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ESTRADA V.

ARROYO
G.R. NO. 146710-15, MARCH 2, 2001
G.R. NOS. 146710-15. APRIL 3, 2001

BASIS:
Presidential Immunity Settled is the doctrine that the President, during his tenure of office or actual
incumbency, may not be sued in any civil or criminal case, and there is no need to provide for it in the
Constitution or law. The intent of the framers of the Constitution is clear that the immunity of the
president from suit is concurrent only with his tenure and not his term.

FACTS:
1. In the May 11, 1998 elections, petitioner Joseph Estrada was elected President while
respondent Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was elected Vice-President.
2. On October 4, 2000, Ilocos Sur Governor Chavit Singson, a longtime friend of the petitioner,
accused the petitioner, his family and friends of receiving millions of pesos from jueteng lords.
3. On November 13, 2000, House Speaker Villar transmitted the Articles of Impeachment signed by
115 representatives or more than 1/3 of all the members of the House of Representatives to the
Senate.
4. On November 20, 2000, the Senate formally opened the impeachment trial of the petitioner. On
January 16, 2001, by a vote of 11-10, the senator-judges ruled against the opening of the second
envelope which allegedly contained evidence showing that petitioner held P3.3 billion in a
secret bank account under the name Jose Velarde.
5. The ruling was met by a spontaneous outburst of anger that hit the streets of the metropolis.
Thereafter, the Armed Forces and the PNP withdrew their support to the Estrada government.
Some Cabinet secretaries, undersecretaries, assistant secretaries and bureau chiefs resigned
from their posts.
On January 20, 2001, at about 12 noon, Chief Justice Davide administered the oath to
respondent Arroyo as President of the Philippines.
6. On the same day, petitioner issued a press statement that he was leaving Malacanang Palace for
the sake of peace and in order to begin the healing process of the nation. It also appeared that
on the same day, he signed a letter stating that he was transmitting a declaration that he was
unable to exercise the powers and duties of his office and that by operation of law and
the Constitution, the Vice-President shall be the Acting President. A copy of the letter was sent
to Speaker Fuentebella and Senate President Pimentel on the same day.
7. Several criminal charges were filed against him with the Sandiganbayan, former President
Estrada sought to dismiss them on the ground of his claimed presidential immunity.

ISSUE: Whether or not the petitioner enjoys immunity from suit. If yes, what is the extent of the
immunity?

HELD:
Petitioner Estrada makes two submissions: first, the cases filed against him before the respondent
Ombudsman should be prohibited because he has not been convicted in the impeachment proceedings
against him; and second, he enjoys immunity from all kinds of suit, whether criminal or civil. The
immunity the petitioner points to is the principle of non-liability.
The principle of non-liability simply states that a chief executive may not be personally mulcted in civil
damages for the consequences of an act executed in the performance of his official duties. He is liable
when he acts in a case so plainly outside of his power and authority that he cannot be said to have
exercise discretion in determining whether or not he had the right to act. What is held here is that he
will be protected from personal liability for damages not only when he acts within his authority, but also
when he is without authority, provided he actually used discretion and judgment, that is, the judicial
faculty, in determining whether he had authority to act or not. In other words, he is entitled to
protection in determining the question of his authority. If he decide wrongly, he is still protected
provided the question of his authority was one over which two men, reasonably qualified for that
position, might honestly differ; but he is not protected if the lack of authority to act is so plain that two
such men could not honestly differ over its determination.

The Court rejects the petitioners argument that before he could be prosecuted, he should be first
convicted of impeachment proceedings. The impeachment proceeding was already aborted because of
the walking out of the prosecutors. This was then formalized by a Senate resolution (Resolution #83)
which declared the proceeding functus officio. According to the debates in the Constitutional
Convention, when an impeachment proceeding have become moot due to the resignation of the
President, proper civil and criminal cases may be filed against him.

We now come to the scope of immunity that can be claimed by petitioner as a non-sitting
President. The cases filed against petitioner Estrada are criminal in character. They involve plunder,
bribery and graft and corruption. By no stretch of the imagination can these crimes, especially plunder
which carries the death penalty, be covered by the allege mantle of immunity of a non-sitting
president. Petitioner cannot cite any decision of this Court licensing the President to commit criminal
acts and wrapping him with post-tenure immunity from liability. It will be anomalous to hold that
immunity is an inoculation from liability for unlawful acts and omissions. As for civil immunity, it
means immunity from civil damages only covers official acts.