Supreme Court (SC) Justice Marvic Leonen, an appointee of then President Benigno Aquino III and a staunch supporter of his political patron’s discredited Liberal Party, is in trouble.
Edwin Cordevilla, the secretary general of a group called the Filipino League of Advocates for Good Government, and his legal counsel, Atty. Larry Gadon, say Leonen did not submit any statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) for 15 years during his time as a law professor in the University of the Philippines (UP). Under the Constitution and pertinent laws, all public officials are required to submit their SALN every year.
Last Monday, 7 December 2020, Gadon, acting on behalf of Cordevilla, filed an impeachment complaint against Leonen in the House of Representatives of Congress. Ilocos Norte Representative Angelo Barba endorsed the complaint to the House Justice Committee headed by Leyte Representative Vicente Veloso for appropriate action.
In his complaint, Cordevilla said Leonen committed a betrayal of public trust due to his failure to submit the required SALN.
Back in 2017, Gadon filed an impeachment case against then SC Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno for her failure to submit the requisite SALN. The impeachment case became moot when the SC ousted Sereno from office in a quo warranto proceeding initiated by Solicitor General Jose Calida.
Last September, Calida and Gadon requested the SC to release copies of Leonen’s SALN, in preparation of a petition for quo warranto they intended to file against the justice. Without offering any plausible explanation, Leonen refused to allow access to his SALN. His colleagues in the SC supported him.
In Leonen’s defense, SC Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta cited a resolution of the SC issued in 2012 in the aftermath of the impeachment and removal from office of then Chief Justice Renato Corona. Analysts say there is nothing in that resolution which validates Leonen’s refusal to allow public access to his SALN.
A commentary published in this newspaper opined that if Leonen has nothing to hide, he should not be afraid to allow public access, which is a constitutional right, to his SALN.
Cordevilla also accused Leonen of committing a culpable violation of the Constitution because Leonen failed to resolve at least 37 cases which have been pending for several years in his office.
Section 15(1), Article VIII of the Constitution requires the SC to resolve all cases submitted for decision within 24 months.
Law practitioners say that while the SC is quick to penalize trial court judges for delays in the resolution of pending cases, the SC takes its sweet time in deciding its share of pending petitions.
Speaking to the media, Leonen said the House should dismiss the impeachment complaint outright because there are more pressing matters which demand congressional attention. He added that this being a time of crisis, the House should not entertain “false issues” raised against him for “personal and vindictive reasons.”
Leonen did not categorically deny that he failed to submit his SALN for 15 years. He also said nothing about his failure to resolve pending cases within the deadline mandated by the Constitution.
What is it with Justice Leonen? The justice who has a penchant for small details in deciding cases is now surprisingly equivocal about the accusations hurled against him by Cordevilla and Gadon.
Did he or did he not submit his SALN when he was still a law professor at UP? Did he accumulate an inexcusable backlog of 37 cases in violation of the Constitution? If the accusations against him are false, then a simple “no” from Leonen to each question should have been forthcoming.
Surprisingly, Leonen raised impertinent excuses concerning “other matters,” which the House should attend to during the ongoing health crisis, and that the impeachment complaint was for “personal and vindictive reasons.”
As a magistrate of the highest court in the land, Leonen should have known that his excuses are legally untenable and are not valid reasons for an outright dismissal of the impeachment complaint.
Corona and Sereno were ousted from office on grounds similar to those raised against Leonen. From all indications, the same fate awaits Leonen and his equivocal statements are not helping him in any way.