SC junks De Lima’s plea, rules Duterte cannot be sued while in office

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    THE Supreme Court (SC) has denied the petition of detained Sen. Leila de Lima seeking legal remedy to stop President Duterte’s verbal attacks on her.

    The unanimous 56-page SC en banc resolution promulgated on October 15, 2019 but made public only yesterday ruled that the President cannot be sued while he is still in office.

    “The Court dismisses the petition for writ of habeas data on the ground that respondent Rodrigo Roa Duterte as the incumbent president of the Philippines is immune from suit during his incumbency,” the SC said, adding that remedies provided by the Constitution for violations committed by a sitting President does not include ordinary suits before the courts.
    A writ of habeas data is a remedy available to any person whose right to privacy in life, liberty or security has been violated or under threat by the unlawful gathering of information about the person, his or her family, and home.
    De Lima filed what she described as a ‘”test case” of Duterte’s presidential immunity in 2016, requesting legal redress from the SC for the President’s repeated attacks on her as a person and as a woman.

    “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?” De Lima said in her plea.

    She added that she has been “repeatedly subjected to crude personal attacks” by Duterte which involved the “wrongful collection and publication of her alleged private affairs and activities that are outside of the realm of legitimate public concern.”

    De Lima claimed the verbal attacks on her person are not covered by presidential immunity from suit because they are not the official acts of a president.

    “Since petitioner’s (De Lima) right to privacy in life, liberty or security have been violated and continue to be threatened by the President’s unlawful attacks on her womanhood and dignity as a person, she has no other recourse but to seek relief from this Honorable Court in the form of a writ of habeas data,” she said.

    She likewise said Duterte’s personal attacks violated the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and the Magna Carta for Women and “constitute psychological violence prohibited by Republic Act 9710 or the Magna Carta of Women.”

    The justices said it was impossible to grant her petition because doing so will require the court to first determine whether or not he violated the country’s laws.

    “Any ruling on her petition will necessarily entail a judgment on whether or not the President violated said laws. The Chief Executive must first be allowed to end his tenure (not his term) either through resignation or removal by impeachment. Being a member of Congress, the petitioner [De Lima] is well aware of this, and she cannot sincerely claim that she is bereft of any remedy,” the SC ruled.

    “Accordingly, the concept is clear and allows no qualification or restrictions that the President cannot be sued while holding such office,” it said.

    The rationale, the SC stressed, is to avoid distraction to the President that such a case will entail even if he will be represented by the Office of the Solicitor General.

    “Any litigation, big or small, naturally serves as a distraction to a party-litigant. Even while represented by counsel, a litigant is still responsible for certain facets of the case, like presenting evidence and disputing claims, and cannot simply leave the course and conduct of the proceedings entirely to the discretion of his or her chosen counsel,” it added.