Press Release
February 8, 2021

Leonen calls SC ruling on De Lima's habeas data case vs Duterte 'double standard in guise of presidential immunity'

The Supreme Court (SC) ruling denying with finality Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima's petition for a writ of habeas data against President Duterte blatantly provides a double standard in the guise of "presidential immunity," Associate Justice Marvic Leonen said in his dissenting opinion received by the Senator's Office last Feb. 5.

The SC in the original Resolution dated 15 October 2019 was unanimous in dismissing the petition but De Lima's Motion for Reconsideration elicited 2 dissents. The Habeas Data Resolution showing Leonen's dissenting opinion, as joined by Associate Justice Benjamin Caguioa, is dated Nov. 30 2020 but was only received by Dean Chel Diokno, De Lima's counsel in the case, last Feb. 4.

"With all due respect, this Court's October 15, 2019 Resolution, and the summary denial of this Motion for Reconsideration, blatantly provides a double standard in the guise of 'presidential immunity'", Leonen wrote.

"In issuing humiliating, insulting, and misogynistic remarks at public forums in his official capacity as the President, it is President Duterte himself who degrades the dignity of his own Office," Leonen added.

In filing the petition, De Lima claimed that Duterte committed acts that have violated her right to "life, liberty, and security, and tarnishes her reputation and character."

In a Resolution dated October 15, 2019, it may be recalled that the SC sitting en banc dismissed the petition for the writ of habeas data on the ground that Duterte, as the incumbent President of the Philippines, "is immune from suit during his incumbency."

As such, De Lima said in her Motion for Reconsideration that the SC 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."

Leonen stressed that there was no reason for the Court, in its October 15, 2019 Resolution, to dismiss De Lima's petition because "the privilege of presidential immunity from suit is inapplicable in applications for extraordinary wits like habeas data."

"Petition for a writ of habeas data is markedly differently from civil, criminal and administrative cases. [It does] not provide relief in the form of civil, criminal, and administrative liability. It merely adjudges accountability. It is an extraordinary remedy that is summary in nature, and must be resolved quickly, to provide for swift judicial relief," he said.

"Even if civil, criminal, or administrative cases cannot be filed during incumbency, the liability remains and is merely deferred at the end of tenure," he added.

Likewise, Leonen said that the privilege of immunity from suit has never been intended to shield the President from any wrongdoing.

"The rationale is in keeping with our fundamental ideals: the public office is public trust. Even the President should be held accountable to the people at all times. Thus, in cases where accountability is adjudged, and not liability, presidential immunity should not apply," said he.

Leonen said the Court should never give people the impression that Presidents are "untouchable" because they are not.

"The summary dismissal of the petition on the ground of presidential immunity, without any other means of rapid redress, demeans and belittles the values enshrined in our Constitution. This is a dangerous precedent that must be overturned," he said.

"Accordingly, I vote to grant the Motion for Reconsideration, issue the Writ of Habeas Data, and require respondent to file a verified return within 10 days from notice," he added.

It can be noted that a favorable ruling for a writ of habeas data can include an order destroying or correcting erroneous information or data released about De Lima, who will mark her fourth year in unjust detention on Feb. 24.

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