Binay has immunity from suits – poll lawyer

Edu Punay - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Lawyer Romulo Macalintal yesterday rebutted the legal opinion of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima that Vice President Jejomar Binay does not have immunity from criminal suits amid charges of corruption during his previous post as mayor of Makati.

Macalintal, an election lawyer like De Lima, explained that the Vice President is also accorded with immunity from suit, being an official covered by the impeachment process like the President.

“Vice President Binay, just like the President and all constitutional officials, is covered by immunity from suit, meaning he cannot be charged in court under the normal procedure of trial,” he told The STAR.

While Macalintal agreed with De Lima that immunity for the Vice President is not provided in the Constitution, it has been a matter of “tradition.”

In fact, he said the immunity granted to the President is also a mere tradition and not provided in the law.

This, he stressed, is because the Constitution has provided the process of impeachment, which is the only way the two top officials could be removed from office during their term.

But as explained by De Lima, Macalintal conceded that Binay could still be subject of an investigation.

“Such immunity does not prevent the ombudsman from conducting the investigation to determine if there’s a ground for impeachment. In other words, the probe cannot be for the purpose of filing criminal cases in court but only to determine if the official could be impeached by Congress,” he pointed out.

De Lima, who tapped the National Bureau of Investigation to conduct a fact-finding probe on charges hurled against Binay by former Makati vice mayor Ernesto Mercado, has conceded to this last point of Macalintal.

“We have no power in the DOJ and NBI to initiate impeachment proceedings because under the Constitution it is only the House of Representatives or a third party endorsed by a member of the House that can do that,” she admitted.

But De Lima explained that the ombudsman might recommend impeachment proceedings and it is in this scenario that the NBI probe will be used.

“So it will depend really if we will be able to verify and gather sufficient evidence for possible impeachable offenses like culpable violation of constitution, high graft and corruption and betrayal of public trust, or find out that the allegations of Mercado  have no basis. It is our mandate to forward the findings to the ombudsman,” she hinted.

But the secretary insisted that Binay does not have immunity from suit.

“What many people don’t know is that only the State and the President are immune from suits. Being impeachable is a different thing. The other impeachable officials may be criminally charged. The criminal proceedings may proceed independently,” she claimed.

She, however, admitted that the issue of imprisonment of impeachable officials as a result of criminal cases remains a “gray area.”

De Lima added that she was not influenced by any administration ally in pursuing the probe against Binay.

The camp of Binay has pointed to a conspiracy led by Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II, who lost to Binay in the 2010 poll, as behind the alleged smear campaign against the Vice President.

Binay reiterated yesterday that the Senate Blue Ribbon sub-committee hearing is part of a badly written script aimed at maligning him ahead of the upcoming elections.

“Once again, I am being prosecuted and persecuted by politicians who seem to be fueled more by personal ambition than a search for truth. These actors appear to be more interested in the fulfillment of a script rather than the obtainment of true justice for all men, as protected by the true rule of law,” Binay said.

Speaking at the 5th MCLE Accredited National Convention of Public Attorneys, Binay also slammed recent pronouncements made by De Lima that the evidence the NBI could gather may be used to initiate an impeachment complaint against him.

“Two or three months ago, we said that this investigation would go to an impeachment. They denied. You read today’s paper, Justice Secretary no less, in the first place, the reply of the Secretary of Justice which is according to her, because there was a request made by the Senate,” Binay said. – With Jess Diaz, Jose Rodel Clapano


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