Priority: Leonen | Inquirer Opinion
Editorial

Priority: Leonen

/ 04:08 AM May 26, 2021

A hum of activity is animating the House of Representatives, which is to adjourn sine die on June 4. There’s a welter of urgent concerns on its plate, including the passage of the proposed P405.6-billion Bayanihan 3 measure, which, per Majority Leader Martin Romualdez, will “help ensure that the economy recovers quickly from the [COVID-19]-induced crisis in a strong, sustainable and resilient manner.” Deep in the House recesses also languishes a piece of legislation crucial to the very lives of the families displaced by the monthslong siege of Marawi City that began on May 23, 2017. The proposed bill seeks just compensation for city residents whose houses were razed or damaged in the course of the fierce battle between government troops and the Islamic-State-allied Maute Group. The wait for the passage of this measure has been arduous and, by the looks of it, threatens to extend even beyond its current cruel range.

Alongside these and other life-and-death issues, the impeachment complaint against Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen will be taken up tomorrow, the members of the House having “overwhelmingly” voted early last week to refer it to the committee on justice. The committee chaired by Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso III is to deliberate on the form and substance of the complaint filed last December by Edwin Cordevilla, secretary general of the Filipino League of Advocates for Good Government.

What’s the big deal with this complaint? It’s said to have stemmed from Leonen’s supposed failure to file statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs) during a 15-year period when he was a professor and later dean of the University of the Philippines’ College of Law. Not only was Cordevilla moved to conclude that Leonen “clearly lacks integrity” and to lodge his complaint, Ilocos Norte Rep. Angelo  Marcos Barba was also compelled to endorse it.

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But the details surrounding the complaint make it a curiosity. Musing on these details, the weary observer may connect the dots and smell a project to remove from office a known dissenter in the Supreme Court and one of three remaining appointees there of then President Benigno Aquino III. Early on, Solicitor General Jose Calida was requesting copies of Leonen’s SALNs from the high court, in an apparent intended repeat of the quo warranto removal of then Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. Rebuffed by the high court, Calida went to UP for the same purpose.

Daniel Sebastianne Daiz of the Philippine Collegian, UP’s official student paper, reported at length on Calida’s efforts to get at the documents he wanted: The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) made a formal request, which the UP Diliman Human Resource Development Office (HRDO) denied. Shortly Commission on Higher Education chair Prospero de Vera raised the OSG’s request to the UP Board of Regents (BOR), which he also chairs, to reverse the HRDO decision and release Leonen’s papers. But the BOR eventually referred the OSG’s request to the university’s legal office.

Other details conspire to raise suspicion over the impeachment complaint asserting Leonen’s “betrayal of public trust.” Leonen was the justice in charge of the electoral protest filed by defeated candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr. against Vice President Leni Robredo; he it was who wrote the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court magistrates convened as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) that dismissed the dictator’s son’s claim of poll fraud. Complaint endorser Barba is a first cousin of Marcos Jr. Calida had backed Marcos Jr. in seeking Leonen’s inhibition from the electoral protest, and was dealt a formal rap on the knuckles for intervening: The Office of the Solicitor General and its “people’s tribune” mandate cannot be “hoisted wantonly in big ticket cases involving private parties,” the PET said in a resolution.

But Calida’s efforts to secure copies of Leonen’s SALNs—a not unreasonable request from, say, a journalist invoking freedom of information—are being foiled by his own weaponization of the document (although retired justice Francis Jardeleza huffs that there’s no such thing). The Supreme Court now has stringent requirements for granting access. The House that will determine if it’s true that Leonen betrayed public trust has a committee to vet requests for SALNs, and the final say belongs to the lawmakers themselves.

And per Ombudsman Samuel Martires, SALNs can now only be accessed through a court order, for purposes of investigation by his office, or if the concerned official wants a copy him/herself. Malacañang refers any request for President Duterte’s SALNs—not seen publicly for the past two years—to the Ombudsman’s tender mercies.

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TAGS: Editorial, Marvic Leonen

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