The Manila Times - Leonen vs Calida: Test of wills bears lessons for our public life

News & Interviews
24 November 2020

By The Manila Times

IT will be tempting for the public to treat the public quarrel between Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Mario Victor Leonen and Solicitor General Jose Calida as though it were a prizefight.

The protagonists are both lawyers and high officials of the government with responsibilities that are of far-reaching import — Leonen as a high court justice and Calida as the chief counsel of the government and the president, attached to the Department of Justice.

Both are also politically connected — Leonen to the Liberal Party and the Aquino Yellow forces and Calida to the Duterte and Marcos political groupings.

The quarrel has burst out in the open because Justice Leonen has threatened to sue Calida for corruption for seeking the justice’s inhibition in the election protest of former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. against Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo at the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET). Leonen is the ponente of the case.

According to our Supreme Court reporter, Leonen is incensed at Calida for siding with Marcos and dragging the Republic of the Philippines into the case. Marcos filed the protest before the Supreme Court, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, after losing the 2016 vice-presidential election to Robredo.

This is not the first time that the two are contending in public. Earlier, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) appealed to the Supreme Court to disclose to the public the statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) of Leonen. The OSG said it made the appeal in preparation for possible quo warranto proceedings against Leonen with the objective of ousting him from the high court.

Calida pleaded in the suit that Leonen’s SALN be disclosed to the public as provided for by the Constitution and for the sake of transparency.

Calida was also the principal mover of the quo warranto case against former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, which led to Sereno’s being ousted from the high court by her peers.

As for the current test of wills between Leonen and Calida, we think this can be a teachable moment in our politics and public life.

Our public officials and politicians are prone to making very serious charges from their perches in government. They use the media as a megaphone to publicize their threats and bombast.

Most of the time, it is mainly sound and fury, which result in nothing. Quarrels are quietly settled under the table, and no benefit is gained by the public from all the ruckus.

This time, Justice Leonen and Solicitor General Calida can set a good example for our young citizenry by doing what they threaten against each other and pursue them to a fitting conclusion. They should not be content with merely issuing more press releases and statements to fan the antagonism and confuse the issues.

It’s bruited about that Justice Leonen is pushing for the issuance of a show-cause order against Calida and The Manila Times. This means we are not just an innocent observer of this joust between the two.

The Times was quoted extensively in Calida’s petition because we reported about Leonen’s 2017 Draft Reflections, where he recommended dismissing the protest of Marcos outright.

The justice contends that his reflections were confidential.

Meanwhile, the Marcos-Robredo election protest festers in the shadows because the ponente will not move to speed it up.

It is just one of some 80 cases that reportedly have been unresolved under Justice Leonen’s charge.

Perhaps this is principally because Mr. Leonen was abruptly plucked from the academe by former President Benigno Aquino 3rd to serve as an associate justice in the Supreme Court. Up to that point, he had not served as a judge in our justice system.

Why then should the Supreme Court and the nation expect him to serve as a wise judge in this highly important election protest?