The Supreme Court has dismissed a petition filed in 2016 by now-detained opposition Senator Leila de Lima against President Rodrigo Duterte, saying the President is immune from suit during his six-year term.
“The Court dismisses the petition for a writ of habeas data on the ground that respondent President Rodrigo Roa Duterte... is immune from suit during his incumbency,” the high court said in a decision written by the now-retired Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin.
A Writ of Habeas Data “is a legal 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.”
The resolution was promulgated on Oct. 15, 2019, but it was made public by the high court’s Public Information Office only on Jan. 22.
“Indeed, the Constitution provides remedies for violations committed by the Chief Executive except an ordinary suit before the courts. The Chief Executive must first be allowed to end his tenure [not his term] either through resignation or removal by impeachment,” the high court ruled.
“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.”
De Lima had sought to compel the President to stop making “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.”
She said the President’s remarks against her constituted psychological violence prohibited by Republic Act 9710, or the Magna Carta of Women, and a violation of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.
In his public statements, the President had implicated De Lima to the proliferation of illegal drugs at the New Bilibid Prisons during her term as Justice secretary and allegedly benefited from it. He also accused her of having an illicit affair with her driver-bodyguard Ronnie Dayan.
De Lima has repeatedly denied the allegations against her over illegal drugs, but she admitted her illicit affair.
In 2017, De Lima was arrested and detained on three criminal charges involving the illegal drugs trade in the NBP in Muntinlupa City. The criminal cases are still pending before the three branches of the Muntinlupa City regional trial court.
The Office of the Solicitor General asked the high court magistrates to dismiss De Lima’s petition for a writ of habeas data because the President enjoys absolute immunity from suit during his incumbency as President.
Solicitor General Jose C. Calida said Duterte’s immunity from suit “is a well-entrenched doctrine under our jurisdiction and has long been recognized not only in jurisprudence, but also in the Constitution which is the supreme law of the land.”
“The rationale for presidential immunity is that the President must be free from any hindrance or distraction in the exercise of his duties and functions.”