De Lima files petition vs Duterte at Supreme Court

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – The battleground has shifted to the Supreme Court (SC), as Senator Leila de Lima filed a "test case" against her number one accuser, President Rodrigo Duterte.

De Lima, accompanied by supporters and women leaders, lodged a 26-page petition for writ of habeas data against Duterte on Monday, November 7.

De Lima earlier said that while she recognizes that the Chief Executive enjoys immunity from suit, she would push through with the filing of her petition to test the doctrine.

The embattled senator believes the framers of the doctrine did not intend for the rule to be "abused" by any President, which she had accused Duterte of committing, in her case. 

"This is a test case, a novel case of transcendental importance. Ang habeas data bihira po 'yan gamitin. 'Yung presidential immunity po ang ating susubukan," De Lima said. (Habeas data is rarely invoked. We are testing the doctrine of presidential immunity.) 

De Lima's test case came after the incessant attacks of President Duterte and his allies against the senator. They had linked her, as former justice secretary, to the proliferation of illegal drugs in the national penitentiary. The issue became the subject of marathon hearings in the House of Representatives. (READ: Duterte: De Lima will surely go to jail) 

De Lima wants the High Court to:

"First, I am here to exorcise my demon. His lofty position should not be used to perpetuate his personal evil designs against one woman," De Lima said.

"Second, once and for all... ang mga ginawa niyang panlilibak, pang-iinsulto, panghihiya, paninira sa akin ay hindi dapat magamit para ilihis ang atensyon mula sa mga nagaganap na patayan at paglabag sa mga karapatang pantao," she added.

(Second, once and for all... his criticism, insults, shaming, slander against me should not be used to deflect attention from the extrajudicial killings and human rights violations that are happening.)

The senator said this is just the "first of a series of legal offensives" against the President and his men.

Similar cases vs Arroyo dismissed

In 2011, the SC dismissed writ of habeas data petitions filed against former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo by Noriel Rodriguez, a member of a peasant group from Cagayan.

"The petition is dismissed with respect to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on account of her presidential immunity from suit," said the court decision promulgated on November 15, 2011.

Even then, there is little jurisprudence on the writ of habeas data that De Lima is seeking.

The writ is a remedy for a person "whose right to privacy in life, liberty or security is violated or threatened by an unlawful act or omission such as gathering, collecting or storing of data or information regarding the person, family, home and correspondence of the aggrieved party."

Last September, De Lima said she was forced to move to a temporary home after her address was publicized in a House hearing. Her mobile number was also disclosed, which she said led to her receiving some 2,000 threatening messages and calls from unknown individuals. 

Malacañang: De Lima's moves 'calculated'

Malacañang said De Lima was just "apparently playing the gender card" to gloss over  the "mounting evidence of her ties with high-profile drug lords."

"By portraying herself as a victim she seeks to distance herself from the intimate relationships which were also intertwined with drug trafficking while she was DOJ Secretary," said Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella. 

He said the filing of petition before the Supreme Court was "calculated to generate media noise to drown out the accusations against her."

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email