SC declares final its dismissal of De Lima’s case vs. Duterte

Published February 8, 2021, 5:29 PM

by Rey Panaligan 

The Supreme Court (SC) has declared final its ruling that dismissed the petition for a Writ of Habeas Data filed in 2016 against President Duterte by the now detained Sen. Leila de Lima who, in effect, challenged the President’s immunity from suit during his six-year term in office.

Supreme Court (SC)

In a resolution made public on Monday, Feb. 8, the SC decided to deny De Lima’s motion for reconsideration “as the basic issues raised therein have been passed upon by this Court and no substantial arguments were presented to warrant the reversal of the questioned Resolution.”

An entry of judgment for the case was ordered by the SC. The entry of judgment makes the ruling immutable.

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.”

In last year’s resolution issued on Oct. 15, 2019 and written by the now retired Chief Justice Lucas P. Bersamin, the SC ruled to dismiss the petition “on the ground that respondent Rodrigo Roa Duterte, as the incumbent President, is immune from suit during his incumbency.”

The SC said:

 “Indeed, the Constitution provides remedies for violations committed buy 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.

 “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.”

 In her 2016 petition, De Lima wanted the SC to stop the President’s “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 “constitute psychological violence prohibited by Republic Act No. 9710 or the Magna Carta of Women” and a violation of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

The President has tagged De Lima responsible for the proliferation of illegal drugs trade at the New Bilibid Prisons (NBP) during her term as justice secretary, and benefitted out of it.  She was also accused of having an illicit affair with her driver-bodyguard Ronnie Dayan.

De Lima had repeatedly denied the allegations in illegal drugs trade.  But on the illicit affair, the lady senator admitted it in a television interview.

In 2017, De Lima was arrested and detained on three criminal charges involving illegal drugs trade in the National Bilibid Prisons (NBP) in Muntinlupa City. The criminal cases are still pending before the three branches of the Muntinlupa City regional trial court (RTC).

In resolving the petition, the only issue tackled by the SC was whether an incumbent President can be hailed to court even for the limited purpose of a petition for a Writ of Habeas Data.

“The petition must be dismissed even without the President invoking the privilege of immunity from suit,” the SC ruled.

The SC said:

“While the concept of immunity from suit originated elsewhere, the ratification of the 1981 constitutional amendments and the 1987 Constitution made our version of presidential immunity unique.

“Section 15, Article VII of the 1973 Constitution, as amended, provided for immunity at two distinct points in time: the first sentence of the provision related to immunity during the tenure of the President, and the second provided for immunity thereafter.

“At this juncture, we need only concern ourselves with immunity during the President’s tenure, as this case involves the incumbent President.

“As the framers of the Constitution understood it, which view has been upheld by relevant jurisprudence, the President is immune from suit during his tenure.”

On Feb. 4, 2020, De Lima filed a motion to reconsider the resolution that dismissed her petition.

In her motion, De Lima alleged that the SC “unduly” expanded the scope of presidential immunity to acts that have nothing to do with presidential powers, duties, and responsibilities.

“The resolution has twisted the doctrine of presidential immunity into a grotesque version of itself, inoculated the President from accountability for egregious conduct, and placed an insurmountable barrier to the search for truth and the vindication of basic rights,” she said.

The denial of her motion was promulgated on Nov. 3, 2020.