The Manila Times - Leonen’s warning should be answered with another — the looming 2022 elections

20 November 2020

By The Manila Times

IT puzzles us to see Associate Justice Marvic Mario Victor Leonen issue threats or warnings to his fellow justices and the media at a time when it is he and his record that are most under heavy scrutiny.

Our senior reporter Jomar Canlas reported on Tuesday that Justice Leonen has warned his fellow magistrates that they or some of them could be sanctioned for leaking documents to The Manila Times. This has naturally drawn our interest and concern because it appears to suggest that our paper has been involved in some kind of wrongdoing because of our reporting on the Marcos-Robredo election protest that is now being heard by the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET).

If Justice Leonen really feels strongly about the issue, he should go right ahead and press his complaint. He should not leave the issue dangling over his peers in the high court and over our news organization.

The controversy should be fully brought out into the open so the nation can understand and judge the facts of the matter.

The good justice contends that there is a confidentiality rule in the tribunal, which subjects to sanction the leaking of information on the internal deliberations and draft rulings of the high court.

Specifically, Leonen was irked by some stories that came out in the Times on his draft reflections on the poll protest case filed by former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. against Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo.

Leonen reportedly clashed with Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta when the latter told him to release his decision on the petitions asking him to inhibit from the poll protest case.

Leonen, however, challenged Peralta, saying, “I thought the Peralta court is working as an institution.”

On Tuesday, the high court ordered Canlas to explain why he should not be cited for contempt for writing stories based on leaked documents. The same order was issued to Solicitor General Jose Calida, who had filed a petition asking Leonen, the ponente of the poll case, to recuse himself.

Calida and Marcos cited the story written by Canlas in their petitions seeking Leonen’s recusal from the case. They said the 25-page “draft reflections” of Leonen, which was circulated on July 10, 2017, showed that he had prejudged the case.

Amid this flurry of accusations and warnings, it is important for the high court and the public to keep their perspective straight on the issue at hand. What must be brought out in the open should be separated from what should be kept confidential.

It would be absurd to suggest that everything about Mr. Leonen should be kept confidential by the media.

Controversy surrounds this issue for several reasons: 1) Leonen’s inaction and orders on the election protest of which he is the designated ponente; 2) Leonen’s record of having the biggest backlog of unresolved cases in the high court; 3) questions about Leonen’s lack of experience in the bench when he was plucked by President Benigno Aquino 3rd from academe to serve as a justice of the Supreme Court; and 4) questions about the justice’s alleged noncompliance with the legal requirement for public officials to file a duly notarized statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) during every year of public service.

There would be no media scrutiny if there were no holes in the justice’s story.

Lastly, the nation attaches high importance to the need for the PET to finally resolve the Marcos-Robredo election protest because the next presidential election in May 2022 is only 18 months away.

Leonen’s warning to his peers should be answered with this warning.