House justice panel junks impeachment raps vs SC's Leonen

ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 27 2021 12:15 PM | Updated as of May 28 2021 12:10 AM

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MANILA (3RD UPDATE)— The House Committee on Justice on Thursday unanimously dismissed the impeachment complaint against Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen due to the complainant's lack of personal knowledge on the basis of his filing.

Voting 44-2-0, the members of the panel found that Edwin Cordevilla, secretary-general of the Filipino League of Advocates for Good Government, lacked personal knowledge and authentic documents for his complaint — both of which are key requirements for the impeachment proceedings.

"It is not based on authentic record as required by our rules... All the annexes are Xerox copies and mainly coming from newspaper reports and online reports... A perusal of the complaint itself and the annexes shows that not one matter, not one annex is based on his personal knowledge," Deputy Speaker Rufus Rodriguez said during the 2-hour proceeding. 

"Therefore the complaint is undeniably purely hearsay and the rules of evidence would say that hearsay would not stand in any proceeding," he added.

House Deputy Minority Leader Carlos Zarate had a similar observation about the integrity of Cordevilla's documentary evidence.

"Ang mga ito po ay parang chismis (These are all hearsay)... Gagawin tayong parang (He's using this panel as a) fishing net to possibly justify the allegations he made in his flawed complaint," Zarate said.

The impeachment complaint against Leonen was filed last Dec. 7 citing his supposed failure to act timely on cases and to file his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).

The latter was the same basis that had led to the ouster of the late Renato Corona and Maria Lourdes Sereno as chief justice— his via impeachment and hers via quo warranto.

In accordance with Impeachment Rule 3, Sec. 4, the complaint will be returned to the Secretary General with a written explanation. 

The Secretary General shall return it to the complainant(s) together with the committee’s written explanation within three (3) session days.

LEONEN: HOUSE'S DECISION 'AFFIRMS' BASELESSNESS OF COMPLAINT

In a statement, Leonen said the House panel's unanimous decision "affirmed" the baselessness of the complaints filed against him, noting that the chamber upheld the Judiciary's constitutional independence.

The development, however, is not a reason to celebrate as this should be a reminder to not "waste our time and resources for narrow, parochial, and selfish gains." 

"This has never been a time for recrimination. This is not the time to destroy institutions to satisfy greed and lust for power. We cannot progress by destroying the lives and reputation of others," said Leonen. 

The magistrate said the move also paved the way for a precedent, which "warns against the abuse and trivialization of constitutional processes."

"It is an act that powerfully speaks for itself... the immediate and decisive dismissal of the impeachment complaint affirms our faith in the House of Representatives," Leonen said.

"The House of Representatives has just affirmed the constitutional independence of the Judiciary by not allowing others to take advantage of the vulnerability of its members." 

He cited the House leadership, saying the dismissal shows that it "refuses to be used to debase and degrade sacred constitutional processes for unworthy ends."

House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, meanwhile, said the public should respect the justice committee's decision on the complaint. 

Because of this, Congress could now focus on urgent matters related to COVID-19, he said. 

"With the dismissal of the impeachment complaint against Justice Leonen, Congress can now focus more on the task at hand, which is to produce legislation that would further help our kababayans and the economy recover from the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic," the House Speaker pointed out. 

'JUDICIOUS UNANIMITY'

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines commended the House justice committee's quick dismissal of the impeachment case against Leonen, calling it a "welcome development" following the impeachment of former Chief Justice Renato C. Corona and the ouster of then Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

"The unanimity, dispatch and decisiveness by which the lawmakers and their leaders resolved the case is powerful and commendable. Impeachment is an important constitutional accountability mechanism that should not be invoked on flimsy and dubious grounds," IBP National President Domingo Egon Cayosa said in a statement.

He also said the judiciary should be allowed to do its job without fear of retribution or reprisal.

"May this most recent episode in the impeachment saga renew our hope for the rule of law, strengthen our resolve to promote the independence of the judiciary, and inspire us to confidently and courageously discharge our duties fairly as the facts and the law demand," Cayosa added.

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Leonen is among the last three remaining appointees of former President Benigno Aquino III in the Supreme Court, as the tribunal is now dominated by those handpicked by President Rodrigo Duterte. 

—Reports from RG Cruz and Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News