De Lima appeals SC’s ‘twisted’ application of presidential immunity in dismissing habeas data petition

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 05 2020 06:39 PM

MANILA – Detained Philippine Sen. Leila De Lima on Wednesday asked the country's high court to reconsider what she calls its “twisted” application of the doctrine of presidential immunity to junk her plea for protection from President Rodrigo Duterte’s verbal tirades.

In a motion for reconsideration she filed at the Supreme Court, the staunch critic of Duterte challenged the tribunal's October 2019 ruling that dismissed her petition for the issuance of a writ of habeas data, a remedy available to persons whose right to privacy in life, liberty or security is violated or threatened.

De Lima, who has consistently slammed Duterte's human rights record, has been in detention for close to three years over illegal drugs charges. She has dismissed all legal actions against her as political persecution.

"By unduly broadening the scope of presidential immunity to include acts that have nothing to do with the exercise of 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 in her motion. 

De Lima has been complaining against Duterte’s public statements, accusing her of corruption and leading an immoral life by having a relationship with a married man. The president even suggested that she resign and just hang herself.

A favorable ruling for a writ of habeas data can include an order destroying or correcting erroneous data about the petitioner.

The SC unanimously rejected De Lima’s petition, saying the doctrine of presidential immunity from suits applies regardless of the nature of the President's acts.

De Lima insists that as early as 1910, the SC had already distinguished presidential acts done in the performance of official duties, from those that are not. A 2011 case, she said, reiterated the distinction.

"[U]nlawful acts of public officials are not acts of the State and the officer who acts illegally is not acting as such but stands in the same footing as any other trespasser,” she argued.

In relying on the doctrine to absolve Duterte, De Lima said the SC did not address the novel issue she presented before the high court: “Can a sitting President wage a personal vendetta and use the resources of his powerful office to slut-shame a duly elected senator, assassinate her character, dignity and honor as a woman, and destroy her reputation in violation of her right to privacy in life, liberty and security?”

“[I]n sidestepping the real issue before the Court, the Resolution twisted the doctrine of presidential immunity out of all sense of meaning, gave Mr. Rodrigo Duterte a blanket license to slut-shame and discriminate against any woman who tickles his fancy, and deprived petitioner (and other similarly situated women) of an effective remedy, in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which the Philippines ratified and which forms part of the law of our land.”

De Lima rejected the high court’s suggestion that she can avail of such other remedies as filing a case against Duterte when he is no longer in office. For her, it is not an adequate, effective, nor a prompt remedy, which she says she is entitled to under the ICCPR.

While she agreed with the opinion of Associate Justice Marvic Leonen that presidential immunity does not apply in habeas data petitions and that presidential immunity must be balanced with legitimate interests of the State, she did not concur with his view that the appropriate respondent in her case is Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea.

"[T]he acts questioned here – slut-shaming, discrimination, and psychological violence; the unlawful gathering of information about her personal and private life and broadcasting it to the entire nation – are not the official acts of the President. They have nothing to do with the president’s powers, duties and responsibilities as Chief Executive,” De Lima said.

"And they were motivated not by any public purpose but simply because of a personal grudge that dates back to the time that President Duterte was Mayor of Davao City and Senator De Lima was Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights," her motion reads.

De Lima won the senatorial race in 2016, and has a term through 2022, as with Duterte.

Some members of the international community, both from governments and various advocacy groups, have criticized the Duterte administration over De Lima's plight.