SC blocks attempt to secure Leonen's SALN for quo warranto plea

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 15 2020 05:52 PM | Updated as of Sep 15 2020 08:52 PM

Solicitor General Jose Calida, lawyer Lorenzo Gadon, and SC Associate Justice Marvic Leonen. ABS-CBN News/file; Noel Celis, AFP

MANILA – The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a request of lawyer Lorenzo Gadon and the Office of the Solicitor General to secure the statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) of SC Associate Justice Marvic Leonen for a possible quo warranto petition.

“I would like to confirm that the Supreme Court in today’s En Banc session unanimously resolved to deny the request of the Office of the Solicitor General and Atty. Lorenzo G. Gadon for copies of the SALN of and other information pertaining to SC Associate Justice Marvic Mario Victor F. Leonen, for purposes of preparing a Quo Warranto petition,” SC spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka said in a statement.

“Justice Leonen took no part in the resolution,” he added.

No reasons were given for the denial of the requests. Hosaka said it is best to wait for the written order.

WHAT LED TO RULING

Gadon, who filed an impeachment complaint against ousted Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, wrote to the Office of the Solicitor General on Sept. 7, urging it to look into the SALN of Leonen, invoking similarities with Sereno’s ouster.

“If Sereno was ousted from the Supreme Court due to lack of integrity as exemplified by her non filing of SALNs in UP for many years, then there is no reason why the same standard should not be applied to AJ Leonen,” he said in the letter.

“I therefore respectfully urge and request the Office of the Solicitor General to instate Quo Warranto proceedings against AJ Leonen,” he added.

He also sent a request for Leonen’s SALNs from 1990 to 2011 to the SC Clerk of Court on Sept. 9.

Gadon said the Supreme Court had earlier given him copies of Sereno's SALNs in 2017 which became one of the grounds for his impeachment complaint vs. Sereno.

Tuesday’s SC ruling is the first confirmation that the OSG acted on Gadon’s request by making a similar request for Leonen’s SALN. 

SC sources said the letter from the OSG indicated the purpose for the request – for the preparation of a quo warranto petition, as Hosaka said in his announcement.

Solicitor General Jose Calida actively sought for the removal of Sereno by initiating the quo warranto petition. He once claimed her ouster as his “legacy” to Philippine jurisprudence.

Sereno was ousted through a previously-unheard of quo warranto petition that questions the qualifications of the holder of a public office. 

While sitting SC justices were previously thought to be removed only through impeachment, the Sereno ruling paved the way for a new method – one where magistrates will have the chance to vote on the fate of their colleague.

In Sereno’s case, the SC voted 8-6 to remove her as chief justice, with 9 justices believing she violated SALN requirements.

The late Chief Justice Renato Corona, meantime, was removed from his post for failing to declare around $2.4 million in bank deposits. A separate account worth P80.7 million supposedly co-mingled with relatives was also excluded from his SALNs.

TE: SC MOVING ON FROM QUO WARRANTO

Former SC spokesperson Theodore Te believes Tuesday’s unanimous vote could be a sign the high court is stepping away from that mode of removing a fellow justice.

“[T]he unanimous vote, the quickness of the action (no comment, just deny) and the brevity of the resolution may indicate that the Court is moving on from Quo Warranto as a method for removing a member of the Court,” he said in a message to ABS-CBN News.

The high court’s unanimous vote to reject the request for Leonen’s SALN and other records differs from the SC’s grant in 2017 of the request for documents filed by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) and the Vanguard of the Philippine Constitution, Inc. (VPCI) to support the impeachment complaint against Sereno. 

These documents however did not include SALNs.

Several justices also testified before the House Justice committee against the ousted chief justice, claiming Sereno broke the principle of collegiality and internal rules. Two of them – then Associate Justices Lucas Bersamin and Diosdado Peralta – eventually went on to become chief justices.

But Te says Leonen’s case can’t be directly compared with Sereno’s.

“You may recall that the House was hearing the complaints for the impeachment, not yet the Court; and the records were requested by the House, not by anyone else. The QW was filed while the House was hearing the complaints. The Court granted the House requests,” he explained.

“[T]here was no Quo Warranto filed here but that the SC already acted to deny the requests, clearly designed for a Quo Warranto petition, may be a signal to the SolGen to move on,” he said.

Te said the Sereno ouster through the quo warranto petition was “pro hac vice” or only for that occasion. 

Legal experts and even dissenting justices have warned about the grave consequences of the Sereno quo warranto ruling, with Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa calling it "seppuku without honor" and Leonen himself calling it "legal abomination."