This means the DOJ may proceed with its preliminary investigation (PI) on the charges of sedition or inciting to sedition, cyber libel, libel, estafa and harboring a criminal or obstruction of justice against Robredo, and that she could face trial in court should prosecutors find probable cause to indict her.
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VP Robredo not immune from suit
Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) - July 22, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Vice President Leni Robredo has no immunity from suits, even as she can only be removed from office through impeachment, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said yesterday.

Guevarra explained that the 1987 Constitution does not grant the vice president immunity from criminal suit while in office – unlike the president – which means Robredo would have to face the criminal charges filed against her by the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) for her alleged role in a purported plot to oust President Duterte.

“The Constitution does not grant the vice president immunity from suit. Since she is not immune from suit, the vice president has to face the charges even during her tenure,” the Department of Justice (DOJ) chief told The STAR when asked for his legal opinion on the matter.

This means the DOJ may proceed with its preliminary investigation (PI) on the charges of sedition or inciting to sedition, cyber libel, libel, estafa and harboring a criminal or obstruction of justice against Robredo, and that she could face trial in court should prosecutors find probable cause to indict her.

But Guevarra stressed that Robredo may not be removed from office via criminal proceedings as she is an impeachable officer like the President.

“The vice president may be removed from office only by impeachment, which is a totally separate and independent process. Assuming hypothetically that the vice president is found guilty, the imposable penalty does not include removal from office. But the penalty may include disqualification from holding any public office in the future,” he pointed out.

Guevarra, however, refused to comment on the merits of the CIDG’s complaint as the DOJ panel of prosecutors has yet to investigate the charges, adding that his office has no role in the conduct of the PI. 

He issued the statement only as a matter of personal opinion on legal issues involving the lack of immunity from suit of the vice president.

To recall, former DOJ secretary and now detained Sen. Leila de Lima issued a similar legal opinion in 2015 when then vice president Jejomar Binay faced corruption charges and said Binay could be prosecuted while sitting in office.

The Office of the Ombudsman investigated Binay during his term as vice president over alleged anomalies when he was still mayor of Makati City, but filed the cases in the Sandiganbayan when he already finished his tenure.

Legal luminaries, including constitution expert Fr. Joaquin Bernas and retired SC Justice Vicente Mendoza, agreed to this opinion. Bernas, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, said the vice president is not covered by executive immunity. 

“The vice president is not immune (from suits). The Constitution doesn’t say the vice president (is) immune,” he explained in a phone interview.

Mendoza, for his part, said the vice president has no similar immunity from suit because she does not have “multifarious duties and powers” like the president who is commander-in-chief, who controls the executive department, administers foreign policy, issues executive orders, among others.

“The overriding principle (for not giving the vice president immunity) is the rule of law... The vice president is just like any Cabinet secretary,” he pointed out.

Last July 18, the CIDG filed sedition and other charges against Robredo, several opposition senators and other known critics of the administration for the alleged plot to oust Duterte, including the making and spreading of the six-part “Ang Totoong Narcolist” videos.

Among the 35 respondents in the complaint, apart from Robredo, were Senators Leila de Lima and Risa Hontiveros, former senators Antonio Trillanes IV and Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, and “Otso Diretso” senatorial candidates former Magdalo representative Gary Alejano, human rights lawyer Chel Diokno, former solicitor general Florin Hilbay, elections lawyer Romulo Macalintal, civic leader Samira Gutoc and former Quezon congressman Erin Tañada III.

 Peter Joemel Advincula, who claims to be “Bikoy” in the narcolist videos, was listed as respondent and witness at the same time.

The CIDG alleged that respondents “planned to spread false information against President Duterte’s family and administration officials in order to agitate the general population into making mass protest with the possibility of bringing down the President from the position and allow Vice President Robredo to instantly succeed.”

In his affidavit, Advincula claimed that the respondents, particularly Trillanes and Alejo, used him to play the role of “Bikoy” in the video presentation and spread lies against President Duterte, members of his family and some close friends.

The DOJ already created a special panel of prosecutors composed of Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Olivia Torrevillas and Assistant State Prosecutors Michael Humarang and Gino Paolo Santiago to conduct the PI on the charges.

The panel is expected to summon Robredo and other respondents to allow them to answer and disprove the allegations in the complaint during the PI hearings.

Guevarra vowed that the DOJ will resolve the case “on the basis of the evidence presented and no other,” and assured the respondents of a fair hearing.

CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION AND DETECTION GROUP CYBER LIBEL ESTAFA HARBORING A CRIMINAL LENI ROBREDO LIBEL OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE SEDITION
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