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Is the Vice President immune from suit?

A friend barangay captain whose term was about to expire asked his nephew to run as Barangay Captain. During the election, nobody contested the Captain’s group, hence, a sure win. Expectedly, he landed no.1 from the rest of the slate. Weeks after his nephew resigned for alleged health reason, he immediately assumed the seat as barangay captain beating the term limit.

The PDP LABAN Cusi Group is exactly painting such a script by suggesting that the President run as vice president and giving him the right to choose the presidential candidate. 

The President has announced during that convention that indeed he is entertaining the thought of running as Vice President. His excuse? So that his enemies like Trillanes and the rest could not sue him as the Vice President is immune from suit.

I will not discuss here the naughty intention of the President for taking the cue from Cusi but rather discuss from the legal standpoint whether under our present laws and jurisprudence the Vice President is immune from suit.

The Origins and Development of executive immunity from suit for the Chief Executive can be traced as far back as the days of Imperial Rome.   Justinian I noted in his Corpus Juris Civilis that Roman law recognized two principles connected the development of what we now know as executive immunity from suits – princepts legibus solutus est (the emperor is not bound by statute); and quad pricilii placuit legis havet (what pleases the prince is law).  

These two principles where the source of this statute as the origin of the present concept of the President’s immunity – the principle that is expressed in the maxim “the king can do now wrong”.

In the Philippines, the concept of executive immunity was first tackled in 1910 by the Philippine Supreme Court in Forbes vs. Chuoco Tiaco.  

The High Court then affirmed the executive immunity citing that the court could not intervene the Chief Executive in its exercise of its power.  The variation become concrete through the 1973 Constitution, under whose Article VII the following provision was written, to wit:

“Section 15.  The President shall be immune from suit during his tenure.  Thereafter, no suit whatsoever shall lie for official acts done by him or by other pursuant to his specific orders during his tenure.”

After which the series of decision of the high court commencing from In re: Saturnino vs. Bermudez to David vs. Macapagal-Arroyo the courts maintained the Chief Executive’s immunity.

However, the question in this article, is the Vice President included in that mantle of protection?

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra answered this in the negative. When he said that a sitting vice president has no immunity from suit.

He recalled issuing a statement in 2019 that Vice President Leni Robredo was not immune from cases under the 1987 Constitution. Robredo was then a respondent to a complaint over her supposed role in an alleged ouster plot against President Rodrigo Duterte.  Although DOJ dismissed the case for insufficiency of evidence but not as the immunity of the Vice President to suit.

“When Vice President [Leni] Robredo was included in sedition charges in 2019 in connection with alias Bikoy’s allegations, I remarked that the VP was not immune from suit under the present Constitution. My opinion on the matter has not changed,” Guevarra said.

However, Malacañang interpreted Duterte’s statement as “an opportunity to challenge jurisprudence.”

“A Vice President has no immunity from suit. That is rewriting the Constitution, the law and even jurisprudence,” said National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers president Edre Olalia and several lawyers when profounded by the same proposition.

“Only the President is immune from suit and this is not even spelled out in the present 1987 Constitution — unlike in 1973 Marcos Constitution — but only recognized in prevailing jurisprudence,” said lawyer Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL).

The mantle of executive immunity is clear it only covers the sitting president while performing his official function so that the Chief Executive’s performance will not be hampered with numerous suits however as whether it covers to the Vice President is something indeed will enrich our jurisprudence.  Write us at carillogerry@yahoo.com.ph