By Rigoberto D. Tiglao | The Manila Times
SUPREME Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, by sitting for a year now on candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s election protest against Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo, is mocking our democratic system.
The message Leonen is sending — a precedent-setting one, in fact — to those who aspire to elective posts: “Cheat all you want, by the time the electoral tribunal rules on your opponent’s protest, it would be just a few months before you step down.”
A former UP law school dean, Leonen knows that the very essence of a modern democratic system is its electoral system. With a flawed electoral system, democracy is a joke, a very expensive charade. Worse, this is not just any body hearing the case but the Supreme Court itself, constituted as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET).
If the highest court of the land, supposedly manned by the country’s most experienced and competent judges (except for Leonen, as discussed why below), can’t resolve fast an electoral protest involving the second highest post in the land, then how can we expect other electoral tribunals deciding on lower positions to be more efficient?
The case of course isn’t just another electoral protest one. The Senate Electoral Tribunal in 2011 could have just sat on the protest of Aquilino Pimentel 3rd against Juan Miguel Zubiri for the senatorial post, and most Filipinos wouldn’t have cared at all.
But the protest Leonen is handling involves the second highest position in the land, the vice presidency, which, as the saying goes, is only a heartbeat away from the most powerful post in the country.
Worse of course is that Robredo has been with the opposition Yellow cultists, leading their campaign to demonize Duterte, claiming even in global venues that the President was wantonly violating human rights, and had caused tens of thousands to be killed in his anti-drug war.
Most Filipinos are convinced that Robredo had cheated, not only because of that infamous episode during the count when Marcos lost his lead of 1 million overnight. Incredible was that Marcos lost in the Mindanao provinces — having even zero votes in several precincts — where his late father, Ferdinand, continues to be revered by the majority conservative Muslims for saving them from the “atheistic” Moro National Liberation Front in the 1970s.
Most analysts believed that it was impossible for an unknown (or known mostly in Luzon) like “Robredo” to have beaten a “Marcos” brand that had been a household name since the 1960s — whether you love the dictator or hate him. The Yellows had been deluding themselves that her late husband Jesse Robredo had assumed national stature, for his widow to be swept to power the way Corazon Aquino was in the wake of her husband’s assassination.
Despite the importance of the case, Leonen has practically done nothing in the one year that the case has been with him.
In September 2019, through the Supreme Court’s raffle system, Leonen became the ponente for the Marcos protest case, that is, the justice appointed to handle it and submit to the tribunal en banc a draft decision for its dismissal or concurrence.
Our veteran justice reporter Jomar Canlas has written that there is widespread suspicion that Leonen has been employing legal “dilatory” tactics such as a series of “resets.” He has even allegedly been telling people that the “Marcos case is for the next elections,” to decide, by which he means that Marcos should just run for vice president in 2022, rather than hope that he be declared the winner of the 2016 vote.
Leonen acted on the case only early this month, when he asked the PET (the Supreme Court) to order the Commission on Elections and the Office of the Solicitor General to “comment” on the arguments of the Marcos and Robredo camps regarding the former’s plea to annul the votes in three Mindanao provinces.
And Leonen is said to have acted on the case only when reports that he had failed — as in the case — to submit his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth or SALN not just for six years in the case of former chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno (for which she was removed for lack of integrity) but for 15 years.
Leonen hasn’t been just with the past administration. He is of the Yellow mind.
He was one of the five justices who voted against the burial in the Libingan ng Mga Bayani of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 2016, in which nine justices voted in favor. Except for Antonio Carpio, these justices were appointed by former President Benigno Aquino 3rd, the diehard Yellows: Chief Justice Sereno, Francis Jardeleza and Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa. That Aquino’s appointees are not automatically yellow in this case was demonstrated in the fact that Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe voted to allow the burial.
In the case of Sen. Leila de Lima’s suit asking the high court to dismiss the drug charges against her, Leonen again voted to drop the case, raising very little legal arguments but simply echoing the Yellows’ (and Reds’) propaganda line that her arrest was “quintessentially the use of the strong arm of the law to silence dissent.”
Indeed, reading Leonen’s dissenting opinions in crucial Supreme Court decisions, one gets the impression that one is reading propaganda manifestos, rather than legal arguments befitting discussions in the country’s highest tribunal.
Which makes me suspect the following: Leonen is not just of the Yellow mind and therefore too biased against the son of the Yellows’ “Satan,” Marcos, to handle his electoral protest fairly. He is incompetent to handle such a complex litigation.
Leonen’s legal experience has been entirely in the academe, in administrative posts at the UP School of Law. Said to have been friends with Aquino in their college years, he was plucked out of academe by that president in 2011 to be the government’s chief negotiator with the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and from there straight to the highest court of the land. I suspect that like another Aquino appointee from UP, former chief justice Sereno, Leonen may never have seen the inside of a courtroom.
In fact, all incumbent Supreme Court justices, except for Leonen and another Aquino appointee — Alfredo Caguioa — spent many years in municipal, regional and appellate courts where they learned how law is really practiced in the country, and not just taught.
How can Leonen, with no legal experience outside UP be expected to handle expertly a complex litigation as an electoral protest over the second highest post in the land? The fact that he has the most number of pending cases — a record 82, more than twice the average 31 cases per justice — is proof that he is either incompetent or lazy or both in handling cases assigned to him by the Court. (This revelation has become viral in Facebook, with popular blogger RJ Nieto’s post on it garnering thousands of “likes” and a barrage of comments.
For the sake of our democracy, the Supreme Court must not acquiesce to the travesty of our electoral system — and therefore of our democracy — by Leonen. There are enough grounds – his Yellow ideological bias and his incompetence — to replace him and appoint a more competent, experienced justice to handle the Marcos case, which after all is the first such case over the second most powerful post in the country.
By doing nothing, the high court justices are supporting Leonen’s game plan on the Marcos case: Delay it so that by the time he submits his recommendation to dismiss to the court, and it decides not to uphold it and declare Marcos the winner, it will be just a few months before the next elections in May 2022. Wouldn’t that be such a huge slap in the face of our Supreme Court members?
I don’t really care who the court rules really won the vice presidential contest. What is important is that we prove our democracy is working, that there is a legitimate venue that works that will be a check on election cheating.
Cliché it may be, but I cannot think of any other famous quote that our Supreme Court justices should heed: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”