Impeachment raps vs Justice Leonen junked
Voting unanimously, the Lower House Justice Committee has dismissed the impeachment case lodged against Baguio boy Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen on May 27.
The impeachment proceedings stemmed from the case filed by Filipino League of Advocates for Good Governance-Maharlika (FLAGG-Maharlika) Secretary General Edwin Cordevilla for “culpable violation of the Constitution”endorsed by Ilocos Norte Rep. Angelo Barba.
Leonen was also accused of refusing to file his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN).
Impeachment is a constitutional manner to remove justices. Another way is “quo warranto” mode, where the task to end the judicial career of a magistrate is delegated to the SC as what Solicitor General Jose Calida successfully did with former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.
House rules say the committee will first determine if the complaint is sufficient in form. If yes, it will see sufficiency in substance. Substance recites the ultimate facts constituting the charges. If not sufficient, the case is dumped. However, if 100 congressmen will sign the complaint, it will be immediately sent to the Senate for trial, like the Erap impeachment – two-thirds vote to impeach, three-fourth to convict.
FLAGG cited Leonen’s failure to decide at least 37 of 81 cases raffled off to him after his appointment in November 2012 within 24 months from submission of the cases for resolution as per Section 15 (1), Article 8, in relation to Section 16, Article 3 of the Philippine Constitution; arbitrary delay in resolving cases assigned to him as chair of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET); and failure to file his SALN 15 times while serving as professor at the University of the Philippines College of Law.
Impeachment, however, is a political and not a legal/judicial decision, hence determined by the votes of majority and not by evidence or legal jurisprudence.
I was a member of the Justice Committee when we tackled the case of former Ombudsman Aniano Disierto, hence from experience, have a “take” on the matter in favor of our kail-yan Marvic.
First issue – nada (nothing)!
The SC has consistently interpreted the provision as merely directory and not mandatory.
In Enalbes vs. CJ Castro (2019), it ruled: “While the 24-month period constitution is persuasive, it does not summarily bind this Court to the disposition of cases brought before it. It is a mere directive to ensure this Court’s prompt resolution of cases, and should not be interpreted as an inflexible rule.”
To apply the 24-month rule mandatorily would result in the impeachment of more than a majority of the Supreme Court justices, dismissal of appellate justices as well as first level judges. Former Justice Antonio Carpio said the SC renders about 1,000 full-blown decisions every year or an average of 66 full-blown decisions per justice, seven times more productive than their U.S. counterparts.
A justice who on the average writes more than 66 full-blown decisions per year may start to be reckless with his research on the facts and the law if compelled to so do.”
The second issue – nada pa rin!
Leonen was appointed to the HRET in October 2019 and assigned only one case. The HRET rules do not prescribe time periods for members to decide cases assigned to them. There is no time period for deciding HRET cases until the last session day of the term; hence, one cannot say that as HRET chair, he has arbitrarily delayed deciding his sole pending case.
Finally, on the last issue, assuming por arguendo that he failed to file his SALN while he was teaching at UP, such crime has now prescribed.
In Rosario v. People of the Philippines (2018), the SC ruled that the prescriptive period for failure to file a SALN is eight years. He left UP more than 10 years ago.
Under Article 89 of the Revised Penal Code, criminal liability is “totally extinguished” by the prescription of the crime. An unprosecuted prescribed crime with a totally extinguished criminal liability cannot overturn the constitutional presumption of innocence, and thus can never rise to the level of an impeachable offense.
Legally safe but politically in danger, especially if forces are out to unseat him or at least prevent him from becoming chief justice.