Justice Leonen threatens free speech and press freedom?

Published November 20, 2020, 11:18 PM

by Rj Nieto


RJ Nieto
RJ Nieto

Do we, as a nation, deserve to have someone like Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen?

Leonen, the 3rd most senior in Padre Faura, has the highest number of pending Supreme Court cases among his peers. His 82-case backlog is 22 more than those of the other four senior justices combined. Yes, it’s THAT bad.

Despite this apparent history of indolence, Leonen was made ponente of the extremely time-sensitive electoral protest case between former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos and Vice president Leni “Daang Matuwid” Robredo.

Why time-sensitive? A VP sits for just six years, automatically making the protest case moot if it can’t be resolved within that period, just like the Mar Roxas’ 2010 PET protest against then VP Jejomar Binay.

Leonen, after replacing Justice Ben Caguioa as ponente, sat on the Marcos v. Robredo case for eleven months. Afterwards, he penned a Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) resolution asking Comelec and the Office of the Solicitor General (SolGen) for comment, effectively allowing himself to sit on the protest case for two more months and counting.

I care little about who wins this case for as long as it is significantly resolved. That is, I want the Supreme Court to rule on whether cheating was so bad that it changed the VP winner, if only to restore some of the public’s faith in the electoral process.

That there was cheating is hardly debatable: even Vice-President Leni Robredo believes that massive cheating happened in 2016, after she filed a counter-protest seeking the recount of over 8,000 precincts.

That there was cheating is clear, and the remaining question is whether there was enough cheating to change the outcome.

But such a significant resolution won’t happen if Leonen, who has a penchant for sitting on cases, is in charge of writing it.

Exasperated over Leonen’s chronic inaction, Marcos and SolGen Jose Calida separately filed motions seeking Leonen’s inhibition from the PET case.

Aside from Leonen’s massive case backlog, both camps alleged the magistrate’s patent bias against Marcos. Calida and Marcos separately cited, among others, a Manila Times report that cites an internal court documents that Leonen himself wrote. The document, entitled “Reflections,” shows that Leonen intended to dismiss the case even before he took over it.

Various news outlets, citing confidential court sources, recently said the Supreme Court denied these motions and ordered Manila Times reporter Jomar Canlas to explain why he shouldn’t be cited for contempt.

Canlas cited a court source who saw the document, so he should have been protected by the 1946 Sotto Law (RA No. 46). Despite that, here came SC’s threat to penalize the journalist. The Supreme Court, an institution that should uphold freedom of the press, seems to be shooting the messenger, and this indubitably has a chilling effect on free speech.

Recent reports, however, indicate that the show cause order was – and is still just – a 30-page draft resolution.  Yes, there’s still no vote on the draft document that Leonen himself wrote.

Draft resolutions are circulated among justices for their concurrence or dissension. I cannot see any logical reason a justice would tell the press the motions have been decided even if they’re not, except when the leak came from the justice who is most interested in the case.

Leonen didn’t bother to deny the inaccurate reports despite the clear and dangerous misunderstanding that has arisen. Leonen has a history of denying inaccurate news reports, yet the magistrate, who is a prolific Twitter user, never even tweeted anything about it. That is, the public can help but view Leonen’s inaction as his tacit approval of the inaccurate reportage.

The irony? Leonen’s camp seemingly wrote and leaked a confidential SC document that castigates a journalist for reporting about a confidential SC document.

Borrowing words from George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Leonen appears to be sending a message that all Filipinos are equal, but some Filipinos are more equal than others. He seems to be telling us that we can all have the right to free speech, but his rights are greater than ours.

Leonen, through his inaction over Supreme Court cases, bastardizes the constitutionally guaranteed right to the speedy disposition of cases. But not content with that alone, here comes Leonen also making a mockery of the constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech.

We Filipinos deserve better.

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