Manila Standard - Desperately clinging to his post?

5 November 2020

By Charlie V. Manalo | Manila Standard

"I don’t believe it’s a matter of ignorance."

The original title I had in mind was “Desperately saving his a**” but I didn’t think my editor would allow it.

From what I see, I don’t think Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen is that ignorant of the law for him not to be aware that the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, as aptly stressed by Solicitor General Jose Calida, has the sole jurisdiction over the pending electoral protest filed by former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos for the Vice-Presidency last 2016 national elections.

With due respect to Marcos’ counsel, lawyer Vic Rodriguez, I don’t agree that Leonen “exhibited ignorance” of the law when he solicited comment on the electoral protest from the Office of the Solicitor General and the Commission on Elections.

Recall that Leonen, last September, after more or less a year since taking over the case, asked not only the parties involved, but also the OSG and the Comelec, to file their respective comments on Marcos’ 3rd cause of action asking the PET to annul the results in the provinces of Lanao del Sur, Basilan, and Maguindanao due to election fraud such as “massive substituted voting.”

Leonen also ordered the Comelec to comment on the issue of the Tribunal’s authority or jurisdiction, to tackle and decide on Marcos’ third cause of action which calls for the annulment of election without infringing on the poll body’s authority on the matter.

Leonen made such a decision where the majority of the PET members agreed on his ponencia despite the fact that all past protests on the election, returns, and qualifications of the presidential and vice-presidential candidates were exclusively tried and heard under the constitutional power of the Tribunal.

OSG sided with Marcos’ “third cause” motion citing the 1987 Constitution.

In a 38-page comment, Solicitor General Jose Calida cited Article VII, Section 4 of the Constitution in reminding and stressing to PET, specifically to Leonen that “The Supreme Court, sitting en banc, shall be the sole judge of all contests relating to the election, returns, and qualifications of the President or Vice-President and may promulgate rules for the purpose.”

Calida even told Leonen that “The Presidential Electoral Tribunal has the power to declare the Annulment of Elections without infringing upon the authority of the Commission on Elections (Comelec).”

The Comelec also cited the same arguments and orders of the Constitution to the highest court of the country in upholding Marcos track of electoral protest.

In a 30-page comment, the Comelec further tightened the firmness of its decision by reminding Leonen about the PET’s own rules in carrying out its jurisdiction and authority released in 2010.

The poll body cited the explanations of PET’s rules 7, 8, and 13.

Rule 13 was all about the very instruction of the Constitution on PET’s sole jurisdiction and authority on complaints of electoral fraud on two top positions in the government.

Expectedly, the Marcos camp lauded the comments of the OSG and the Comelec, describing them as a “clear win” as both the OSG and the Comelec asserted the “sole” jurisdiction of the PET on Marcos’ electoral protest.

According to Rodriguez, Marcos knew very well the entire rules of the electoral protest, which led him to continue the fight despite the fact that Leonen was an appointee of former President Benigno Simeon Cojuangco Aquino III and his perceived bias against former senator Marcos.

But of course, Leonen was very well aware of the law that the PET has sole jurisdiction over the case. Aside from that he had the luxury of time to read, review and study the PET Rule so that he would not waste 11 months to ask OSG and the Comelec about PET’s sole authority and jurisdiction on the matter.

So, why did it take all of eleven months just to come up with the idea of getting the opinion of the OSG and Comelec on the PET role over Marcos’ electoral protest?

Was he merely delaying the resolution of the case as the Marcos camp suggests?

Or maybe, the better question is this: Does Leonen really have the intention to resolve the case?

Before Leonen ordered the parties to the case, together with the OSG and the Comelec to file their comments, Manila Times columnist Rigoberto “Bobi” Tiglao wrote that Leonen failed to file his statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth while he was still employed by the University of the Philippines as a professor.

That article triggered a strong reaction from lawyer Larry Gadon, who was one of those responsible in the filing of a quo warranto proceedings against Ma. Lourdes Sereno, who was found to have been illegally appointed as chief justice of the Supreme Court for the same offense as that of Leonen’s.

Gadon, in the succeeding days, sought copies of Leonen’s SALN from the Supreme Court, which everyone anticipated would be used for a quo warranto proceedings against the Associate Justice.

Surprisingly, Leonen, even before Gadon could acquire copies of his SALN, or a certification the SC doesn’t have copies, issued the order to Marcos, Leni Robredo, the OSG, and the Comelec, to comment on the case.

The Marcos camp was right. After 11 months, that was all Leonen could come up with.

But what’s fishy or even sinister about the timing of the order was that, through the order, he could have acquired a weapon to counter his impending quo warranto proceedings.

It is an open secret Gadon is closely identified with the Marcoses. So now that Leonen has finally acted on the case, Gadon will have his hands tied, whether to pursue the case against Leonen and risk the case being re-raffled and be placed in the backburner again until time runs out and give way for the next elections. This, or he could submit himself to Leonen’s timetable and forego any plan to subject the associate justice to any legal action.

In the case of the latter, Leonen effectively parries any attempt to unseat him. He would be able to cling to his post.

However, I don’t think Gadon will opt for the second option. I believe he will make sure the integrity of the High Court is preserved and he will push for the quo warranto against Leonen.