THE Supreme Court dismissed detained Sen. Leila de Lima’s petition for habeas data to protect her from President Duterte’s alleged threats and verbal attacks, in a decision released last Wednesday.
The decision was made by the Supreme Court sitting en banc on October 15, 2019, with all 13 justices concurring. It was signed by then Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin.
The court dismissed the petition on the ground that the Philippine president cannot be held administratively, civilly, or criminally liable for any offense while he is in Malacañang – during his term of office or during his tenure should he resign or is removed by impeachment.
In her petition, Senator De Lima charged that since President Duterte assumed office in 2016, he has been making public statements that “malign her as a woman and degrade her dignity as a human being, ” in violation of the Magna Carta of Women and the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.
She said the President accused her of involvement in corruption and illegal drugs, and immorality, as the President had repeatedly alleged she was having an affair with her driver. She said these attacks on her began after she delivered a privileged speech in the Senate in August, 2016, calling for an end to extra-judicial killings in the President’s war on illegal drugs.
If it were any other person, or government official accused of all these charges, the court might try such a case. But De Lima chose to accuse President Duterte. And the Supreme Court simply dismissed the case for the sole reason of presidential immunity. As long as he sits in Malacañang, the President – any president – may not be tried in court for any offense.
During the Mamasapano tragedy in 2015, in which 44 Special Action Force men were trapped and killed by Moro rebels in Maguindanao, then President Benigno S. Aquino III was blamed by some quarters who wanted to charge him with reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide, along with then Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima and Special Action Force chief Getulio Napeñas. The Ombudsman ordered the filing of charges against Aquino in conspiracy with Purisima and Napeñas in August, 2019, but the Sandigan dropped the charge against Aquino, while Purisima and Napeñas trial continued until they were recently acquitted.
De Lima filed her petition for habeas data in November, 2016, and the Supreme Court has now disposed of it. She was arrested in February, 2017, on three cases for conspiracy to commit drug trading. Trial of her cases has been delayed as six judges have withdrawn from her cases, either by inhibition or by retiring. She has been detained at the Philippine National Police at Camp Crame, Quezon City.
Having disposed of the habeas data case, the court, with its function of supervision and control of the country’s judicial system, might want to look more closely into the delay in De Lima’s cases due to the unusual succession of judges withdrawing from her cases.