BY WENDELL VIGILIA and ASHZEL HACHERO
A LAWMAKER who is a cousin of former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. yesterday endorsed an impeachment complaint filed by a private citizen against Supreme Court (SC) Associate Justice Marvic Leonen less than a month after the defeated vice presidential candidate’s camp failed to force the magistrate to inhibit from the electoral protest case against Vice President Leni Robredo.
Leonen is the ponente or justice-in-charge of the former senator’s election protest.
Ilocos Norte Rep. Angelo Marcos Barba endorsed the 40-page complaint filed by Edwin Cordevilla, who was assisted by defeated senatorial candidate lawyer Larry Gadon in filing the complaint before the office of the House secretary general.
Barba said Cordevilla, secretary general of the Filipino League of Advocates for Good Government (FLAGG), is his constituent in the province’s second district.
He said Cordevilla approached him to ask for his endorsement and since he believed in it, he personally accompanied him in filing the complaint and endorsed it right away.
Leonen was appointed to the SC by former president Benigno Aquino III and took his oath on November 21, 2012.
The complaint accused Leonen of culpable violation of the Constitution for allegedly failing to dispose of at least 37 SC cases within 24 months as mandated by Section 15 (1), Article VII, in relation to Section 16, Article III of the Constitution, “which mandates the prompt action and speedy disposition of cases.”
“In doing so, he (Leonen) violated the constitutional mandate that ‘all persons have the right to a speedy disposition of their cases before all judicial, quasi-judicial, or administrative bodies,’” it said.
The complainant also accused Leonen of “arbitrarily” delaying the resolution of cases pending before him as chair of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET) since October 2019.
Lastly, the complaint accused Leonen of betrayal of public trust for allegedly failing to file his Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) during his tenure as a professor at the University of the Philippines which the complaint said “negates the probity and integrity required of him as a member of the Judiciary.”
Leonen was confident the complaint will not prosper because it was done for “personal and vindictive reasons.”
Describing as “false” the accusations levelled against him, Leonen said: “Given the urgent and pressing needs of our people during this time of crisis, we are confident that our leaders will do the right thing. Certainly, this may not be to attend to false issues raised by some for clearly personal or vindictive reasons.”
“Regardless, we wish everyone the best for this season of kindness and compassion. May we all continue to help others who are truly in need,” Leonen added.
Cordevilla alleged Leonen should be kicked out of the SC for his delayed action on at least 37 cases, among them the “aging” case filed by the National Association of Electricity Consumers for Reforms against the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) involving a power rate increase which has been pending for five years and three months. Another is a forfeiture case against business tycoon Lucio Tan which was assigned to Leonen on February 19, 2013.
The complaint said the respondent’s track record of “gross inefficiency as shown by the snail pace in which he resolves his cases casts doubts on his competency.” It also said that no other sitting justice “has ever displayed the same inefficiency and incompetence.”
It also accused Leonen of “arbitrarily” delaying the resolution of cases pending before him as chair of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET) since October 2019.
“The incompetence and inefficiency of the respondent can also be deduced from the delayed resolution of the 34 cases, consisting of 21 election protest and 13 quo warranto cases, pending in the HRET,” the complaint said. “Clearly, respondent committed culpable violation of the Constitution for arbitrarily, willfully, intentionally, deliberately and malevolently failing to resolve the cases within the required reglamentary period.”
By failing to act on the cases pending before him both in the Supreme Court and the HRET, the complaint said Leonen has “clearly” betrayed public trust, stressing that his “incompetence and inefficiency, has caused the erosion of the public’s faith in our judicial system.”
Of these 34 HRET cases, three cases were assigned to Leonen, of which two have been dismissed for being moot without being resolved on the merits while one remains pending.
The case of lawyer Godefredo Arquiza against former Senior Citizens party-list Rep.
Francisco Datol was dismissed for being moot because the respondent died of COVID-19 last August 10, while the case of Meynardo Sabili against Batangas Rep. Vilma Santo-Recto was dismissed because the petitioner Sabili “got tired of waiting” and withdrew the election protest, the complaint pointed out.
Lastly, the complaint accused Leonen of betrayal of public trust for allegedly failing to file his Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) during his tenure as a professor at the University of the Philippines (UP) which the complaint said “negates the probity and integrity required of him as a member of the Judiciary.”
It echoed the news article claiming that while Leonen spent 22 years in UP, from 1989 until 2011, he only filed his SALNs for the years 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, and 2011 which, it said, means that he ignored the law for 15 years, from 1989 to 2003, and 2008 to 2009.
It should be noted that Leonen left UP in 2010 to become the government’s chief peace negotiator with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Last September, the SC denied the request of Gadon and the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) to have access to Leonen’s SALNs for a quo warranto petition but the request was denied, including the subsequent appeal.
It was also Gadon who filed an impeachment complaint in 2017 against former chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno who was ousted by his colleagues through a separate quo warranto petition.
The National Union of People’s Lawyer (NUPL) said the impeachment complaint was defective in form and substance.
NUPL president Edre Olalia also questioned the intention of the complainant.
“The vulnerability of these kind of complaints is that they all at once suffer from impressions of insufficiency, nay defects, in form and substance. With the checkered record of the goader, it is suspect and comes not from the purest of intention,” Olalia said.
Olalia said it is clear that there are some who wanted to snuff out any dissent in the SC as characterized by Leonen.
“At any rate, we need decent dissents, nay erudite independence in our judiciary. That is what these nuisance complaints want to impeach,” he added.
Bayan Secretary General Renato Reyes Jr. said there is no doubt the impeachment complaint was “obviously a Marcos move” meant to force Leonen to get out of the way or resign after the SC junked the request for his SALN and his inhibition from the election protest.
“This is obviously a Marcos move that seeks to oust one of the important voices of dissent in the SC. We oppose the impeachment complaint. This is calculated to force Justice Leonen to resign or act favorably on the PET case,” Reyes said.
He said the Marcoses may deny they are behind the move but added it is clear that it is part of their ploy.
“There is just no other way to view it. After failing to get the SC nod for Leonen’s SALN, after failing to get Leonen to inhibit, they now push an impeachment complaint. The endorser is also a Marcos by the way,” Reyes added.