Binay not immune from suit–Pimentel
VICE President Jejomar Binay may be charged with graft even before he steps down from office as he is not immune from suit, according to Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, disputing the Office of the Ombudsman’s position on the matter.
An Ombudsman spokesperson earlier said the criminal charges against Binay over alleged irregularities in the construction of the P2.28-billion Makati City Hall Building II could be filed only after Binay stepped down as Vice President as he was supposedly immune from suit.
Pimentel, the chair of the blue ribbon subcommittee that is investigating the allegations against Binay, said it should not be assumed that the Vice President enjoys immunity from suit.
The Ombudsman should go ahead and file the charges against Binay and it should be up to the Vice President to prove that he cannot be made to face charges while in office, he said.
“Let the Vice President test his immunity from suit,” Pimentel said in a phone interview.
According to Pimentel, the so-called immunity from suit was not even mentioned in the 1987 Constitution. The 1973 Constitution did contain such a provision, but it only applied to the President, he said.
However, subsequent Supreme Court rulings mentioned the President’s immunity from suit.
But Pimentel sees no reason to extend this immunity to the Vice President because, unlike the President, the position of Vice President does not carry with it a lot of responsibilities.
Immunity is understandable for a President given the many functions and responsibilities the job carries with it, he said. But the vice President only has work to do when the President assigns him or her a job, he pointed out.
“Theoretically, the Vice President may not have any work to do, so why spare him from suit?” he said.
Pimentel also questioned why being an impeachable official should be equated with being immune from suit.
Impeachment is a mode of removal from office and is not the same as being subject to suit, he said. Just because one is facing a case does not mean one is already removed from office, Pimentel said.
The senator said that if the Ombudsman refuses to file charges against Binay while he is in office, any citizen may file a mandamus case to compel the Ombudsman to do so.
He also believes that there should be narrow exceptions to the concept of an official’s immunity from suit.
Officials may not face civil cases arising from official acts, he said.
But if they commit a crime, they should face charges as this is not part of their duties, he said. Personal acts that violate the law fall under this, he added.
“Committing a crime is not part of your job description,” said Pimentel.
Binay on Tuesday harped on his supposed immunity as he denounced the Ombudsman’s recommendation to charge him in connection with the allegedly overpriced Makati parking building.
“Why did they include me in the resolution? They know I have immunity. But they ruined me first, they included me,” he said.
“It’s clear they are just after having their lies put out in the media. This is what we have been saying all along—it’s just noise without substance. And the Ombudsman is part of the conspiracy to ruin me because I am a candidate for President,” he said. With Christine O. Avendaño and Niña P. Calleja
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