By Rey Panaligan
The Supreme Court (SC) decided to resolve first whether President Rodrigo Duterte is immune from suit during his six-year tenure before it acts on the case filed by Senator Leila de Lima against him.
“Without necessarily giving due course to the petition, the petitioner (De Lima) and the OSG are directed to submit their respective memorandum on the issue of whether the President of the Republic of the Philippines, as the sole respondent in this case, is immune from suit including this one, within a non-extendible period of 10 days from notice,” the high court said in a resolution Tuesday, November 8.
Quoting from the text of the resolution, SC public information office head Theodore Te said: “It is noted that the issue of immunity of the President from suit is a prejudicial question to be first resolved before the Court decides whether to require him to comment or not pursuant to the Rule on the Writ of Habeas Data.”
On Monday, De Lima filed a petition for a Writ of Habeas Data and asked the SC to stop the president’s “crude personal attacks” against her and the “wrongful collection and publication” of her alleged private affairs and activities “that are outside of the realm of legitimate public concern.”
“This case presents a novel issue of transcendental importance: Can a sitting President wage a personal vendetta against petitioner and use the resources of his powerful office to crucify her as a woman, a human being, and a duly elected senator in violation of her right to privacy in life, liberty and security?”
The president had earlier linked De Lima in the proliferation of illegal drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) and benefited from it during her time as justice secretary and accused her of having an illicit affair with her driver.
De Lima has denied all the allegations and vowed to pursue the case up to the SC.
In a full court resolution issued in 2008, the SC adopted the Writ of Habeas Data as “remedy available to any person whose right to privacy in life, liberty or security is violated or threatened by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity engaged in the gathering, collecting or storing of data or information regarding the person, family, home and correspondence of the aggrieved party.”
While the 1987 Constitution does not provide specific provision on the immunity from suit of an incumbent President, the bases for the immunity are found both in the jurisprudence of the United States and the Philippines and under Article 8 of the Civil Code “the jurisprudence forms part of the legal system of the Philippines.”
In 1986, the SC ruled that “incumbent presidents are immune from suit or from being brought to court during the period of their incumbency and tenure.”