Critics of President Aquino are often stumped and disarmed by the twin claims of absolute immunity from suit as president, which is hallowed in tradition, and incorruptibility, which cannot be disproved unless his hands are caught filching from the cookie jar, even though billions of public money are plundered under his nose.
Thomas Sowell, distinguished US professor, economist, political philosopher, author, and columnist, who has made a name in turning many a sacrosanct idea (affirmative action, among others) on its head, has come up with a novel approach for cracking the seeming presidential armor of immunity and even impunity.
He contends that the “innocent until proven guilty” defense for an accused should not apply to anyone who occupies such a high office as the presidency.
He reasons this way:
“The “innocent until proven guilty” principle applies in a court of law. Outside a court of law, there is no reason to presume anyone innocent until proven guilty. It is especially dangerous to presume a President of the United States — any president — innocent until proven guilty.
“Whoever is president has the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans, and the fate of a nation, in his hands. It is those millions of people and that nation who deserve the benefit of the doubt. We need to err on the side of safety for the people and the country. Squeamish politeness to an individual cannot outweigh that.”
Sowell says it’s important and necessary to keep this presumption of guilt in mind, in weighing the next president during an election year and all future presidents.
Questions of fitness for office are very important. Red flag warnings on any candidate should not be ignored.
Better to deal with possible unsuitability for high office now, before he or she acquires immunity from suit and all the powers to do his worst.
What Sowell says about the US situation applies squarely to our situation here in the Philippines. We are a nation of over 100 million, 40 percent of whom are poor. The benefit of the doubt should go to the larger society, not to the solitary figure of President Aquino.
He should stand trial every day for his conduct in office.
No immunity under 1987 Constitution
From the website Abogadomo.com, I got a very interesting and informative briefing on presidential immunity. Significantly, according to the website, the 1987 Constitution does not provide for presidential immunity from suit. President Cory’s handpicked constitutional commissioners forgot to shield her and her successors. Senators and congressmen actually got more protection.
Says Abogadomo. Com:
“Unlike congressional immunity, presidential immunity is not expressly stated nor prescribed by the Constitution. Basis for the immunity is only found in jurisprudence, both in the US and the Philippines, which, by virtue of Article 8 of the Civil Code, “forms a part of the legal system of the Philippines.”
“In the case of In re: Bermudez, (1986), the Supreme Court expressly held that – Incumbent presidents are immune from suit or from being brought to court during the period of their incumbency and tenure.
“The purpose of the immunity was discussed in the case of Soliven, et al., vs Judge Makasiar (1988), where the Supreme Court stated that “The rationale for the grant to the President of the privilege of immunity from suit is to assure the exercise of Presidential duties and functions free from any hindrance or distraction, considering that being the Chief Executive of the Government is a job that, aside from requiring all of the office-holder’s time, also demands undivided attention.”
Ironically, a challenge to presidential immunity arose when President Cory Aquino sued for libel columnists Louie Beltran and Max Soliven for writing in their columns that she hid under the bed or got scared silly at the height of Gringo Honasan’s first coup attempt
Lawyers for the defense argued that “the reasons which necessitate presidential immunity from suit impose a correlative disability to file suit.” The petitioners’ argument was turned down by the Court.
An official’s absolute immunity extends only to acts in performance of particular functions of his office. The doctrine of immunity finds no application and cannot be invoked in cases where the public official is being sued in his private capacity or as an ordinary citizen. The mantle of protection afforded public officers is removed the moment they are sued in their individual capacity.
Aquino has only one year to go
This brings me back to Professor Sowell’s far more interesting point about presuming the president guilty until he is proved innocent. The powers and cares of the presidency are such that a president should be placed under constant judgment and trial, because the dangers of mistakes and abuse are great.
Take the Bangsamoro project of President Aquino. It would be absurd to presume him innocent after all that he has done to compromise the nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
While he’s still in office, all we can do is watch him.
Once he’s out of office one year from tonight, his detractors can sue BS all over the place.