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The Philippine Star - Another Sereno? Leonen faces impeachment bid

News & Interviews
7 December 2020

By Kristine Joy Patag | The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — Lawyer Larry Gadon, accuser of former Chief Justice Maria Loudes Sereno, has returned to the House of Representatives to move for the impeachment of another Supreme Court justice. This time, it is Associate Justice Marvic Leonen.

After failing to secure copies of Leonen’s wealth declaration documents for a quo warranto plea, Gadon on Monday morning filed an impeachment complaint against the SC justice at the House. The complaint was filed Monday morning and, according to a report by The STAR, was endorsed by Rep. Angelo Marcos Barba (Ilocos Norte).

Gadon is representing Edwin Cordevilla, secretary general of the Filipino League of Advocates for Good Government (FLAGG) — not to be confused with the Free Legal Assistance Group.

“Respondent (Leonen) is guilty of culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust. Therefore, he should not be allowed to continue in office,” the complaint read.

Gadon previously filed an impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who was eventually booted out from the SC through a quo warranto petition, filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida.

Calida and Gadon both sought and were denied copies of Leonen’s Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth for the purpose of preparing a quo warranto petition.

Disposal of cases and supposed impartiality

Gadon's prepared complaint is anchored on Leonen’s supposed failure to dispose 37 cases within two years, which the former said violates the Constitution, which mandates the prompt action and speedy disposition of cases. He added that there are also unresolved cases at the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal, where Leonen sits as chairperson.

Cordevilla said the justice “failed to consider the implications of these prolonged delays in the lives of the litigants.”

He also accused Leonen of being partial and “almost always [taking] sides against the current administration,” as supposedly shown by the justice’s votes in cases that the SC has resolved.

In particular, the complaint cited Leonen’s dissenting opinions on the grant of bail for former Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile and on the extension of Martial Law in Mindanao.

“His dissenting opinions, which partake of long winded dissertations, are designed to embarrass his colleagues and inflict harm to the reputation of the high court,” the complaint read.

Leonen last month faced a motion by former Sen. Ferdinand Marcos — Rep. Barba's cousin — to inhibit from the poll protest against Vice President Leni Robredo.

Marcos — and the Office of the Solicitor General in a separate and unrelated petition — said Leonen had shown bias against the Marcos family in his dissenting opinion on the burial of the remains of ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani..

Alleged non-filing of SALNs

Like his impeachment complaint against Sereno, Gadon has also accused Leonen of lacking integrity due to his supposed failure to file his SALNs, which the former said is a betrayal of public trust.

The complaint cited a column published in The Manila Times in making the claim that Leonen failed to file his SALN. They also said they based it on a July 2018 memorandum from the Presidential Communications Operations Office, responding to a Freedom of Information request, that said Leonen failed to submit his SALN for the years when he was a professor at the University of the Philippines.

It is unclear why the impeachment complaint was only filed in 2020, when the PCOO issued the memorandum in 2018.

“The willful and intentional disregard of our Constitution evidently proves his lack of integrity. Thus, just like Sereno, he must be disqualified from holding public office,” he added.

Sereno parallels

In 2018, Gadon also accused Sereno, then chief justice, of failing to file her SALNs, in his impeachment complaint. His complaint — endorsed by 25 congressmen — alleging of Sereno’s corruption, violation of Constitution, betrayal of public trust and committing of high crimes.

On March 8, 2018, the House of Representatives Committee on Justices voted 38-2 as it found probable cause to impeach Sereno.

Just three days before the vote, Calida filed his quo warranto petition against Sereno, saying the former chief justice “flunked the test of integrity when she failed to file more or less 10 SALNs.”

In just two months, the SC voted 8-6 to grant the quo warranto petition and declare Sereno’s appointment as chief justice as void.

Leonen is currently the third most senior justice at the SC. When Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta steps down in March 2021— a year ahead of his mandatory retirement — he will be among the justices to receive an automatic nomination for the chief justice post.