SC greenlights lower court trial of Trillanes' 'Hacienda Binay' case

MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court (SC) denied the petition of Senator Antonio Trillanes IV invoking parliamentary immunity in a civil suit, and in effect, allowed the lower court to try the senator.

The civil suit stemmed from Trillanes' statements to media in 2014 when he accused businessman Antonio Tiu of being a dummy of former vice president Jejomar Binay in the 150-hectare Rosario, Batangas, property. The property has come to be known as "Hacienda Binay."

“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 First Division said.

The resolution was penned by Associate Justice Noel Tijam, with concurrences from Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-De Castro and Mariano del Castillo.

Statements

Tiu denied being Binay's dummy and said that his reputation as a businessman was damaged by Trillanes' accusations, citing drops in stock prices of his publicly-listed companies.

Tiu filed the civil suit against Trillanes before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (QC RTC). In 2015, Judge Evangeline Castillo-Marigomen of the QC RTC Branch 101 denied Trillanes’ motion to dismiss the civil suit.

Trillanes elevated it to the SC invoking parliamentary immunity.

Trillanes said his statements are protected by his constitutionally guaranteed rights to free speech. Made outside of a Senate session, Trillanes said his statements were part of an ongoing national discussion about the wealth of the former vice president.

The SC said Trillanes' statements to media are not covered by the parliamentary speech or debate privilege. It pointed out that parliamentary non-accountability cannot be invoked.

“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 SC said. – Rappler.com