No immunity outside session hall: SC allows Binay to pursue damage suit against Trillanes
MANILA — The Supreme Court has denied the petition of Senator Antonio Trillanes IV seeking to reverse the decision of Quezon City court to proceed with the damage suit filed by a businessman accused by the lawmaker of being a “dummy” of former Vice President Jejomar Binay in the purchase of a 150-hectare property in Rosario, Batangas.
In a 22-page decision penned by Associate Justice Noel Tijam, the SC’s First Division junked the petition filed by Trillanes, seeking the reversal of the resolutions issued by Judge Evangeline Castillo-Marigomen of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 101, on May 19, 2015 and Dec. 16, 2015.
The SC said there was sufficient standards and guidelines that has been set in its past decisions by which the trial court and the Court of Appeals (CA) can address and resolve the issue of parliamentary immunity raised by petitioner.
Even if the direct filing of the petition before it was allowed, the SC said Trillanes’ petition must still be dismissed for lack of merit.
The SC held that the senator’s statements in media interviews are not covered by the parliamentary speech or debate privilege.
It pointed out that parliamentary non-accountability cannot be invoked when the lawmaker’s speech or utterance is made outside sessions, hearings or debates in Congress.
“The statements were clearly not part of any speech delivered in the Senate or any of its committees. It cannot likewise be successfully contended that they were made in the official discharge of performance of petitioner’s duties as a senator, as the remarks were not part of or integral to the legislative process,” the SC ruling read.
“A lawmaker’s participation in media interviews is not a legislative act, but is ‘political in nature,’ outside the ambit of the immunity conferred under the Speech or Debate Clause in the 1987 Constitution,” the court decision noted.
The Quezon city court, in its resolutions, denied Trillanes’ motion to dismiss the civil suit filed by businessman Antonio Tiu, who claimed ownership of the property through his company Sunchamp Real Estate Corporation (Sunchamp). The court also junked Trillanes’ motion for reconsideration.
In his complaint, Tiu said that because of Trillanes’ accusation, his reputation was tarnished which affected his businesses as shown by the steep drop in the stock prices of his publicly listed companies.
He denied being a dummy of Binay, noting that he has the financial capacity to fund the development, operation and maintenance of the “Sunchamp Agri-Tourism Park.” (PNA)