SC: Presidential Immunity from Suit Does Not Extend to Alter Egos

September 11, 2019

Immunity from suit does not extend to the alter egos of the President.

Thus, the Supreme Court (SC) denied the petition for review on certiorari filed by former Presidential Commission on Good Governance (PCGG) Chair Camilo L. Sabio (Sabio), who questioned his conviction by the Sandiganbayan for violations of R.A. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. The graft case against Sabio stemmed from the lease of 11 motor vehicles entered into by the PCGG with the United Coconut Planters Bank Leasing and Finance Corporation in 2007-2009, without the required competitive bidding.

In a 10-page decision promulgated on July 15, 2019, the Third Division, through Justice Diosdado M. Peralta, held that: “Sabio cannot claim immunity from suit for being an alter ego of the President. It was the PCGG, through Sabio and his Commissioners, not the President, who entered into the subject lease agreements without the requisite public bidding. It will be ridiculous to hold that alter egos of the President are, likewise, immune from suit simply because their acts are considered acts of the President if not repudiated. In fact, the 1987 Constitution is replete with provisions on the constitutional principles of accountability and good governance that should guide a public servant. The rule is that unlawful acts of public officials are not acts of the State and the officer who acts illegally is not acting as such but stands in the same footing as any other trespasser.” As a result, the SC affirmed the conviction of Sabio in the decision and resolution of the Sandiganbayan, dated June 22, 2017 and August 25, 2017, respectively.

Moreover, the SC cited R.A. No 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act, which explicitly provides that all government procurement shall be done through competitive bidding, except as provided for in Article XVI the same law. The PCGG, being a government office or agency, is covered by R.A. No. 9184. This means that before entering the lease of the 11 vehicles, the PCGG should have conducted a competitive bidding first.

The SC also held that there was bad faith on Sabio’s part in entering into the said lease agreements without “undertaking the required procurement process; and subjecting government funds to unnecessary expenditure without pre-allocation and the necessity for the same.”

The SC likewise took note of the fact that Sabio was also a member of the board of United Coconut Planters Bank, the parent company of UCPB Leasing,  when the lease agreements were entered into; thus giving unwarranted benefit and advantage in favor of UCPB Leasing.

The court ruled: “As correctly ruled by the Sandiganbayan, Sabio’s acts unmistakably reflect ‘a dishonest purpose or some moral obliquity and conscious doing of a wrong; a breach of sworn duty through some motive or intent or ill will.”

(G.R. No. 233853-54, Sabio v. Sandiganbayan, July15, 2019)

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