The Supreme Court has given the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City the go-signal to hear and resolve the P5 million damage suit filed by a businessman against Senator Antonio Trillanes for accusing him as “dummy” of former Vice President Jejomar Binay in the purchase of a 150-hectare property in Rosario, Batangas which has been tagged as “Hacienda Binay.”
In a 22-page decision, the SC junked the petition filed by Trillanes seeking the reversal of the resolutions issued by Judge Evangeline Castillo-Marigomen, presiding Judge of the QCRTC Branch 1010, on May 19, 2015 and December 16, 2015.
The trial court, in the said resolutions, denied Trillanes’ motion to dismiss the civil suit filed by Antonio Tiu, who claimed ownership of the property through his company Sunchamp Real Estate Corporation (Sunchamp), and his motion for reconsideration.
The SC held that Trillanes cannot invoke parliamentary immunity to escape prosecution for damages over the statements he gave to mediamen in October 2014 accusing Tiu as a mere dummy of the former vice president.
In his complaint, Tiu insisted that he is a legitimate businessman engaged in various businesses in the agricultural sector and that he has substantial shareholdings in numerous corporations and companies.
The complainant claimed that because of Trillanes’ claim, his reputation was tarnished which affected his businesses as shown by the steep drop in the stock prices of his publicly listed companies.
Tiu also vehemently denied being a dummy of Binay saying that he has financial capacity to fund the development, operation and maintenance of the “Sunchamp Agri-Tourism Park.”
In seeking the dismissal of the civil suit, Trillanes asserted that Tiu was not able to prove his supposed ownership of the said estate.
He pointed out that former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado testified on how he helped the former vice president acquire and expand the property.
Trillanes further explained that his statements were protected by his constitutionally guaranteed rights to free speech and 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 also insisted that his statements, having been made in the course of his duties as Senators, are covered by his parliamentary immunity under Article VI, Section II of the 1987 Constitution.
However, in an order dated May 19, 2015, the trial court denied Trillanes’ motion to dismiss the complaint saying that 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.
In upholding the trial court’s decision, the SC did not give credence to Trillanes ’claim that there is a clear threat to his parliamentary immunity as well as his rights to freedom of speech and freedom of expression in justifying his decision to immediately seek relief from the Court.
The Court held that there is sufficient standards and guidelines that has been set in its past decisions by which, the trial court and the Court of Appeals (CA) can address and resolve the issue of parliamentary immunity raised by petitioner.