MANILA — The Supreme Court has junked Sen. Leila De Lima's 3-year-old petition seeking to stop President Rodrigo Duterte's verbal tirades against her, according to a ruling made public on Wednesday.
De Lima filed the petition for habeas data in November 2016 after Duterte alleged that her former driver and alleged lover collected money from drug lords detained at the New Bilibid Prison.
The senator is currently detained on drug charges she has decried as political persecution.
Voting unanimously (13-0 with 1 justice on leave), the high court dismissed De Lima’s petition on the ground that the President is immune from suit, based on a resolution dated Oct. 15, 2019.
A writ of habeas data is a 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 engaged in the gathering, collecting or storing of data or information about the person. A favorable ruling can include an order destroying or correcting erroneous data.
In her habeas data petition, De Lima said Duterte's public statements threatened her right to life, liberty and security. She also noted that he had hinted that he was supposedly monitoring her through the help of a foreign country.
Aware of the presidential immunity against suit, De Lima said the President is not entitled to the defense because his acts were supposedly unlawful and made outside his official conduct.
But the high court rejected her plea, saying presidential immunity recognizes no qualifications.
“The immunity makes no distinction with regard to the subject matter of the suit; it applies whether or not the acts subject matter of the suit are part of his duties and functions as President,” the Court said.
The immunity also does not hinge on the nature of the suit, whether civil, criminal or administrative because the rationale for its grant is to avoid distractions in his exercise of his Presidential duties and functions, added the ruling.
The President need not even invoke the immunity for it to apply as “any litigation, whether big or small, naturally serves as a distraction to a party-litigant,” it said.
Instead, the Supreme Court advised De Lima to wait until the President finishes his tenure either by resignation or removal by impeachment.
Then Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin penned the resolution, just a few days before he retired from the high court.