Immunity from suit a mere superstition
MANY readers were surprised by the revelation in our last Postscript that – contrary to a widespread misconception — there is nothing in the Constitution that says the President of the Philippines is immune from suit or that he cannot be sued while in office.
The column dated Sept. 6, 2015, was titled “Immunity from suit is a Marcosian relic”. It can be accessed in my ManilaMail archive at http://manilamail.com/archive/2015sep/15sep06/
Reader Alburdeos said in an email: “No one is above the law. These sitting politicians are fooling us with the help of their devil lawyers. We are sure God has given you the wisdom to let His people know the truth!”
Romeo delos Santos: “I felt flattered by ‘Marcosian relic’ but at the same time wondered if ‘immunity from suit’ can be referred to as a relic of a former president who sponsored a constitution for our nation.”
In the column kasi I traced the crap about the president’s immunity from suit to the 1973 Constitution that the late Ferdinand E. Marcos imposed on the nation then in the grip of martial rule.
The idea, still prevalent, is actually just a carry-over from the 1973 Constitution whose Section 15, Article VII, provides:“The President shall be immune from suit during his tenure. Thereafter, no suit whatsoever shall lie for official acts done by him or by others pursuant to his specific orders during his tenure. The immunities herein provided shall apply to the incumbent President referred to in Article XVII of this Constitution.” (The incumbent referred to was Marcos).
Delos Santos asked if I have also checked the older 1935 Constitution under the Commonwealth. I did check that one too, and could not find any reference, or inference, to immunity from suit for a sitting president.
Of course, aside from being a one-man operation, I am also not trained or equipped for legal research, so somebody more adept might just come forward with a contrary finding.
■ Saguisag: Immunity is superstition
THEN, to my pleasant surprise another email dropped in, this time from Rene AV Saguisag, the well-known human rights lawyer whose views I respect and whose prose I envy.
I hope Rene has forgotten that he has not been paid for his opinion pieces, some of them sounding like obiter dicta, contributed to The Filipino Times, an opposition paper that I published in San Francisco while in self-exile in the Bay Area at the height of Marcosian martial rule.
Rene said in a clipped note over the weekend: “Yup, immunity from suit of the Prez is a superstition. A jurassic ‘Marcosian relic,’ as you put it in your column today, 9/6, Sunday.
“I asked my studes yesterday, Saturday, in San Beda Mendiola to look for the basis of the claim in the Consti. None, many of them correctly answered.
“If PNoy is charged with rape, it would be funny for him to claim immunity. Rape is not part of his job description. So, it would depend on what is complained about. If there is a connection to the description, even if only colorably, immune.
“But engaging, say, in a duel is not, and Veep Aaron Burr was prosecuted for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel.
“More recent examples involved JFK, Nixon and Clinton, who had to settle cases when immunity was not recognized.
“JFK had to pay $17,500 to a Mississippi State Senator, Hugh Lee Bailey, for a vehicular incident that made it problematic for him to ride a donkey. Nixon, $140,000 to avoid trial in a case filed by Ernest Fitzgerald. Clinton, $850,000, for Paula Flowers to drop her suit.”
Responding to my followup questions, Rene also said among other things:
“PNoy can be sued now, more so after he steps down, the current myth notwithstanding.
“My view is that he is not immune from suit, but I believe he’s immune from liability. I doubt if it can be proven that kahit isang singkong duling landed in his pocket.
“If we cannot prosecute the kleptocratic Marcoses, how can we, PNoy?”
■ HPG mailed fist to tame Edsa traffic
SCARED by the warning of the Philippine National Police that their no-nonsense Highway Patrol Group would come down hard with Zero Tolerance on errant motorists on EDSA, I have decided to keep away from that circumferential artery dying of sclerosis.
I was trying to rationalize Zero Tolerance, but when the radio said HPG troopers had been authorized to shoot tires of violators “trying to escape”, I said I better keep away till the heat simmers down.
Actually if only the authorities have been paying attention — especially MMDA chair Francis Tolentino who is busy campaigning for a Senate seat — they will discover that all possible solutions to the EDSA traffic mess are all there already dissected in media.
What Tolentino and Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya can do is gather all the bright traffic management ideas discussed in media, select the best, then organize and refine them. No need to hire expensive consultants a la Trillanes.
But in the spirit of HPG’s Zero Tolerance policy, let this frequent EDSA traveler rehash some of his de golpe suggestions:
• Make HPG men carry baseball bats with which to wham buses swerving out of their assigned yellow lane.
• Deploy tough-looking dented wagons whose only task is to nudge, or bump if necessary, wayward vehicles back to their “tuwid na daan”.
• Issue armor-piercing bullets to HPG troopers hypnotized to shoot to kill the engine block of any bus or truck belching toxic smoke on the road.