SC: Constitutional Commission notes say release of president's health condition up to his office
President Rodrigo Roa Duterte talks to the troops during his visit to the Edwin Andrews Air Base in Zamboanga City on July 3, 2020.
Presidential Photo/Robinson Niñal Jr.

SC: Constitutional Commission notes say release of president's health condition up to his office

Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - July 8, 2020 - 8:27pm

MANILA, Philippines — Private lawyer Dino De Leon failed to substantiate his claims that President Rodrigo Duterte suffers from serious illnesses, which led to the dismissal of his petition to compel the government to release medical bulletin of the president.

The SC on May 8 voted 13-2 to dismiss outright the Extremely Urgent Petition  for Mandamus filed by lawyer Dino De Leon who sought to ask the SC to direct the Office of the President and/or Executive Secretary Medialdea to disclose the president’s medical records due to lack of merit.

The court notice on the ruling was released only on Wednesday, two months from when the justices voted.

The SC said it deemed proper to dismiss outright De Leon’s plea as “the petition failed to set forth his material allegations to establish the prima facie case (based on first impression) for mandamus.”

The tribunal also took note that Constitutional Commission deliberations showed that the “state of health or analysis as to the actual condition of the President should be left to the President and his doctor.”

Deliberations also showed that the Office of the President has discretion on how to release the state of health of the chief executive.

'Negligible burden' to inform people

Associate Justices Marvic Leonen and Alfred Benjamin Caguioa however dissented from the majority, with Leonen saying that the regular release of Duterte’s health bulletin, especially amid this pandemic, is a “negligible burden” of a president who touted transparency in his campaign.

De Leon, in a statement he released in filing the petition, recalled that Duterte's public appearances when he addresses the nation “were incoherent, unresponsive and filled with unintelligible rumblings.”

The petitioner also averred that Duterte “appeared to be physically unwell [in his recent addresses], and his statements closely resembled those of a drunken monologue.”

But the SC, in its notice, said that De Leon’s claims “are merely based on what he perceived from the online news articles discussing the President’s illnesses.”

It stressed that the high court had previously ruled that news articles are “characterized as ‘hearsay evidence, twice removed, and are thus without any probative value, unless offered for a purpose other than proving the truth of the matter asserted.”

The SC also pointed out that Duterte “has been visibly holding regular cabinet meetings,” which belies the petitioner’s insinuation that the president is suffering from serious illnesses.

Duterte’s regular televised addresses on COVID-19 response “show that the president has been actively performing his official duties,” it added.

READ: Duterte emotional, not ill – Palace

“Apparently, petitioner’s allegation that the President is seriously ill is unsubstantiated and is based merely on petitioner’s surmises and conjectures regarding his perception of declining health of the President,” the Court notice also read.

The six-page court notice was signed by Clerk of Court Edgar Aricheta.

Dissenting opinions

Leonen, in his 30-page dissenting opinion, argued that “the public is entitled to know whether there are moments that the President is even temporarily and involuntarily unable to discharge his duties.”

He added that he believes the publication of regular and official medical bulletin of Duterte, who is the country’s chief executive and commander-in-chief, “especially in this time of national emergency, is of such negligible burden of a President who ran under a platform of persistent and courageous transparency.”

Leonen also said while dismissing a petition outright is a discretion of the court, to resolve the petition without a comment from the government—respondent in the case—“sacrifices the impartiality of this Court.”

“The Court owes it to the people to remain steadfast in its role in of protecting fundamental freedoms without any bias, prejudice or partiality towards any of the parties. We must never take the position of an active combatant and must refrain from arguing for any party involved. It is the parties themselves who must fight for their respective positions and lay down their own defenses,” he added.

Caguioa, in his 31-page dissenting opinion, agreed with Leonen that the SC’s decision to not require a comment from the executive branch “unnecessarily and unfortunately impacts on the public’s perception of the Court’s impartiality.”

He also noted that asking a respondent to answer a petition does not automatically mean the SC is giving weight or due course to the petition.

Caguioa added that the Constitutional provision on the president informing the public of the state of his health in case of serious illness must be taken against a backdrop of a national crisis brought by a pandemic.

He also stressed that the Framers of the Constitution left it to the SC to define when Section 12, Article VII — the provision De Leon cited — becomes operative. “I respectfully disagree with the submission made during the deliberations that the determination of what constitutes serious illness is ‘better left to a panel of medical or psychiatric experts,’” Caguioa said.

The justice stressed that “the President’s capacity to govern is a matter of public interest.”

“It is fair and reasonable requirement for the public to be informed of the state of health of the President when threats and emergencies affecting the country are present—including emergencies involving public health,” he added.

Leonen agreed. “It is in times like these when the people must demand a higher standard from their public officials. It is during crises and national emergencies when this Court must be most vigilant in order to protect the rights of the public. Sadly, the majority has neglected this duty. To say the least, it is inexplicably and perilously obsequious.”

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