House Committee on Justice votes 37-0 to junk impeachment complaint vs Leonen

The House Committee on Justice treated the impeachment complaint against Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen as a mere scrap of paper as it voted unanimously to junk it following a determination that the complaint is insufficient in form.

With all 37 committee members voting in the affirmative, the motion to dismiss the case filed by journalist Edwin Cordevilla was upheld. Deputy Speaker and Cagayan de Oro City 2nd District Rep. Rufus Rodriguez raised the motion as he cited numerous reasons why the complaint should be rejected.

Many of those who attended the first and last hearing of the impeachment case were officials of the Lower House who are clothed with authority to vote as ex-officio members of the House panel chaired by Leyte 3rd District Rep. Vicente Veloso.

Two solons - Rep. Lawrence Fortun (1st District, Agusan del Norte) and Stella Luz Quimbo (2nd District, Marikina City) - inhibited themselves from participating in the committee proceedings.

Fortun is a member of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal while Quimbo is a respondent in a quo warranto petition pending before the tribunal.

Leonen, who is the chairman of HRET, has been accused in the complaint of sitting on the petition to unseat Quimbo.

Cordevilla drew a link between Leonen and Quimbo, pointing out that the SC justice was an appointee of former President Benigno Aquino III while Quimbo is a close political ally.

In a statement on the dismissal of the impeachment case, Speaker Lord Allan Velasco said: “The House Committee on Justice has spoken and we must respect its 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 kababayans and the economy recover from the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

For his reaction, lawyer Larry Gadon, counsel for Cordevilla, lamented the alleged decision was dismissed on a “mere technicality”.

“Any ordinary citizen like the complainant (who) has no means to get certified copies from the SC ,Ombudsman and UP will now be denied his right to seek the removal of impeachable officials for serious violations of the law and the Constitution,” he said.

“For that matter , no impeachment case can ever be filed from hereon with the ruling established by the committee,” Gadon stated.

Former Quezon City Rep. Matias Defensor recently appointed as head of the complainant’s volunteer legal team was not able to speak as a result of the swift dismissal of the case.

Cordevilla, secretary general of the Filipino League of Advocates for Good Government, filed the impeachment case on December 7, 2020. The complaint was endorsed by Ilocos Norte 2nd District Rep. Angelo Marcos Barba.

Cordevilla accused Leonen of culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust for failing to file on certainoccasions his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Networth and for allegedly delaying resolution of 37 SC cases and several HRET cases assigned to him.

However for justice panel members, the impeachment bid deserved outright dismissal for relying on hearsay and for the complainant's failure to present authentic records as evidence to support the complaint.

Rodriguez, former dean of the San Sebastian College of Law, noted that Cordevilla based his complaint on newspaper, news website articles and opinion columns, instead of presenting official documentary evidence that are certified as to authenticity.

“As confirmed by our committee secretary, none of the annexes presented by Cordevilla to support his complaint is authentic. None is certified as originals or as true copies of the original,” he pointed out.

According to Rodriguez while Cordevilla had indeed signed the complaint and professed that the grounds cited are of his personal knowledge, there is no showing in the submitted documents that supported this claim.

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman agreed with Rodriguez’s contention, pointing out that the justice panel has not other recourse but to junked the complaint.

“In lieu of his personal knowledge, complainant vicariously relied on newspaper accounts and columnists’ opinions which are not authentic records and are invariably hearsay,” said Lagman.

He added: “Complainant failed to attach to his complaint the authentic records or official certifications on Justice Leonen’s purported failures to seasonably decide cases and file his SALNs for a number of years prior to his appointment as Associate Justice.”