Abuse of impeachment process must be penalized

The unanimous vote by the House committee on justice on May 27 dismissing on its first hearing the impeachment complaint against Supreme Court Associate Justice Mario Victor “Marvic” Leonen was the right thing to do. It should not even have reached that stage, wasting legislative time and resources.

The 40-page complaint, filed by Edwin Cordevilla, secretary-general of a group called Filipino League of Advocates for Good Governance-Maharlika (FLAG-Maharlika), was garbage. Lawyer Larry Gadon, a self-confessed “true blooded Marcos loyalist,” helped draft it.

Ilocos Norte Rep. Angelo Marcos-Barba, a cousin of former senator Bongbong Marcos, endorsed the complaint that was based heavily on newspaper articles, disregarding the principal requirement in impeachment proceedings that the complainant must have personal knowledge of the commission of crimes accused.

It was meant to be trashed outright.

When the complaint was filed in December 2020, Marcos had a pending electoral protest before the Supreme Court, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET). The PET dismissed the poll protest last April, saying that Marcos failed to prove his claim that he was cheated in the 2016 vice-presidential race and that his “allegations appeared bare, laden with generic and repetitious allegations and lacked critical information” regarding the alleged irregularities.

Leonen has long been the subject of black propaganda, many of which have been attributed to people identified with Marcos, although they have been expectedly denying that the former senator had a hand in those.

The dismissal of the impeachment complaint against the magistrate was not only the logical thing to do for the House members but it was also a face-saving act to show that the chamber won’t allow itself to be used for political harassment.

The question raised during the justice committee hearing by Deputy Speaker Bienvenido Abante, a Duterte ally, is interesting. “Are we supposed to impeach a justice of the Supreme Court because of his political beliefs or his affiliations, or who appointed him? Is that what the Constitution states?”

The next election is less than a year away and politicians are now in a race to earn as many “pogi points” as they could. Does the unanimous vote of 44 lawmakers to dismiss the impeachment complaint against someone who has been tagged as an anti-Duterte justice show the president’s diminished influence in the legislature?

It could also mean that the House committee members either don’t find Bongbong Marcos charming enough to have even a single token vote on the complaint or wanted to prove his critics wrong that he was behind the impeachment move.

The complaint charged Leonen with culpable violation of the Constitution stemming from his failure to resolve 82 cases, including the Marcos protest case, within the required 24-month period. He was also accused of betrayal of public trust for failing to file his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs) from 1989 to 2003 and 2008 to 2009, or a total of 15 years, including the time he was the dean of the College of Law at the University of the Philippines (UP).

Perhaps it was only Gadon who believed his own assertion that the filing of the impeachment complaint against Leonen had nothing to do with the fact that Barba and Marcos are relatives.

The complaint was filed after Gadon and Solicitor General Jose Calida failed to unseat Leonen through a quo warranto petition, the same legal maneuver used in successfully ousting former chief justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno in May 2018 for failing to file her SALNs when she was teaching at UP.

The sometimes funny but often obnoxious Gadon has described Leonen as incompetent, biased and lazy, and unqualified to be part of the high court. Leonen is one of the three remaining Aquino appointees in the Supreme Court.

Prior to his appointment to the Supreme Court as its 172nd associate justice on Nov. 21, 2012, Leonen had over 24 years of legal experience, according to his biography in the Supreme Court’s 2012 annual report.

On the other hand, Gadon was suspended from legal practice for three months due to “abusive and intemperate language.”

The impeachment complaint wasted so much of the time, money and effort not only of the congressmen and the congressional staff but also of Leonen who had to answer the allegations.

One measure “in aid of legislation” that could come out of this episode would be for a penal provision against people abusing the impeachment process to harass officials for selfish ends. This would put a stop to nuisance complaints such as the one that Gadon and Cordevilla filed against Leonen.

The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.
This column also appeared in The Manila Times.