Lawyer: Duterte can't be charged

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — After an alleged hit man confessed to receiving kill orders from President Rodrigo Duterte while he was Davao City mayor, Sen. Leila De Lima said it might be time to rethink the doctrine of the presidential immunity from suit.

Read: Witness: I killed people in Davao City upon orders of Duterte

But Atty. Rosario Setias-Reyes, President of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), disagrees.

In a phone interview with CNN Philippines Friday, Reyes said a sitting President should never face civil or criminal charges, even if he is proven guilty of a crime.

"Immunity from suit does not mean immunity from liability," Reyes said.

"It will be there only as long as he is sitting president. After that, complaints can already be filed," she added.

Upon leaving their posts, former presidents Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Benigno Aquino III were charged with plunder and corruption, respectively. Arroyo recently walked free after four years in detention.

Read: Supreme Court rules to free former President Arroyo

Reyes said although there is no provision in the 1987 Constitution granting the President immunity from suit, jurisprudence or the principles behind the law establishes it.

"It exists, it's being observed" and it is important, Reyes said.

Both Reyes and De Lima agree the filing of cases against a sitting President should be banned so the President can perform his duties effectively without fear of harassment suits.

But how about during "extreme situations?" De Lima asked.

"Kasi hypothetical lang po ito, 'wag ho ako ma-misunderstood, 'wag ho silang magalit sa 'kin, this is just an academic discussion. Paano nga kung merong nai-elect, nahalal na pangulo na mass murderer pala, serial killer, or rapist, etc.?"

(Translation: Because this is hypothetical only, I shouldn't be misunderstood, they should not be mad at me, this is just an academic discussion. What if the elected president turns out to be a mass murder, serial killer, rapist, etc?)

De Lima clarified she is not referring to Duterte.

She also said she has no motive of trying to impeach the President.

She explained the witness, Edgar Matobato, approached her because he wanted to reveal what he knows as former member of the so-called Davao Death Squad and De Lima felt "the people deserve to know" it.

Matobato alleged then Mayor Duterte and his son Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte ordered the killing of around 1,000 people from 2008 to 2013 — including rivals and suspected criminals.

De Lima said the witness' claims will be written in a judicial affidavit and will be referred to authorities for proper action.

The international watchdog Human Rights Watch on Friday called for an independent investigation on Duterte's alleged involvement in summary killings, which it said should be led by the United Nations.

Read: Human Rights Watch: Let U.N. lead investigation of Duterte

Ground for impeachment?

When asked if she thinks the accusations against Duterte can be grounds for impeachment, De Lima refused to give a categorical answer.

"Look at the Constitution," she said.

"I think it may not be a ground for impeachment," Reyes said, explaining that murder is neither treason nor betrayal of public trust.

Article 11, Sec. 2 of the 1987 Constitution says the President and other government officials "may be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust."

The Constitution does not define "other high crimes" and leaves it to the House of Representatives to initiate cases of impeachment.