By Rigoberto D. Tiglao | The Manila Times
IN my column of September 7, I wrote:
“Supreme Court Associate Justice Mario Victor Leonen may be even a worse offender of the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) Law than the ousted chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. That law (called the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees) requires all state officials and employees to file their yearly SALNs.
“Sereno was removed from her post in 2018 for having failed to file such reports for six years, an offense for which her colleagues decided that she had no integrity and, therefore, could not have been appointed as chief justice.
Leonen failed to file his SALN for 15 years, from the time he joined the University of the Philippines (UP) faculty from 1989 to 2003 and for the years 2008 to 2009.”
I had thought that it was an open-and-shut case. My column wasn’t “speculation,” as Yellow news outfits referred to it, as it was the official reply by the Ombudsman to a freedom of information (FOI) request that I had filed months before.
I had thought that Leonen would find some embers of integrity after being President Aquino 3rd’s lackey and be bold enough to resign, thus spare Congress this additional chore of removing him.
After all, failure to file the SALN was the justification for removing both the late Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2012 and the fake CJ Sereno.
More accurately, Corona was removed not for failing to file a single SALN, but for the allegation that his dollar accounts were not reported in these documents. That allegation was very arguable at the very least, since Corona interpreted the secrecy law on dollar bank accounts as not requiring him to report the money he kept there. After all, no elected or appointed government official has ever reported his or her dollar accounts in his or her SALNs.
More importantly, the SALN law does not make such omission a crime. The SALN law provides that any omission or inaccuracy in such reports can be simply corrected, without penalty.
Leonen’s arrogance, even with his master Aquino 3rd no longer in power and now a recluse, is amazing. Before publishing my column, I wrote him a letter asking him for an explanation for the research that my FOI request had turned up — that he did not file any SALNs for 15 years when he was at UP, where such nonfiling was as an act of protest by the rebellious academic community there.
Well, Leonen made the Supreme Court’s Chief of Public Information Brian Hosaka his personal spokesman. This court spokesman wrote me that the justice could not “assist or advise” me on my “research.” Research, my ass, I had already done my research, and I was asking Leonen for his side for not complying with a law that got chief justices Corona (unjustly) and Sereno (justly) yanked out of their high offices.
Translating Hosaka’s legalese into plain English, this is what he told me in his letter: “Whether he complied with the SALN law or not is none of your business.”
But Leonen, by not replying to my allegations, and with his spokesman Hosaka’s reply, implicitly admitted that he had indeed not filed his SALNs. If he did, he could have easily replied, and even bitched: “I did file my SALNs, but I’m not going to show these to you.”
Corona’s ghost has now come back to haunt the Yellows. Senators and congressmen sold their souls to convict Corona, one of the most honest and principled chief justices we ever had, for P50 million to as much as P200 million in additional pork barrel funds. That was scandalous, as a big chunk of these funds was sourced from the so-called Disbursement Acceleration Program, a “special budget” that Aquino 3rd and his budget chief Butch Abad had cooked up to supposedly speed up public spending and boost economic growth but was later adjudged to be a patently illegal hijacking of government funds.
The Yellow senators will have to eat their words now, if they don’t convict Leonen right away.
Some examples of their words, uttered in Corona’s Senate trial in 2012:
Senator Franklin Drilon: “The Constitution commands every public official to file an accurate and complete SALN. This requirement is not a mere formality as it goes into the heart of a public official’s and respondent’s moral fitness to hold public office.
“The Supreme Court dismissed Delsa Flores, a lowly court interpreter for not reporting in her SALN her stall in a public market. The chief justice must be held to a much higher standard. Those who dispense justice must conform to the highest standards of professional integrity and personal honesty.
The defense of good faith cannot be invoked. The punishable act of non-reporting of assets in one’s SALN is mala prohibita (“wrong in itself” –RDT) where good faith is immaterial.”
Senator Francisco Pangilinan claimed that the move to remove Leonen was Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s plot to advance his electoral protest. That’s totally irrelevant, intended to distract us from the real issues of compliance with our laws and our Constitution by a justice of the Supreme Court. In the case of Corona, Pangilinan pontificated:
“No less than the chief justice has been accused of culpable violation of the Constitution. To convict him is to uphold the rule of law and will send the signal to the entire nation that the rule of law should be respected, and it should strike fear in the hearts of all those who wish to violate our laws and disrespect our Constitution.”
I hope they prove they’re not hypocrites. But I’m not betting they will. Hypocrisy and a double standard policy — one for them and their allies, and another for their perceived enemies — are deeply ingrained in the Yellow mind.
I hope though that the eight sitting senators who (or whose husband, father or brother) voted to convict Corona in 2012 uphold true justice this time in Leonen’s impeachment. After all, all they have to do is to repeat their justifications in booting out Corona, and pretend they are true to their word.
Correction: In my article Monday, “Don’t call them ‘progressives’ or ‘nationalists’; they’re neither,” I incorrectly wrote that the website where Jose Ma. Sison lists the Communist Party’s fronts is www.ilps.org. It should be www.ilps.info/en/organizations. My thanks to several readers who pointed out to me this error.