Saturday, July 31, 2021

Seares: They can sue Trump. We can’t sue Duterte

FILIPINOS who read about U.S. President Trump being sued by pornographic film star Stephanie Clifford are astounded and amused that Trump is being dragged to court by an American citizen.

That can’t happen here, not against President Duterte. In 2016, Jose Manuel Diokno, a law school dean, contended that Duterte wouldn’t be exempt from a lawsuit that is of “historical or transcendental importance.”

Constitution silent

True, the 1987 Constitution no longer specifically provides for the president’s immunity from lawsuit but the Supreme Court (in Lourdes Rubrico et. al. vs. Gloria Arroyo et al, GR#183871 in 2011) ruled for absolute presidential immunity for these reasons:

[] The power is inherent in the person of the sitting president and the Constitution doesn’t have to provide expressly for it;

[] A different rule would thrash the dignity of the office;

[] Lawsuits would “hinder, harass and distract” him from his duties as president.

Sheltered, protected

In the U.S., the president is not as sheltered and protected as ours. In Clinton vs. Jones (520 U.S.681 in 2011) in which Paula Jones, a former state employee, complained of sexual harassment against the 42nd American president, committed during his term as Arkansas governor -- their Supreme Court ruled that the president can be charged civilly for an offense that is “(a) related to an event alleged to have occurred before he became president, or (b) of personal nature and unrelated to his current position as president.”

Does such civil litigation not divert Trump from national issues, like the special investigation into his alleged collusion with Russia or the nuclear crisis in Korean Peninsula? Clinton similarly argued in the Jones case, asking the district court to defer proceedings until term end, but was refused.

Revisit the issue

Our president cannot be dragged to court for acts committed before he assumed office in Malacañang. That would be injurious disturbance if he had to answer, say, a paternity suit or civil damages for vigilante murders when he was Davao mayor.

Diokno’s idea of requiring the president to answer issues of “historical or transcendental importance” has still to be adequately argued and explained. Maybe a case before the Supreme Court will revisit the issue of the president’s immunity.

For now the immunity rule stands.

Flaw, danger

While the U.S. rule seems impractical, even draconian, it highlights adherence and respect for the precept that “no person is above the law,” not even the present occupant at White House.

We also trumpet the same principle in our freedom forums. And, we tell critics, our laws merely put off the day of reckoning: the president may be required to answer complaints, civil and criminal, after he steps down from office. If the alleged offense is horribly serious, Congress, if and when it wills so, can have the offending president impeached and tried.

The flaw in the Philippine setting is that a super-majority in Congress can make impeachment a fool’s errand. And the danger is when a president, to avert post-term prosecution, might declare martial or impose a revolutionary government.


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