JUSTICE Secretary Leila de Lima said Tuesday that Vice President Jejomar Binay is immune from criminal prosecution while he is in office, reversing the position she took last October when she said he could be investigated for corrupt acts committed when he was still mayor of Makati.
In a statement, De Lima conceded that the Vice President, like the President, the justices of the Supreme Court and the Ombudsman and other constitutional officials, is an impeachable official and therefore cannot be tried in court without first being impeached from office.
Last October, she said impeachability did not equate to immunity, and that among impeachable officials, only the President was immune from suit.
But this week, she said, “Conventional wisdom among lawyers is that any criminal action against an impeachable official can only go so far as filing an information.”
“It is still up to the courts, especially the Supreme Court, to categorically decide on whether or not the filing of a criminal charge amounts to a violation of impeachability,” she said.
De Lima added that the courts cannot even order Binay’s arrest should cases be filed against him.
“The initiation of a criminal case entails the issuance of a warrant of arrest, and this implies restraint on the person of the impeachable official that highly compromises his status as such,” she said.
She said if the issue reached the Supreme Court, it would most likely rule in the Vice President’s favor.
Earlier, election lawyer Romulo Macalintal rebutted the opinion of Senate President Franklin Drilon that Binay was not immune from suit.
“If the President is immune from suit, then all constitutional officials, like the Vice President, Supreme Court justices, members of Constitutional Commissions, and the Ombudsman who could only be removed by impeachment, are likewise immune from suit,” Macalintal said.
Macalintal said the position being pushed by Drilon and other administration allies “smacks of unjust or invidious discrimination” and violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution.
The Palace on Tuesday dismissed allegations from the Binay camp that it was behind efforts to have him impeached.
“Ha ha! He must be kidding,” said presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda in a text message to the Malacañang press corps. “The President is governing, he [Binay] is campaigning. The President seeks to improve the lives of his bosses, he [Binay] is seeking to improve his image.”
Deputy presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte also denied any Palace role.
“We don’t know what his basis is for saying that. We don’t know if there are quarters who are preparing to file an impeachment case against him, so we don’t want to deal with a hypothetical and speculative situation,” she said.
In a radio interview Thursday, Binay claimed that his camp has been hearing about impeachment complaints to be filed against him, but he did not name who he believes is behind the move against him in the House of Representatives.
A Senate panel report earlier recommended the filing of plunder against the Vice President, his son Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin Binay Jr. and other individuals in relation to the alleged overpricing of the Makati City Hall Building 2.
The Office of the Ombudsman has also filed plunder charges against the Vice President and his son in connection to the allegedly overpriced construction of Makati Science High School building.
The Commission on Audit also allowed the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to freeze the bank accounts associated with Binay, which could be used as evidence to prove that he committed plunder.
On Tuesday, Binay slammed some senators allied to the administration for focusing so much of their attention to attacking him politically, instead of looking for solutions to prevent further deaths and damage caused by storms, epidemics and sea tragedies.
In a radio interview, Binay also said he did not receive an invitation to the Senate hearing as claimed by Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, saying that the proceedings of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on the alleged overpricing of the Makati City Hall Building have become a “politicized forum whose sole purpose is to make wild accusations and false statements” against the Binay family.
Binay was in Dasol, Pangasinan where he distributed a number of wheelchairs to the local elders and persons with disabilities.
“We fully know that this is all politically motivated,” he said.
“Typhoon, an epidemic and a sea tragedy, all of these that happened recently were disregarded and [the senators] gave more importance to politicking,” Binay said.
Binay’s spokesman, Rico Quicho, said the senators have resorted to the cheap gimmick of putting an empty chair in the Session Hall “when the only thing empty in this sorry excuse for a Senate inquiry is credible proof.”
The Senate used testimony of a person who has admitted to corruption and testimony of a person who admitted he lied and merely speculated, he said.
“This badly written telenovela has outlived its entertainment value. The hearings have consumed the time and resources of the Senate which could have been used for the benefit of our people,” Quicho said.
Pimentel on Tuesday said he will ask the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee to cite in contempt Jack Arroyo, an alleged dummy for Binay, for continuously snubbing hearings before his subcommittee.
“We will recommend to the mother committee that Arroyo be cited in contempt for refusing to appear despite being issued a subpoena,” said Pimentel.
In the hearing, it was alleged that Arroyo, a nephew of former senator Joker Arroyo, was used by Binay as his dummy in the Makati city government’s joint venture with Systems Technology Institute (STI), a computer school.
The Makati city government and the University of Makati entered in 2003 a joint venture with STI to put up Philippine Health Educators Inc., that manages the School of Nursing inside the University of Makati.
The Senate panel had earlier subpoenaed Arroyo to attend the hearing and told him to produce records of his tax payment.
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV said “the mysterious Mr. Jack Arroyo is nowhere to be found, just like the other dummies (Eduviges) Ebeng Baloloy and Gerry Limlingan, and also Laureano Gregorio. So this is the pattern we are establishing here. The dummies don’t want to appear here because they know they can’t get away with this.” – With Sandy Araneta, Vito Barcelo and Macon Ramos-Araneta
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