaan ang puso nila?”

(Where is their heart?)

De Lima said she has not been allowed to receive visitors and hold physical meetings for a month and 11 days.

On Friday, her chief-of-staff, lawyer Fhillip Sawali, legal counsel Chel Diokno, and spiritual adviser Fr. Flavie Villanueva were barred entry.

PNP chief General Archie Gamboa, in an online presser on May 29, said they would still have to reassess their policy since the camp was housing a quarantine facility for police officers sick with COVID-19.

"We need to reassess whether to open up 'yung visitor natin sa (our visitors to the) custodial center,” he said.

Gamboa was responding to a complaint from Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senators Francis Pangilinan and Risa Hontiveros who earlier bared De Lima’s predicament.

However, De Lima maintained that the PNP's decision was unconstitutional as the 1987 Constitution forbids solitary confinement or incommunicado detention.

Jail visits are also guaranteed under Republic Act 7438, she insisted. The higher issuing authorities of PNP has a one-track mind, she added.

“There is no rational basis for PNP authorities to insist on the so-called ‘standard’ policy, and follow the lead of other jails and correctional facilities that are also currently under total lockdown,” she said.

She added, "As we keep on stressing, unlike in other jails, there is zero congestion and zero COVID-19 cases here. There are very few PDLs (persons deprived of liberty) in the facility. Hence, physical distancing is no problem at all. Besides, I am in an isolated detention quarters here. Alone."

For De Lima, she considered her detention as “involuntary quarantine.”

She has been detained since Feb. 2017 for allegedly pocketing drug payoffs from convicted crime lords at the New Bilibid Prison when she was still justice secretary. She has decried the charges as political persecution.

“I am unable to see any family member, particularly my children, grandchildren and siblings in the past weeks. For someone who has been unjustly deprived of liberty for more than 3 years already, occasional visits from my family and loved ones are an irreplaceable source of hope and strength,” she said, adding she’s “under quarantine within a quarantine.”

De Lima, one of the staunchest critics of President Rodrigo Duterte’s policies, had denied wrongdoing, saying she was arrested on trumped-up charges.

The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology and Bureau of Corrections also suspended visitation in detention and prison facilities across the country as a precaution amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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