MANILA, Philippines — Support for Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen amid an impeachment complaint filed against him are growing, with now over 200 of his former colleagues and friends saying the plan to unseat him is unfounded and is a direct attack on the high court's independence.
The impeachment rap Leonen is facing is mainly due to his supposed failure to resolve 37 cases in two years, which lawyer Larry Gardon who filed the complaint before Congress, said constitutes the grounds for culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust.
Gadon, who had filed a similar impeachment complaint against then Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, is representing Edwin Cordevilla of the group who call themselves as the "Filipino League of Advocates for Good Government."
Leonen had since responded to the ouster bid, saying it may come uncalled for attending to "false issues raised by some for clearly personal or vindictive reasons," as the country weathers an ongoing pandemic.
"The complaint is utterly baseless and unfounded, and should not be given due course," read the statement of support for the magistrate. "[It] 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."
Those who had worked with him described Leonen as a "towering figure among his peers" at the University of the Philippines, where he served as law dean, and his rise to the Supreme Court "reflects his journey towards becoming one of the Philippines' top constitutional law scholars."
"We witnessed Justice Leonen's idealism, probity, deep integrity, high professional work ethic, and love for the law as an instrument of justice rather than oppression," they continued.
Some of the signatories include former senator Wigberto "Bobby" Tañada, law professors Tony La Viña and Rowie Daroy Morales, human rights lawyers Chel Diokno, Neri Colmenares, Judy Taguiwalo, ex-Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te, as well as Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, who is a former UN special rapporteur on the rights of the indigenous peoples.
Deputy Speaker Rufus Rodriguez (Cagayan de Oro), vice chairman of the House Judiciary Committee has said that hearings related to the impeachment bid against Leonen may have to wait after Congress resumes work early next year, with only a few remaining session days before the lower chamber adjourns for the holidays.
"We cannot rush this also because we are talking here about a member of the highest court of the land," he said.
In September, the high court had rejected requests from Gadon and as it appears, from the Office of the Solicitor General, for a copy of Leonen's wealth declaration for a quo warranto petition.
It was the same method that saw the unprecedented ouster of Sereno by her own co-magistrates by a vote of 8-6, and had left the tribunal reeling from conflict within.
Leonen is currently the third most senior justice at the Supreme Court and will be among the justices to receive an automatic nomination for the chief justice post come March 2021, when incumbent Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta steps down, a year before he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70.
"Personal and professional integrity and honor, coupled with a deep sense of responsibility for the welfare of local communities, continue to be hallmarks of Justice Leonen’s leadership," his ex-colleagues' statement of support added.
At 58, Leonen, who was named to the high court in 2012, still has 12 years in his stint before retiring in 2032. — with reports from Kristine Joy Patag, Xave Gregorio
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