Conundrums in attempts to oust Leonen
After the Supreme Court unanimously rejected his and Solicitor General Jose C. Calida’s requests for the Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALNs) of Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen, Larry Gadon — as counsel for Edwin Cordevilla and with the endorsement of Rep. Angelo Marcos Barba — filed an impeachment complaint in the House of Representatives against the jurist.
Gadon intends to ask the House Committee on Justice (that would initially take up the complaint) to subpoena the clerk of court of the high court and the registrar of the University of the Philippines (UP) to bring copies of J. Leonen’s SALNs during the 15 years he was teaching in the UP College of Law prior to his stint in the Court, or to certify the absence of, or omission to file, said documents.
(I will take up only the SALN issue because Justice Antonio T. Carpio’s column on Dec. 10 already debunked the other issues raised by Gadon on J. Leonen’s alleged failure to decide cases on time.)
Gadon believes — but has no conclusive proof — that J. Leonen failed to file his SALNs for several years as required by the Constitution and the law for all public officials.
Recall that the Senate, acting as an impeachment court, issued its written “Judgment,” dated May 28, 2012, unseating then chief justice Renato C. Corona. But unlike judicial decisions, the Senate did not explain “clearly and distinctly the facts and the law” it anchored its verdict on.
Note, however, that the SALNs of Corona were not obtained by the House prior to filing the impeachment complaint in the Senate. Nonetheless, during the Senate trial, Sen. Franklin M. Drilon subtly persuaded witness Enriqueta Vidal, clerk of court of the Supreme Court, to surrender the SALNs of Corona to the Senate.
And thereafter, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano extracted from the former chief justice, also from the witness stand, the damning admission that he omitted to declare $2.4 million plus P80 million in his SALNs. Shortly thereafter, the Senate rendered its “Judgment.”
Recall also that in Republic v Sereno (May 11, 2018), the Supreme Court, voting 8-6, granted the petition for quo warranto (QW) filed by Calida and ousted then chief justice Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno “… on account of her failure to file a substantial number of SALNs” as a UP professor prior her Supreme Court post.
In short, Corona was ousted by the Senate due to his failure to declare substantial assets in his SALNs while already a sitting jurist. In contrast, Sereno was declared “ineligible” by the Court in a QW proceeding for her failure to file her SALNs prior to her judicial incumbency.
These scenarios pose conundrums both to Gadon and J. Leonen. To Gadon because the Sereno decision firmly ruled that QW is proper only “when the subject act or omission was committed prior to or at the same time of the appointment…” On the other hand, “(a)cts or omissions… committed during the incumbency of a validly appointed… official cannot be the subject of a quo warranto proceeding but of impeachment…”
Since the alleged omissions of J. Leonen in filing his SALNs were committed prior to his appointment to the Court, then the proper remedy to oust him is QW, not impeachment. Consequently, Gadon may not be able to convince the House or the Senate to subpoena J. Leonen’s SALNs. And even if the subpoena is issued, the Court may stop the subpoenaed officials from complying based on its ruling that impeachment is proper only for acts or omissions committed during judicial tenures.
And conundrum also afflicts J. Leonen because he dissented in the Sereno case, and opined that QW to oust “a sitting member of the Supreme Court is a legal abomination… [that] should be overturned in the near future.”
His dilemma would be: Will he ask the House and/or the Senate to dismiss the impeachment complaint given that his alleged acts or omissions were committed prior his appointment to the Court? Will he abandon his dissent? Or will he merely say that despite his dissent, he as well as Gadon, the House and the Senate are nonetheless bound by the Sereno decision?
A related question: Can the Supreme Court stop the House from hearing an invalid or improper impeachment complaint? Yes, in Francisco v. House of Representatives (Nov. 10, 2003), the Court “barred” the second impeachment complaint filed against then chief justice Hilario G. Davide Jr. And the House complied even if reluctantly.
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