by Rey G. Panaligan
The Supreme Court (SC) decided yesterday to resolve first whether the Philippine President is immune from suit during his six-year tenure before it acts on the case filed by Sen. Leila de Lima against him.
In a resolution, the SC directed both De Lima and the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) to submit their memoranda in 10 days on the immunity from suit of the President.
“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 SC said.
Quoting from the text of the resolution, lawyer Theodore O. Te, head of the SC’s public information office (PIO), 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.”
Last 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 National Bilibid Prisons(NBP) and benefitted from it when she was secretary of the Department of Justice (DOJ), 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.”
Two years later in 1988, the SC further ruled that “the rationale for the grant to the President of the privilege of immunity from suit is to assure the exercise of Presidential duties and functions free from any hindrance or distraction, considering that being the Chief Executive of the Government is a job that, aside from requiring all of the office-holder’s time, also demands undivided attention.”
Under the 2008 resolution, cases involving a Writ of Habeas Data may be filed before the regional trial court, Sandiganbayan, Court of Appeals, and the SC and these courts are mandated to act swiftly on these cases.
In her petition, De Lima said the remarks against her “constitute psychological violence prohibited by Republic Act No. 9710 or the Magna Carta of Women.”
She also said the attacks against her violated the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.
“The verbal attacks on petitioner’s womanhood and threats on her person are not covered by presidential immunity from suit because they are not the official acts of a President…. They constitute unlawful, unofficial conduct that has nothing to do with the President’s duties and responsibilities,” she stressed in her petition.