G.R. No. 82585 – 167 SCRA 393 – Political Law – Constitutional Law – President’s Immunity From Suit – Must Be Invoked by the President
Bill of Rights – Personal Examination by the Judge in Determining Probable Cause
Luis Beltran was a columnist for the newspaper Philippine Star. Maximo Soliven was the paper’s editor-in-chief. They were sued for libel by then President Corazon Aquino due to an article written by Beltran wherein he alleged that the president “hid under the bed” during a bloody coup attempt staged by military rebels in December 1989. The case was raffled to the sala of Judge Ramon Makasiar. Judge Makasiar then issued a warrant of arrest against Beltran et al. Beltran et al filed a certiorari petition before the Supreme Court alleging, among others, that (1) the warrants of arrest against them were irregularly issued due to the fact that Judge Makasiar did not personally examine the complainant (President Aquino) and her witnesses before issuing the arrest warrants, and (2) President Aquino cannot file a complaint affidavit because this would defeat her presidential immunity from suit; A president cannot be sued, however, if a president would sue then the president would allow herself to be placed under the court’s jurisdiction and conversely she would be consenting to be sued back. Also, considering the functions of a president, the president may not be able to appear in court to be a witness for herself thus she may be liable for contempt.
ISSUES: 1. Whether or not a judge is required to personally examine the complainant and/or his witnesses in determining probable cause prior to issuing a warrant of arrest.
2. Whether or not the presidential immunity from suit may be invoked by anyone other than the president.
HELD: 1. No. Sec. 2, Article III of the 1987 Constitution provides: “xxx no search warrant or warrant of arrest shall issue except upon probable cause to be determined personally by the judge after examination under oath or affirmation of the complainant and the witnesses he may produce…”. What the Constitution underscores is the exclusive and personal responsibility of the issuing judge to satisfy himself of the existence of probable cause. In satisfying himself of the existence of probable cause for the issuance of a warrant of arrest, the judge is not required to personally examine the complainant and his witnesses. Following established doctrine and procedure, he shall: (1) personally evaluate the report and the supporting documents submitted by the fiscal regarding the existence of probable cause and, on the basis thereof, issue a warrant of arrest; or (2) if on the basis thereof he finds no probable cause, he may disregard the fiscal’s report and require the submission of supporting affidavits of witnesses to aid him in arriving at a conclusion as to the existence of probable cause. Sound policy dictates this procedure, otherwise judges would be unduly laden with the preliminary examination and investigation of criminal complaints instead of concentrating on hearing and deciding cases filed before their courts.
2. No. 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.
But this privilege of immunity from suit, pertains to the President by virtue of the office and may be invoked only by the holder of the office; not by any other person in the President’s behalf. Thus, an accused like Beltran et al, in a criminal case in which the President is the complainant cannot raise the presidential privilege as a defense to prevent the case from proceeding against such accused.
Moreover, there is nothing in our laws that would prevent the President from waiving the privilege. Thus, if so minded the President may shed the protection afforded by the privilege and submit to the court’s jurisdiction. The choice of whether to exercise the privilege or to waive it is solely the President’s prerogative. It is a decision that cannot be assumed and imposed by any other person.
This case was consolidated with G.R. No. 82827 and G.R. No. 83979.