Lawyers, judges, rights advocates rally behind Leonen, slam ‘baseless’ impeach rap

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 12 2020 02:22 PM | Updated as of Dec 12 2020 02:33 PM

Lawyers, judges, rights advocates rally behind Leonen, slam ‘baseless’ impeach rap 1
Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen. Photo from the Supreme Court of the Philippines website

MANILA — More than a hundred of Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen’s former colleagues and friends expressed support for the magistrate this week as he faced an impeachment complaint, calling the ouster bid “baseless and unfounded.”

In a statement dated Dec. 10, lawyers, regional trial court judges, environment and human rights advocates, and students said the complaint filed against Leonen directly assaults the integrity of the High Court and “should not be given due course.”

“This impeachment complaint cannot be allowed to pass, for the sake of the independence of the Supreme Court, and for the sake of continued nation-building with national institutions that can withstand the vagaries of our volatile politics,” the statement read.

The signatories said they had worked with Leonen and have known him personally, adding that his efforts to defend the rights of local farmers and indigenous communities across the nation prove his “idealism, probity, deep integrity, high professional work ethic, and love for the law as an instrument of justice rather than oppression.”

The magistrate, whose term is to expire in 2032, is facing an impeachment complaint before the House of Representatives for alleged betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution.

It alleged that Leonen committed betrayal of public trust when he failed to file his Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) for 15 years during his tenure at the University of the Philippines.

“The complaint is utterly baseless and unfounded, and should not be given due course. The complaint constitutes a direct attack on the independence and integrity of the Supreme Court of the Philippines. This integrity relies on speaking truth to power and a deep understanding of the law as an instrument for equity, justice, and human rights, which Justice Leonen embodied, and continues to embody,” the statement explained.

“As his close professional colleague for decades, we have seen him employing his considerable legal skills for farmers and peasant communities, for indigenous peoples, for human rights victims as well as families of the involuntarily disappeared, for environmental issues, and for consumers,” it added.

Leonen’s former students at the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Law, meanwhile, said his dedication and practice of the law “have been sources of both inspiration and respect.”

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“He mentored many students in their first experience in litigation. As Dean of the UP College of Law, he paved the way for many of us to follow careers in alternative law from human rights to environmental advocacy,” they said in the statement.

The associate justice had served as dean of the UP College of Law and became director of its legal aid program.

In apparent response to criticisms on Leonen’s litigation experience, his supporters said the magistrate has appeared at all levels of courts, may it be in administrative or quasi-judicial agencies.

“He was an expert, consultant or resource person in many Congressional and Senate hearings. He argued many cases in the Supreme Court… And yes, he won several of these groundbreaking cases. Indeed, to describe Justice Leonen as having no experience in legal practice is an extreme falsity.”

Leonen earlier said he was confident House leaders would “do the right thing” in prioritizing more “urgent and pressing needs of our people” instead of “false issues raised by some for clearly personal or vindictive reasons.”

Before he was named to the high court in 2012, Leonen was the government's chief peace negotiator with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Leonen graduated magna cum laude from the UP School of Economics in 1983. He completed his law degree in UP in 1987. He joined the lawyer's rolls on May 28, 1988.

— Report from Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

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