Lawyer appeals SC dismissal of petition on release of Duterte's health info
President Rodrigo Duterte delivers his 5th State of the Nation Address at the House of Representatives Complex in Quezon City on July 27, 2020.
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Lawyer appeals SC dismissal of petition on release of Duterte's health info

Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - July 28, 2020 - 10:32am

MANILA, Philippines — Lawyer Dino De Leon asked the Supreme Court to reverse its dismissal of his petition to compel the Office of the President to release medical bulletins of President Rodrigo Duterte.

De Leon urged the SC to reconsider its earlier ruling and, citing the importance of the issue his petition raises, set the case for oral arguments.

In his petition filed in April, De Leon said: “It is crucial for the Filipino People to know whether or not they have a Chief Executive who possess unimpeded judgment, free from any form of condition or substances that may affect his ability to make sound decisions.”

But the SC, on May 8, voted 13-2 to dismiss outright the lawyer’s Extremely Urgent Petition for Mandamus due to lack of merit.

In his 49-paged motion for reconsideration first filed electronically last week, De Leon said that the SC “erringly shirked its bounden duty to allow the ventilation of issues and missed the opportunity to interpret a vital provision of the Constitution.”

“The Honorable Court also made reversible error when it made perfunctory determination that the President is, in fact, healthy without sufficient factual basis other than his recent physical appearances in meetings, the same appearances cited in the Petition as having indications of the President’s deteriorating health,” he added.

Petition raised novel issue

In appealing his case, De Leon argued that the SC had, in the past, “entertain cases of first impression,” as it gave other petitions raising constitutional issues of transcendental importance. This includes Solicitor General Jose Calida’s quo warranto petition that led to the booting out of Maria Lourdes Sereno as chief justice.

“It bears stressing that in a long line of cases... the Honorable Court has consistently set side procedural issues and ruled on petitions that raised novel questions of paramount importance to the public,” he said.

De Leon stressed that his petition involves the public’s right to know if Duterte “is still physically well and in possession of sufficient mental faculties to perform the arduous task of leading the country at a time of a global crisis.”

“The Honorable Court’s abrupt decision to peremptorily reject the Petition effectively... made it appear that it took the cudgels to defend the respondents and acted as an advocate instead as an impartial judge,” he also said.

De Leon also pointed out that the Constitutional Commission’s notes that the Office of the President has the discretion on the “appropriate means” of releasing the information to the public, and “not on whether he will release it or not.”

SC’s independence

While 13 justices, at that time, voted to dismiss De Leon’s petition, Associate Justices Marvic Leonen and Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa wrote strongly-worded dissenting opinions.

Leonen said that while dismissing a petition outright is 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.”

De Leon echoed these sentiments in his appeal. He stressed that the SC’s dismissal of his petition without seeking comment from the respondents “is to turn around and abandon its long and proud record of keeping the political branches within the bounds of the Constitution.”

De Leon added that the Framers wrote the Art. VII, Section 12 of the present Charter to ensure that a president “could never again be allowed to hide the truth on matters of public concern,” after what the late President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. did.  

“How can the People ever hope to give life to the hard lessons learned from an authoritarian regime if the Honorable Court through the Resolution, so readily bestows such all-encompassing discretion to another president?”

“In view of the importance of the constitutional matter raised, it is submitted that the Honorable Court must at the very least grant due course to the Petition and let the People argue their case before its august chambers, prior to deciding on the matter with finality,” De Leon added.

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