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Estrada vs. Arroyo Case Digest

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  ESTRADA V. ARROYO G.R. NO. 146710-15, MARCH 2, 2001 G.R. NOS. 146710-15. APRIL 3, 2001 BASIS: Presidential Immunity  –  Settled is the doctrine that the President, during his tenure of office or actual incumbency, may not be sued in any civil or criminal case, and there is no need to provide for it in the Constitution or law. The intent of the framers of the Constitution is clear that the immunity of the president from suit is concurrent only with his tenure and not his term.  FACTS: 1.   In the May 11, 1998 elections, petitioner Joseph Estrada was elected President while respondent Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was elected Vice-President. 2.   On October 4, 2000, Ilocos Sur Governor Chavit Singson, a longtime friend of the petitioner, accused the petitioner, his family and friends of receiving millions of pesos from jueteng lords. 3.   On November 13, 2000, House Speaker Villar transmitted the Articles of Impeachment signed by 115 representatives or more than 1/3 of all the members of the House of Representatives to the Senate. 4.   On November 20, 2000, the Senate formally opened the impeachment trial of the petitioner. On January 16, 2001, by a vote of 11-10, the senator-judges ruled against the opening of the second envelope which allegedly contained evidence showing that petitioner held P3.3 billion in a secret bank account under the name “Jose Velarde.” 5.   The ruling was met by a spontaneous outburst of anger that hit the streets of the metropolis. Thereafter, the Armed Forces and the PNP withdrew their support to the Estrada government. Some Cabinet secretaries, undersecretaries, assistant secretaries and bureau chiefs resigned from their posts. On January 20, 2001, at about 12 noon, Chief Justice Davide administered the oath to respondent Arroyo as President of the Philippines. 6.   On the same day, petitioner issued a press statement that he was leaving Malacanang Palace for the sake of peace and in order to begin the healing process of the nation. It also appeared that on the same day, he signed a letter stating that he was transmitting a declaration that he was unable to exercise the powers and duties of his office and that by operation of law and the Constitution, the Vice-President shall be the Acting President. A copy of the letter was sent to Speaker Fuentebella and Senate President Pimentel on the same day. 7.   Several criminal charges were filed against him with the Sandiganbayan, former President Estrada sought to dismiss them on the ground of his claimed presidential immunity. ISSUE: Whether or not the petitioner enjoys immunity from suit. If yes, what is the extent of the immunity? HELD: Petitioner Estrada makes two submissions: first , the cases filed against him before the respondent Ombudsman should be prohibited because he has not been convicted in the impeachment proceedings  against him; and second , he enjoys immunity from all  kinds of suit, whether criminal or civil. The “immunity” the petitioner points to is the principle of non -liability. The principle of non-liability simply states that a chief executive may not be personally mulcted in civil damages for the consequences of an act executed in the performance of his official duties. He is liable when he acts in a case so plainly outside of his power and authority that he cannot be said to have exercise discretion in determining whether or not he had the right to act. What is held here is that he will be protected from personal liability for damages not only when he acts within his authority, but also when he is without authority, provided he actually used discretion and judgment, that is, the judicial faculty, in determining whether he had authority to act or not. In other words, he is entitled to protection in determining the question of his authority  . If he decide wrongly, he is still protected provided the question of his authority was one over which two men, reasonably qualified for that position, might honestly differ; but he is not protected if the lack of authority to act is so plain that two such men could not honestly differ over its determination. The Court rejects the petitioner’s argument that before he could be prosecuted, he should be first convicted of impeachment proceedings. The impeachment proceeding was already aborted because of the walking out of the prosecutors. This was then formalized by a Senate resolution (Resolution #83) which declared the proceeding  functus officio . According to the debates in the Constitutional Convention, when an impeachment proceeding have become moot due to the resignation of the President, proper civil and criminal cases may be filed against him. We now come to the scope of immunity  that can be claimed by petitioner as a non-sitting President. The cases  filed against petitioner Estrada are criminal in character. They involve plunder, bribery and graft and corruption . By no stretch of the imagination can these crimes, especially plunder which carries the death penalty, be covered by the allege mantle of immunity of a non-sitting president. Petitioner cannot cite any decision of this Court licensing the President to commit criminal acts and wrapping him with post-tenure immunity from liability. It will be anomalous to hold that immunity is an inoculation from liability for unlawful acts and omissions . As for civil immunity, it means immunity from civil damage s only covers “official acts”.  

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