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Supreme Court junks De Lima habeas data suit vs. Duterte

The Supreme Court (SC) has dismissed Senator Leila de Lima's petition assailing President Rodrigo Duterte's public statements that she said threatened her rights to privacy, life, liberty, and security.

The court unanimously dismissed the opposition senator's petition for the writ of habeas data because Duterte is immune from suit during his presidency, according to an October 15, 2019 ruling released only on Wednesday.

De Lima had asked the SC to order the destruction of information that Duterte allegedly had on her private life and the disclosure of the foreign country that the president said "'helped him' listen in on" the senator.

In her petition, she cited Duterte's statement, made on August 11, 2016, that he was "listening" to De Lima "with the help of another country." Days later, the president would accuse De Lima of leading "a very immoral life" by allegedly having an affair with her married driver.

De Lima also raised Duterte's statements that supposedly "publicized her intimate and personal life... [and] accused her of involvement in the illegal drug trade," and told her to "hang yourself."

The issue at the center of the petition was whether or not Duterte was immune from De Lima's suit.

De Lima argued he wasn't, claiming the statements "were clearly made outside of his office as Chief Executive" and constituted "unofficial conduct not covered by presidential immunity."

On the other hand, government lawyers argued that presidential immunity from suit is absolute and extends to petitions for the writs of amparo and habeas data.

In a 23-page ruling, the Court through then-Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin said it agrees with De Lima that there must be a remedy for every right violated.

The tribunal said its decision does "not deny her any available remedy."

"Indeed, the Constitution provides remedies for violations committed by the Chief Executive except an ordinary suit before the courts," the SC said.

"The Chief Executive must first be allowed to end his tenure (not his term) either through resignation or removal by impeachment. Being a member of Congress, the petitioner is well aware of this and she cannot sincerely claim that she is bereft of any remedy," it held.

Though De Lima had, according to the court, claimed her petition does not seek to hold Duterte administratively, civilly, or criminally liable, the SC said it will be "impossible" to enable her cause of action to be established without first determining whether or not laws had been violated.

"Any ruling on her petition will necessarily entail a judgment on whether or not the President violated said laws," the SC said.

GMA News Online has already sought Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo for his comment on the SC ruling but has yet to get a reply. — MDM, GMA News