Court junks De Lima case vs Duterte

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THE Supreme Court has rejected an opposition senator’s plea to stop President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s verbal tirades against her, saying he is immune from lawsuits, according to an October decision made public on Wednesday.

Senator Leila M. de Lima sued Mr. Duterte in November 2016 after his series of personal attacks, including allegations that she was romantically involved with her driver and that the two were trafficking illegal drugs.

“Immunity does not hinge on the nature of the suit,” the high court said in a 22-page resolution written by former Chief Justice Lucas P. Bersamin. Immunity from lawsuits is not meant to shield the President from accountability but to avoid distractions in the exercise of his duties, it added.

The President need not invoke his immunity for it to apply because “any litigation, whether big or small, naturally serves as a distraction to a party-litigant,” the tribunal said.

Ms. De Lima, who has been in jail since February 2017 after her indictment for drug trafficking, should wait for Mr. Duterte to finish his tenure before suing him, it said.


The senator earlier said Mr. Duterte’s public tirades threatened her right to life, liberty and security. She asked the court to stop Mr. Duterte and his representatives from collecting information about her private life.

She argued that Mr. Duterte could not use presidential immunity as a defense because his acts were allegedly unlawful and were committed outside his official functions.

But the high court rejected her argument, saying presidential immunity recognizes no qualifications.

“The chief executive must first be allowed to end his tenure (not his term) either through resignation or removal by impeachment,” the tribunal said. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas