Binay can be sued, De Lima now says

JUSTICE Secretary Leila de Lima denied Wednesday that she now believes Vice President Jejomar Binay is immune from criminal prosecution, and singled out The Standard for “inaccurately” reporting her statement.

The Standard stands by its story, which contrasted her latest text message to her statements in October 2014.

In a text message to reporters from Hague in the Netherlands where she was attending the oral arguments on the country’s territorial dispute with China, De Lima said The Standard page one banner story “inaccurately reported” her statement “on the legal effect of the VP’s status as an impeachable official on his criminal prosecution.”

“Nowhere in my statement did I retract my original position that impeachability is different from immunity, and that except for the President, all impeachable officials are not immune from suit,” she said.

She said she only explained that impeachable officials “are merely protected from such kind of suits that would violate their impeachability, specifically when such suit, such as criminal suit, have the effect of removing them from office without first being impeached.”

She said The Standard report “selectively quoted from her statement to suit the headline and news that it wanted.”

Her statement last Tuesday, in full, is as follows:

“Theoretically, they can be subject to criminal proceedings so long as they are not removed from office, such as what the Supreme Court has done with Commissioners of the Comelec in several cases when it cited said Commissioners in criminal contempt.

“However, the 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.”

The Palace on Wednesday distanced itself from the decision by a Court of Appeals justice to recuse herself in the case involving the preventive suspension order against Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin Binay Jr., the Vice President’s son.

“We defer to her judgement,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said, when asked about Associate Justice Celia Librea-Leagogo’s decision to inhibit herself from the case because of her links to Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II, a respondent in Binay’s petition for a temporary restraining order.

In a letter, Leagogo said she has decided to recuse from the Binay case because her husband works at a law firm where one of the partners is Roxas’ cousin.

“It was recently brought to my attention that the secretary of respondent Department of Interior and Local Government, who was directed to implement the Ombudsman’s joint order in the above-captioned case, is the first cousin of one of the co-partners of my husband in their law firm,” Leagogo said.

She said she was voluntarily inhibiting herself from participating in the Binay case in the interest of impartiality in the proper discharge of her judicial office.

Leagogo was also a former law partner of former Defense secretary Avelino Cruz Jr., who was the canvassing lawyer of Roxas during the May 2010 elections.

Leagogo was a former senior partner of “The Firm” or the Carpio Villaraza Marcelo Cruz Angangco law office.

The original members of “The Firm” were Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, Arthur Villaraza, former Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo and Cruz.

Mayor Binay earlier petitioned the appellate court to issue a TRO or writ for preliminary injunction against the suspension order issued by the Ombudsman, in connection with his alleged role in the overpriced construction of a Makati Science High School building.

Binay had initially refused to vacate his office, saying the issuance of the suspension order had no justification.

In a June 30 resolution written by Associate Justice Melchor Sadang, the appellate court deferred taking action on Binay’s petition to stop his six-month preventive suspension from office.

Instead, it ordered the Office of the Ombudsman and the DILG to file their respective comments on Binay’s petition within 10 days.

After failing to secure an immediate restraining order from the CA, Binay decided to temporarily step down from office.

In March, the Ombudsman also ordered the suspension of Binay and other officials in connection with the allegedly overpriced construction of the Makati City Hall Building II. The mayor, however, received a TRO against the suspension order from the appellate court.

The Supreme Court then indefinitely suspended the implementation of the suspension order pending a resolution on a case that the Ombudsman filed to question the authority of the CA justices to stop the implementation of the suspension. – With Sandy Araneta

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