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Constitutional Law Case Digest: De Lima v. Pres. Duterte, G.R. No. 227635, October 15, 2019

De Lima v. Pres. Rodrigo R. Duterte
G.R. No. 227635, October 15, 2019

Lessons Applicable: Writ of Habeas Data, Presidential Immunity from Suit
Laws Applicable:

  • May 9, 2016: Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte was elected as the 16th President of the Philippines with a key agenda of his Administration was the relentless national crackdown on illegal drugs.
  • August 2, 2016: Sen. De Lima delivered a privilege speech on the floor of the Senate calling a stop to the alleged extrajudicial killings committed in the course of the crackdown.
  • Petition for the issuance of a writ of habeas data seeking to enjoin President Rodrigo Roa Dutete from committing acts allegedly violative of her right to life, liberty and security through his public statements: 
    • August 11, 2016 public statement of President Duterte: “I know I’m the favorite whipping boy of the NGOs and the human rights stalwarts.  But, I have a special ano kaya no.  She is a government official.  One day soon I will – bitiwan ko yan in public and I will have to destroy her in public.”  Incidentally, in the same event, President Duterte insinuated that with the help of another country, he was keeping surveillance of her.  “Akala nila na hindi rin ako nakikinig sa kanila.  So while all the time they were also listening to what I’ve done, I’ve also been busy, and with the help of another country, listening to them.
    • The statement uttered in a briefing at the NAIA Terminal 3, Pasay City in August 17, 2016 wherein President Duterte named Sen. De Lima as the government office he referred to earlier at the same time accused her of living an immortal life by having a romantic affair with her driver, a married man, and of being involved in illegal drugs.  “There’s one crusading lady, whose even herself led a very immoral life, taking his driver as her lover… Paramour niya ang driver nya nagging hooked rin sa drugs because of the close association.  You know, when you are an immoral, dirty woman, the driver was married.  So you live with the driver, its concubinage.
    • The statements that described her an immoral woman; that publicized her intimate and personal life, starting from her new boyfriend to her sexual escapades; that told of her being involved in illegal drugs as well as in activities that included her construction of a house for her driver/lover with financing from drug-money
    • Statements that threatened her (“De Lima, you are finished”) and demeaned her womanhood and humanity.  If I were De Lima, ladies and gentlemen, I’ll hang myself.  Your life has been, hindi lang life, the innermost of your core as a female is being serialized everyday.  Dapat kang mag-resign.  You resign.  And “De Lima better hang yourself… Hindi ka na naghiya sa sarili mo.  Any other woman would have slashed her throat.  You?  Baka akala mo artista ka.  Mga artistang x-rated paglabas sa, paktapos ng shooting, nakangiti…”
  • Sen. De Lima traces his animosity towards her when she 1st encountered President Durterte while he was still the City Mayor of Davao and she the Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights investigating the existence of the so-called “Davao Death Squad.”

ISSUE: W/N Presidential’s immunity from suit can shield the President from being haled to court
HELD: Dismissed even without the President invoking the privilege of immunity from suit.
G.R. No. 227635, October 15, 2019
  • Immunity can be classified either by: a. extent i.e. absolute or qualified or b. duration i.e. permanent or temporary
  • Extent: 
    • Absolute immunity is granted to a government official who has proven that his actions fell within the scope of his duties, and that his actions are discretionary rather than ministerial – conduct or the action performed must not involve insignificant or routinely office work but rather the challenged action must involve personal judgment.  It attaches to the function instead of the office.
    • Qualified immunity was initially given to a government official who was able to prove that at the time of commission of the act complained of, he possessed a good faith that his actions were lawful – subjective element determined with the two-tier test:
  • If the statutory or constitutional right asserted by the plaintiff was clear at the time of the alleged wrongful action
  • Whether the official should reasonably have known the action was contrary to law
  • Duration:
    • Permanent or the immunity for speech or debate – immunity from liability in law suits that arise out of the performance of public duties of democratic deliberation
    • Temporary or congressional immunity from arrest – to legislators from litigating even private suits while “at Session” of Congress as public officers
  • Estrada v. Desierto (G.R. No. 146710-15, March 2, 2001): Being a former President, President Estrada no longer enjoyed immunity from suit
  • David v. Macapagal-Arroyo (G.R. No. 171396, May 3, 2006): Improper to implead President Arroyo in a consolidated petition disputing the factual bases for Presidential Proclamation No. 1017 and General Order No. 5 declaring a state of national emergency and called out the Armed Forces of the Philippines in her capacity as Commander-in-Chief to maintain law and order throughout the country and to suppress acts of lawless violence, insurrection or rebellion.  
  • Rubrico v. Macapagal-Arroyo (G.R. No. No. 183871, February 18, 2010):  Court upheld the exclusion of President  Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, maintaining that presidential immunity from suit despite not being expressly reserved in the 1987 Constitution and declared that the President could not be sued during her tenure in a petition for the issuance of the writ of amparo against military, police personnel and the Office of the Ombudsman and including President Arroyo.
  • Balao v. Macapagal-Arroyo (G.R. No. 186050, December 13, 2011): Court ruled that RTC had erred in holding that Presidential immunity could not be invoked in amparo proceedings
  • 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: 1. Immunity during the tenure of the President 2. Thereafter.  Framer’s intended during tenure.  
  • Presidential immunity does not hinge on the nature of the suit.  It is not intended to immunize the President from liability or accountability.
    • Rationale for the grant of immunity stated in Soliven v. Makasiar (G.R. No. 82585, 82827, 83979, November 14, 1988): To assure the exercise of Presidential duties and functions fee from any hindrance of distraction, considering that being the Chief Executive of the Government is a job that aside from requiring all of the office-holder’s time, also demands undivided attention.
    • Rationale expanded in David v. Macapagal-Arroyo: It will degrade the dignity of the high office of the President, the Head of State, if he can be dragged into court litigations while serving as such. Furthermore, it is important that he be freed from any form of harassment, hindrance or distraction to enable him to fully attend to the performance of his official duties and functions. Unlike the legislative and judicial branch, only one constitutes the executive branch and anything which impairs his usefulness in the discharge of the many great and important duties imposed upon him by the Constitution necessarily impairs the operation of the Government. However, this does not mean that the President is not accountable to anyone. Like any other official, he remains accountable to the people but he may be removed from office only in the mode provided by law and that is by impeachment.
    • Passage in Soliven was made only to point out that it was the President by virtue of the office and may be invoked only by the holder of the office; not by any other person in the President’s behalf and that it was the President who had gone to court as the complainant
    • If the Court were to first require the President to respond to each and every complaint brought against him, and then avail himself of presidential immunity on a case to case basis, then the rationale for the privilege – protecting the President from harassment, hindrance or distraction in the discharge of his duties – would very well be defeated.
  • Constitution provides remedies for violations committed by the Chief Executive except an ordinary suit before the courts.  The Chief Executive must 1st be allowed to end his tenure (not his term) either through resignation or removal by impeachment.