Leonen defends judicial independence

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 13 2018 08:32 PM | Updated as of Jan 17 2020 05:19 PM

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MANILA - Associate Justice Marvic Leonen on Tuesday rejected claims that the Supreme Court has become "heavily politicized" and that there is "interference" by other branches of government.

Speaking at a career talk before law students at the University of the Philippines College of Law, where he previously served as dean, Leonen exhorted students to be "critical."

"Narratives that are created about the court that it is heavily politicized, I would ask myself, bakit kaya sinasabi heavily politicized? Kanino nanggaling? What is the definition of being politicized?," he asked the crowd. 

This was in response to a question alluding to allegations that the Supreme Court has become heavily politicized as a result of attempts to oust Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

Leonen was careful not to comment on the impeachment case against Sereno but defended the independence of Supreme Court justices.

His rare remarks also came amid talk about infighting within the high court after several magistrates testified against Sereno at impeachment proceedings at the House of Representatives. 

"Justices of the Supreme Court are very independent individuals to each other and I can say that for a fact," he said, citing instances where justices would come out with dissenting opinion on high court rulings.

"When you say political in the sense of a political result like for instance this person wins over the other because you simply want that person to win, I think that is not being judicial. What is being judicial is you do what is right regardless of the political consequences, even if it is not within the expectation of many of the people that pretend to know you. The court is not supposed to cater to votes or popularity," he explained.

Sereno, the country's first female Chief Justice, is facing an impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Lorenzo Gadon for her alleged failure to properly declare her income and supposedly committing administrative lapses, among others.

She is currently on leave after her fellow justices agreed that she should take an indefinite break from her duties as she faced impeachment proceedings.

The chief magistrate is also facing a petition filed by the Office of the Solicitor General seeking to void her 2012 appointment.

Leonen also questioned what claims of "interference" by other branches of government actually means.

"When you say interfere, that's a very loaded statement because then you have to prove, anong interference? What interference?," he asked.

"When there are proceedings in other departments and there are choices made by individual members to testify because they believe it's a constitutional process, is that interference or is that wise use of judicial discretion," he added, pointing out that he was not referring to a particular case.

"When we require somebody to comment on a petition filed against the executive and that executive does comment, it is not interference, it is answering our order," he said.

"I would be very careful in saying there is interference," he warned.

Leonen, who has himself faced criticism online for his supposed role in the High Court decision prompting Sereno's indefinite leave, asked students to take information they receive with a grain of salt.

"Ano ba ebidensya natin? What do you know?"

“Do you actually know it or did somebody tell you? And when you actually know it, what is it that you know? Porke ba nag-appear, ibig sabihin there is already interference (Just because it appeared, does it mean there is already interference)?," he said.

"Or can you look at constitutional process, read the actual text, and that's what I was suggesting, read exactly the text of the constitution, what does it say?," he continued.

"Because believe me, before any of us move, we have our constitution and our laws and we read it because that is our sworn duty. I may disagree with what another justice does but I would be very careful in characterizing it or caricaturing it as interference. Not immediately, that is," he added.
Sereno had earlier downplayed reports of infighting between her and other magistrates of the Supreme Court.

"In any organization, there will be occasions when these kinds of problems will arise, but I'm sure that in time, when the dust settles, we will all come around again and move forward to be the bringer of justice to the people," she said.