By Rey Panaligan
The Supreme Court (SC) has dismissed the petition filed by Sen. Antonio F. Trillanes IV as it ordered the Quezon City regional trial court (RTC) to hear the P5 million damage suit filed against him by a businessman.
In a decision written by Justice Noel G. Tijam, the SC ruled that Trillanes cannot invoke parliamentary immunity to escape prosecution for damages on his statements issued to journalists in 2014 that businessman Antonio Tiu was a dummy of former Vice President Jejomar C. Binay in the purchase of a 150-hectare property in Batangas.
Tiu filed a P5-million damage suit against Trillanes before the Quezon City RTC.
Trillanes filed a motion to dismiss the case but it was denied by the trial court. With the denial, Trillanes elevated the issue before the SC.
Tiu told the trial court he is a legitimate businessman engaged in various businesses in the agriculture sector.
He said that because of Trillanes’ accusation, his businesses were affected as evidenced by a steep drop in the stock prices of his publicly listed companies.
He denied being a dummy of Binay.
In his defense, Trillanes said Tiu failed to prove ownership of the estate in Batangas.
He said his statements to journalists were protected by his constitutionally guaranteed rights to free speech and freedom of expression and of the press considering that these were made as part of an ongoing public debate of a matter of public concern.
“… parliamentary non-accountability cannot be invoked when the lawmaker’s speech or utterance is made outside sessions, hearings or debates in Congress…,” the SC said.