Sometimes, ‘Justice’ prevails in Congress!

When the impeachment complaint against Mr. Justice Marvic Leonen was filed in December last year on what many believed to be flimsy grounds, I thought the political circus would claim another victim. Citing a newspaper article, the complaint alleged that the justice lacks integrity for failing to file his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth while still teaching law at the University of the Philippines. He was also charged for incompetence and negligence in allegedly failing to resolve or in delaying the resolution of cases assigned to him.

Earlier in September, the Supreme Court denied the request of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) and Atty. Gadon for copies of the justice’s SALN purposely to initiate quo warranto proceedings, which was the same unusual but effective remedy used against then chief justice Sereno. It was also reported that after the denial of the request, the Solicitor General had been persistently hunting for copies of the SALN by writing officials and the governing board of the premier state university.

Why would the chief state counsel pursue the removal of another justice? Was it because of his reputation as a “dissenter” in controversial government cases handled by the OSG? But there were other dissenters too. In the Marcos burial issue for instance, five justices dissented. In the Delima case, four of them dissented. In the quo warranto case against chief justice Sereno, about six justices dissented. And in the Mindanao martial law case, three dissented. It would seem that his views are also shared by others, so why fault him for the way he decides legal issues?

Besides, did he not go 100 percent with the arguments of the solicitor general in his ponencia dismissing the petition questioning the constitutionality of Article 1 of the Family Code, which does not recognize same-sex marriages. This, notwithstanding his personal view of the need to address the suffering of same-sex-couples “who choose to love distinctively, uniquely, but no less genuinely and passionately.” Will this not show judicial impartiality by deciding cases purely on merits regardless of personal beliefs? And if dissenting could be a reason for an impeachment case, what will happen to our country if the Supreme Court could no longer be the last bastion of democracy because the imposed norm is conformity regardless of merit?

Is there anyone else of significant standing, other than the famous “quo warranto tandem,” who would want the justice out of the Padre Faura court? Some suggest that his ponencia in the Marcos electoral protest may have something to do with the impeachment complaint, which was endorsed by a congressman from Ilocos, with a familiar middle name. But did not all the 15 magistrates vote against the election protest? The Supreme Court decides as a collegial body, and any patent baseless bias on the part of the ponente would not escape notice of the other justices.

With only about a year left before the next elections, I think the protestant would be more interested in his preparations for another national campaign, rather than impeach a fellow Ilocano. Could it be the boss in the Palace? It does not make any sense too because almost all sitting justices of the highest tribunal are his appointees and a lone dissenter appointed by the past president should not make any difference. Well, some groups still think it is a form of pre-positioning for the coming elections.

Perhaps, it is the apparent lack of an “interested” party at this time that the complaint suffered an early knockout. Although it may be said that the complaint is baseless in the first place, we know that as a political game, even the lack of personal knowledge on the part of the complainant would have been remedied by resort to subpoenas if Congress wanted to continue.

Not to mention that Congress is not really bound by the strict rules on evidence and it could be very resourceful at times. All the while, I was thinking that our honorable congressmen might prefer a full-blown impeachment hearing at the Senate similar to the trial of then chief justice Corona, where the ensuing real-life drama should allow extra media mileage in aid of re-election. Fortunately for all of us, it will not happen this time. Sometimes, even in a highly politicized body like Congress, “Justice” prevails. With the number of COVID cases still rising, there are more pressing matters that should need the full attention of Congress.

There should be a good reason why justices of the Supreme Court can be removed only by the tedious impeachment process and sparingly on serious grounds. Not any Tom, Dick and Harry could prosecute said case on mundane justifications like failure to file a SALN years before an appointment to the judiciary. But why was the Sereno case treated differently? Did not Atty. Gadon also request for copies of her SALN, which request was granted by the high court? Maybe there is no real conflict of personalities this time, but only occasional clashes of opinions. Or perhaps, the Supreme Court does not want a repeat of Sereno or Corona so as not to suppress dissent, which is but a manifestation of a healthy democracy.

In deciding to grant retirement benefits to then chief justice Corona and survivorship benefits to his widow, the Supreme Court en banc, through the pen of its youngest justice, said: “For the future’s worth, it is herein stressed that the SALN is a tool for public transparency, never a weapon for political vendetta. The Filipino people live, toil and thrive in a democracy, but the rule of law should not stand parallel to the rule of the mob. Toe this line, and the nation may eventually behold the laws that the Courts have forever sworn to uphold battered and bent.”

With the impeachment case thrown to the trash bin, should we not be concerned by the allegation that the justice failed to decide 37 cases within the period prescribed? This brings to mind how some people would call our justice in the country as “just-tiis” which means to endure the bureaucratic processes and delays that could go for years. How true? And why so?

The last I heard, this period to decide is not mandatory but merely directory. I am sure the Supreme Court has an internal mechanism of ensuring that cases should be decided with dispatch. Maybe the House justice committee chairman, who used to be a justice of the Court of Appeals, and the House Speaker himself, who is the son of a former Supreme Court justice, would not have allowed the complaint to be junked outright if the allegations in this regard against the justice are serious enough to warrant a more meticulous evaluation of the issue.

From where I sit, it appears that the justice is doing his job because he is one of the more popular justices of Faura. Lately, he penned the decision in Tan-Andal vs. Andal, which apparently presents a different way of evaluating petitions for nullity of marriage on the ground of psychological incapacity. He is also the chief architect of the first ever automated Bar examinations in the country this November, and it is a big help that the impeachment complaint is now out of his mind. And he is one of the more active justices with the more challenging questions at the oral arguments in the Anti-Terror Act consolidated petitions. I wonder how the good justice would decide or vote in this case, which appears to be the most controversial case of this administration. Will the petitions be dismissed for lack of standing? Abangan!

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