The Supreme Court on Wednesday affirmed a businessman’s filing of a damage suit against Senator Antonio Trillanes IV over the “Hacienda Binay” issue.
In a 22-page decision penned by Associate Justice Noel Tijam, the high court’s First Division dismissed the petition filed by Trillanes seeking the reversal of a lower court’s ruling on the case.
A Quezon City court had earlier allowed businessman Antonio Tiu to file a damage suit against Trillanes for tagging him as a “dummy” of former Vice President Jejomar Binay in purchasing a 150-hectare property in Rosario, Batangas tagged as “Hacienda Binay.”
Tiu denied being Binay’s dummy and insisted that he was the real owner of the Batangas property.
Tiu maintained that he is a legitimate businessman, engaged in various agricultural endeavors and holding substantial shareholdings in various corporations.
He claimed that his reputation was tarnished and his businesses were negatively affected after Trillanes issued the allegations against him.
In its decision, SC held that the senator’s statements in media interviews about Tiu and Hacienda Binay are not covered by the parliamentary speech or debate privilege.
The high court 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 ruled.
The SC also noted that responding to media interviews is not considered an official function of any lawmaker.
“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 high court said.
“Contrary to petitioner’s stance, therefore, he cannot invoke parliamentary immunity to cause the dismissal of private respondent’s complaint. The privilege arises not because the statement is made by a lawmaker, but because it is uttered in furtherance of legislation,” it clarified.
Concurring with the ruling were Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro and Mariano del Castillo.
Trillanes had asked the SC to dismiss Tiu’s complaint, saying that the businessman failed to prove his supposed ownership of the Batangas property.
The senator added that even former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado testified on how the property was reportedly acquired.
Trillanes further explained that his statements were protected by his rights to free speech, freedom of expression and of the press considering that these were made as part of an ongoing public debate of a matter of public concern.
Trillanes had also insisted that his statements, having been made in the course of his duties as a senator, are covered by his parliamentary immunity under Article VI, Section II of the 1987 Constitution.
However, in an order dated May 19, 2015, QC Regional Trial Court Judge Evangeline Castillo-Marigomen had denied Trillanes’ motion to dismiss the complaint.
The court said the allegations raised in the complaint were sufficient to enable the court to issue judgment.
It added that the defense of parliamentary immunity may be invoked only on special circumstances which must be established in a full blown trial.
Trillanes filed a motion for reconsideration but it was dismissed by the lower court, prompting the Senator to go to the Supreme Court.
However, the high court affirmed the lower court’s ruling. (By Tetch Torres-Tupas, Inquirer)