House lawmakers refer impeachment raps vs Leonen to Justice panel

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 18 2021 09:58 PM

Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen. Photo from Supreme Court of the Philippines website

MANILA - The House of Representatives on Tuesday referred the impeachment complaint against Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen to its Justice Committee, more than 5 months after it was filed. 

The matter was referred by Deputy Speaker and Sagip Rep. Rodante Marcoleta during the plenary session after it was read out by the Secretariat.

House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez said in a statement that the referral now shifts the focus of the impeachment process to the Justice panel. 

Based on the House Rules of Procedure in impeachment proceedings, after hearing and by a majority vote of all its Members, the chamber's Committee on Justice will submit its report to the chamber in 60 session days from the referral, together with the resolution. 

“We believe that the Chairman and Members of the House of Committee on Justice will act judiciously on the impeachment complaint based on constitutional grounds and in accordance with established rules and practices," said Romualdez. 

The impeachment complaint against Leonen was filed last Dec. 7 by Edwin Cordevilla, secretary general of the Filipino League of Advocates for Good Government.

It cited the magistrate's alleged failure to timely act on cases, as well as his supposed failure to file his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN). 

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The latter was used to oust Renato Corona and Lourdes Sereno from their positions as Chief Justice in the past. 

The complaint was endorsed by Ilocos Norte 2nd District Rep. Angelo Barba, a cousin of defeated Vice Presidential candidate Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos whose electoral protest was supposedly delayed by Leonen.

Ako Bicol Rep. Alfredo Garbin, a vice chair of the Justice Committee tasked to study impeachment complaints filed at the House, does not think the Justice panel will have time to tackle the complaint before the June 5 sine die adjournment of Congress. 

Committees, however, have been traditionally allowed to hold hearings during recesses. 

“Tingin ko, mukhang mahihirapan kasi tingin ko lang, sa calendar of business, siyempre yung pagpe-prepare rin ng Committee on Justice, tingnan natin baka syempre pag na-refer yan sa committee, baka mayroon pang opposition na mag-file. So, let's see," said Garbin. 

(I think it will be difficult because, if you will look at the calendar of business, the preparation of the Justice Committee alone and then of course, maybe some lawmakers will also oppose it. So, let's see.) 

The committee is tasked to test the complaint for sufficiency in form, substance, grounds and probable cause. 

“'Yung mga kumite ba naman has its own exclusive jurisdiction. Meron namang time. And since it is our duty and responsibility, under the rules, upon due referral to determine its sufficiency in form and in substance, talagang dapat mag-hearing yung Committee on Justice,” the lawmaker added. 

(The committee has its own exclusive jurisdiction. We have time... The complaint should be heard before the Committee on Justice.) 

Garbin does not think that Leonen will be invited to face the House committee anytime soon. 

“Kung dumating yung oras na kailangan imbitahin, if ever, in the contemplation of the Rules on Impeachment, mayroong proseso na dapat sundin muna," he said. 

(If the time will come where we need to invite him... there is a process to follow first.) 

Should the complaint be deemed sufficient in form and substance, then that is when Leonen would be given 10 days to file his answer, according to Garbin. 

"Kung 'di sufficient in form, siyempre idi-dismiss na kaagad 'yan. Kung sufficient in form naman, [and] determination whether it is sufficient in substance, meaning there is a recital of the grounds relied upon by the complainant, so di pa kailangan ng hearing doon. 'Di pa kailangan ng appearance ng respondent, which is in this case, Justice Leonen." 

(If it is not sufficient in form, the case will be dismissed... But his appearance is not yet needed.) 

"Wala pa ngang appearance doon, papasagutin pa po. Malayo pa yun, kumbaga yung stage kung saan we can require the appearance of the respondent.” 

(We are still far from the stage where we can require his appearance.) 

Leonen is one of the three remaining appointees of then President Benigno Aquino III to the high court—the others being Senior Associate Justice Estela Perlas Bernabe and Associate Justice Benjamin Caguioa. 

The last impeachment proceedings in the House was against Sereno, but the House did not get to vote on her case as her appointment was nullified by the tribunal.