‘Unworthy ends’: House panel junks impeach rap vs Leonen
MANILA, Philippines — The House of Representatives’ committee on justice threw out on Thursday the impeachment complaint against Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, saying it comprised mere hearsay.
Voting 44-0 on the first day of deliberations on the complaint’s sufficiency in form and substance, the lawmakers, including a number of House leaders, said the allegations raised against Leonen heavily relied on news reports and were not based on the complainant Edwin Cordevilla’s personal knowledge.
Cordevilla, secretary general of the Filipino League of Advocates for Good Government, filed the complaint on Dec. 7, 2020, with the assistance of Marcos loyalist Larry Gadon, saying Leonen “clearly lacks integrity” for supposedly failing to file his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs) for 15 years during his tenure at the University of the Philippines.
The complaint was endorsed by Ilocos Norte Rep. Angelo Marcos Barba, a cousin of former senator and defeated vice presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.
Leonen was the justice in charge of the electoral protest filed by Marcos Jr. against Vice President Leni Robredo. He was also the “ponente” of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal’s ruling dismissing Marcos Jr.’s protest and claim of poll fraud.
Late last year, Gadon and Solicitor General Jose Calida sought from the Supreme Court, and were denied, copies of Leonen’s SALNs for a quo warranto petition for his removal.
In a statement issued shortly after the dismissal of the complaint, Leonen lauded the House for refusing “to be used to debase and degrade sacred constitutional processes for unworthy ends.”
“A dismissal on the basis of the mere face of the impeachment complaint affirms the baselessness of the grounds raised. It is an act that powerfully speaks for itself,” he said.
Insufficient in form
At the hearing, Deputy Speaker Rufus Rodriguez said the lack of certified true copies of the attachments in the complaint made it “undeniably, purely hearsay.” He said all the annexes were photocopies, and “not one annex is based on [Cordevilla’s] personal knowledge.”
“Therefore, it is not sufficient in form. It is not sufficiently verified. It says ‘my own personal knowledge’ and then what is being attached or being cited are newspaper and online reports of columnists or reporters… And therefore the first requirement that it is true and correct based on personal knowledge was not obtained in this complaint,” Rodriguez said
Said Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman: “Verily, complainant’s lack of personal knowledge and dismal failure to attach the pertinent official certifications or authentic records indubitably make his complaint insufficient in form.”
Lagman also said Cordevilla “vicariously relied on newspaper accounts and columnists’ opinions, which are not authentic records and are invariably hearsay.”
Deputy Minority Leader Carlos Zarate said Cordevilla’s “lack of personal knowledge” of his own allegations “is very apparent.”
“We cannot rely on mere say-so, on hearsay, to impeach our high officials,” Zarate said, adding that Cordevilla “wants to use this committee, this House, in his … fishing expedition.”
Senior Deputy Speaker Salvador Leachon said the complaint was “a mere scrap of paper.”
“Considering that we have so many pressing problems, I think the better way to deal with this is to dismiss this impeachment complaint based on insufficiency as to form,” he said.
Deputy Speaker Bienvenido Abante Jr. said the House should focus on passing bills to address the COVID-19 pandemic “still raging in our country.”
“People are dying every day, and we need all the time we have in Congress to legislate measures that will help our people fight this disease… Do we really need an impeachment during the pandemic? Is this really the right time to do this?”Abante said.
It was Leachon who moved for the dismissal of the complaint, which was unanimously approved by the committee.
Rule 3, Section 4 of the Rules on Impeachment states that when the committee finds a complaint insufficient in form, it must be returned to the secretary general within three session days, with a resolution explaining the insufficiency.
The secretary general will then return the document to the complainant within three session days from receipt of the committee resolution.
The complaint against Leonen was included in the House’s order of business at the resumption of session on May 17, and referred to the committee on justice chaired by Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso III on May 18.
In a statement, Speaker Lord Allan Velasco said “we must respect” the committee’s decision.
“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 ‘kababayan’ and the economy recover from the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Velasco said.
Among the other House leaders who voted to dismiss the complaint were Majority Leader Martin Romualdez and Deputy Speakers Lito Atienza, Rodante Marcoleta, Wes Gatchalian, and Bernadette Herrera-Dy.
Leonen hailed the House leadership for “seek[ing] to focus on the gravest threats that we face today, provide succor to the suffering multitudes of our people, and in the process find ways and means to heal our needless divisions.”
He said that in dismissing the complaint, the House set a precedent that “warns against the abuse and trivialization of constitutional processes.”
Leonen also said he was privileged to have the support of the Supreme Court that “can easily unite on the basis of principle,” as well as his fellow workers in the judiciary, the law profession, the academe, and other sectors of society.
Addressing the “prime movers” of the complaint and their supporters, he said he wished them well.
“There are those in positions of leadership who will clearly see your motives and will do the right thing. Our people clearly see your motives. At the right time, they will do the right thing,” he said.
Leonen promised to continue working “with the same modesty, honor, excellence, and passion for social justice” in the Supreme Court.
—With a report from Tina G. Santos and Inquirer Research
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