Connect the dots
In the matter of the impeachment complaint filed at the House of Representatives on Monday against Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, there is only one pertinent question to ask: Who stands to benefit from the move?
Asking that question blasts away all the attempts at denial and misdirection by its public proponent, controversial lawyer and known Marcos loyalist Larry Gadon, who serves as counsel to one Ed Cordevilla, the main complainant who identified himself as secretary-general of the previously unheard of Filipino League of Advocates for Good Government. Cordevilla’s complaint, in turn, was formally endorsed in the House by Ilocos Norte Rep. Angelo Marcos Barba, a cousin of defeated vice presidential candidate Bongbong Marcos.
The suit claims that Leonen had committed a culpable violation of the Constitution for failing to dispose of at least 37 cases within 24 months, and for arbitrarily delaying the resolution of cases as chair of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET). Citing a newspaper column, Cordevilla also alleged that Leonen had betrayed public trust when he failed to file his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) for 15 years during his tenure at the University of the Philippines. All officials and employees of government are required to file their SALN—including President Duterte who, according to Malacañang, filed his 2018 and 2019 SALN, but has refused to make them public.
In a TV interview, Gadon accused Leonen of being “incompetent, lazy, and biased,” and claimed he was “more qualified” than Leonen to serve in the high court.
Gadon, a failed senatorial candidate in 2019 under the Marcos political party Kilusang Bagong Lipunan, was suspended for three months in October 2019 by the Supreme Court for using “abusive and intemperate language” against a female doctor and her lawyer. He also failed to attend the Mandatory Continuing Legal Education for lawyers for the past 10 years, according to the high court. In August, Gadon was slammed by the health department for claiming that masks cannot stop the spread of the coronavirus. He is also facing four disbarment complaints.
Gadon also said Leonen was unfit for the high court because of his inexperience, in contrast to, say, former associate justice Antonio Carpio.
Carpio, in his column in this paper yesterday, thoroughly demolished the impeachment case against Leonen.
The first ground, Leonen’s failure to decide at least 37 cases assigned to him within 24 months from submission of the cases for resolution, is a constitutional provision that is “merely directory and not mandatory,” according to Carpio. “To apply the 24-month rule mandatorily would result in the impeachment of more than a majority of the Supreme Court Justices.”
The second ground, the alleged arbitrary delay by Leonen in resolving three cases assigned to him as HRET chair, is simply not true since he was appointed only in October 2019. HRET rules, Carpio pointed out, “do not prescribe time periods within which their members must decide cases assigned to them. As Congress still has more than 18 months left in its current term… one cannot say that Justice Leonen… has arbitrarily delayed deciding his sole pending case. The other HRET members have also still to decide all the cases assigned to them.”
The third ground, the failure to file his SALN as a UP professor, if true, would have prescribed by now since the Supreme Court had ruled that the prescriptive period for such a crime is eight years, said Carpio, who noted that Leonen had left UP 10 years ago. Under Article 89 of the Revised Penal Code, criminal liability is “totally extinguished” by the prescription of the crime, and thus “(it) can never rise to the level of an impeachable offense.”
So who stands to gain from any successful move to oust Leonen? One camp has openly targeted him: that of Bongbong Marcos. Gadon is in that camp, along with another Marcos loyalist, Solicitor General Jose Calida. While he has disavowed any knowledge of the present complaint, Marcos has taken aim at Leonen, who is in charge of his four-year-old electoral protest against Vice President Leni Robredo. The Cordevilla suit, in fact, comes barely three weeks after the Supreme Court rejected Marcos’ petition seeking Leonen’s inhibition from the case, for supposed bias against the Marcoses in, among others, his dissenting opinion on the hero’s burial accorded the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. The high court had also previously blocked Gadon and Calida’s bid to secure copies of Leonen’s SALNs.
Gadon angrily denies that the Marcos scion has a hand in the impeachment complaint—despite him (Gadon) being its shrill champion, Cordevilla hailing from the Marcoses’ Ilocos bailiwick, and the suit’s endorsement in the House made by a Marcos cousin. Big dots demanding to be connected—but, so we’re told, all entirely coincidental.
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