Chief Justice Bersamin chooses dissenter Leonen to give testimonial

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 09 2019 02:19 PM | Updated as of Mar 09 2019 02:21 PM

MANILA - Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen may have frequently dissented to Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin’s decisions, but the former was still the top magistrate's choice to give him a testimonial. 

The Chief Justice disclosed this during a testimonial dinner hosted by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines in his honor at the Manila Hotel on Friday night.

Leonen earlier praised the Chief Justice for his decisions, including those declaring former President Benigno Aquino III’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) unconstitutional when it was challenged before the high court, and granting the first-ever writ of amparo in favor of abducted brothers Reynaldo and Raymond Manalo during his stint at the Court of Appeals.

(A writ of amparo is a protective remedy against a public official or private individual whose unlawful act or inaction threatens the life, liberty and security of a person.)

Leonen dissented to Bersamin’s ponencias granting bail to former Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, acquitting former President and now House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of plunder, and reversing the ruling in the case filed by the Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines against Philippine Airlines.

In the Enrile ruling, Leonen called the decision “political accommodation” and wrote that “the ponencia passed around a final copy of the majority opinion which was not the version voted upon during the morning’s deliberation” to explain the delay in the announcement of the magistrates’ vote and the promulgation of judgment.

Media reported that Bersamin lodged a complaint against Leonen for alleged “gross distortion” but Leonen would later explain in a subsequent ruling that it was not his intention to cast doubt on the vote.

“A dissenting opinion, in my view, should be read to express the principled view of its author regarding the facts, issues, legal principles, and interpretative methodologies that should be applied in a case. It is never the forum to cast doubt on the character of esteemed colleagues,” he wrote.

On Friday, Leonen credited Bersamin for his humility and willingness to listen to the views of different justices, noting that in the DAP case, there were a lot of exchanges and compromises in the language of the decision.

“We left the case knowing all of us were properly heard,” he shared, calling this a mark of a true leader.

Far from divine intervention, Leonen said Bersamin deserves the post because of his “skill, temperament and wisdom.”

In his speech, Bersamin thanked Leonen for his kind works and acknowledged him as the only choice for the testimonial.

“I have no other in mind when I was requested by the IBP to choose a colleague who would say so many bad and good things for me,” the Chief Justice said.

"Marvic and I have come a long way from the time he joined the Court and I tried to persuade him to join the majority more but he would not budge. He would always say I am content to be the lone dissenter,” he added.

“I hope that you will follow in my footsteps and become a second chief justice from the Cordillera,” he said. Leonen hails from Baguio City.

The lack of consultation with the SC en banc had been one of the issues against ousted Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. Leonen had voted against Sereno’s ouster of the basis of a quo warranto petition while Bersamin sided with the majority.

Bersamin testified during a House impeachment probable cause hearing that Sereno violated the principle of collegiality in the high court because of her unilateral acts.

Bersamin referred to the “period of turbulence” in the high tribunal on Friday.

“This was something that was bigger than any of us,” he said.

“But a turbulence is just like a turbulence that you experience while you are in-flight. It will only hit for two seconds and then it is done,” he added.

No less than the Integrated Bar of the Philippines National President Abdiel Dan Elijah Fajardo recognized Bersamin’s push for collegiality in the high court.

“We thus note with exultation how the Chief Justice has pushed for the restoration of true collegiality in the Highest Court. We need that today, especially in the context of the legal profession facing existential challenges from several fronts,” he said.

The IBP had earlier taken the position that the SC had no jurisdiction over integrity issues against Sereno through a quo warranto petition since the proper way to remove a sitting justice is through impeachment.

Bersamin recognized Fajardo’s position during the height of Sereno’s quo warranto proceedings but did not take his position against him.

“I do not know him personally that much but I remember that during the hullaballoo [about] Chief Justice Meilou (Sereno), he was very noisy but you know there is a value to that noise…We need a man like him to stand up for somebody,” he said.

The IBP had also endorsed Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio for the top magistrate post to replace retired Chief Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro on account of Carpio’s seniority.

But during Friday’s testimonial dinner, which coincided with Bersamin’s 101st day in office, Fajardo lauded the Chief Justice’s appointment.

Bersamin was named to the post in November 2018. 

“The appointment of CJ Luke Bersamin, a grizzled veteran with more than 30 years in the judiciary, is a strong testament to the fact that recognizing tradition and hierarchy will bring us to renewed optimism in the legal profession,” he said.

“Political imagery may somehow blur the lines but a proven track record and years of experience will never lie,” he added.

The Chief Justice had one advice for Fajardo:

“If you were to counsel any president in the future, please caution your client not to be appointing one who will last on that bench for more than 5 years. That is too long,” he said.

Sereno was supposed to serve as chief magistrate until 2030 or for a period of 18 years. Her term was cut short last year with her ouster, after almost 5 years in office.

The IBP testimonial dinner was attended by Bersamin's family, fellow SC justices, former Chief Justice De Castro, and other justices from the Court of Tax Appeals and the Sandiganbayan.

Representatives from other government agencies were also present, including Judicial and Bar Council members Sen. Richard Gordon and Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra.