After a self-confessed hitman alleged President Rodrigo Duterte of giving him orders to kill while he was Davao City Mayor, Senator Leila de Lima said it might be time to rethink the doctrine of presidential immunity from suit.

President can't be charged as long as he sits, says lawyer
Photo by CNN Philippines
However, Atty. Rosario Setias-Reyes, president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) said this is not possible.

In a phone interview, Reyes said a President can never face civil or criminal charges as long he sits, even if he is proven guilty of the crime.

"Immunity from suit does not mean immunity from liability" said Reyes.

"It will be there only as long as he is sitting president. After that, complaints can already be filed," she added.

After their terms, Presidents Arroyo and Aquino were charged with plunder and corruption respectively. Arroyo was just recently released after four years of detention.

Although there is no provision in the Constitution that grants the President immunity from suit, jurisprudence or the principles behind the law establishes it.

According to Reyes, it exists and is important.

Reyes and De Lima agree that the sitting President should be immune from being filed charges so he can perform his duties effectively.

De Lima says this shouldn't be the case in "extreme situations".

"Kasi hypothetical lang po ito, 'wag ho ako ma-misunderstood, 'wag ho silang magalit sa 'kin, this is just an academic discussion. Paano nga kung merong nai-elect, nahalal na pangulo na mass murderer pala, serial killer, or rapist, etc.?""

De Lima clarifies she doesnt mean Duterte, and has no motive of impeaching him.

She said Edgar Matobato, the witness on the Senate Justice Committee hearing who testified against Duterte approached her because he felt the need for the people to know the alleged crimes of the president when he sat as Davao City Mayor.

Matobato claims to be a member of the Davao Death Squad and that Duterte was giving them orders to execute some 1,000 people from 2008-2013.

De Lima says the witness' claims will be written in a judicial affidavit to be referred to authorities for proper action.

The international watchdog Human Rights Watch called in Friday for an indepent investigation on Duterte's alleged involvement in killings. It said the United Nations should handle it.

When asked if the accusations against Duterte can be grounds for impeachment, De Lima refused to answer directly.

"Look at the Constituion," she said.

Article 11, Sec. 2 of the 1987 Constitution says the President and other government officials "may be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust."

The Constitution does not define "other high crimes" and leaves it to the House of Representatives to initiate cases of impeachment. MJM

Source: CNN PH

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