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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Saving Leonen

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"What’s keeping the SC from releasing Leonen’s SALN?"


There’s more to it than meets the eye.

While we welcome the Supreme Court’s decision to grant the request of the Corona family to release the retirement benefits of the late Chief Justice Renato Corona, we cannot help but wonder at how generalized its explanation was, which could somehow explain why the High Court has to date, refused to release copies of the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth of Associate Justice Marvic Leonen.

In a statement it issued after it granted the request of the widow of the late Chief Justice, the SC said: “For the future's worth, it is herein stressed that the SALN (Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth) 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,” it added.

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“Does omission in the SALN belong to the same class, as for example, treason, bribery?” the SC said.

Of course, I have long maintained that Corona should have never been removed from his post for the flimsy reason of omissions in his SALN entry. It was a correctable offense. Even the Civil Service Commission acknowledges erroneous entries in SALNs can be corrected.

In a case recently decided by the Court of Appeals, it cleared a Bureau of Customs  official earlier suspended by the Office of the Ombudsman for failure to declare specific assets in his SALN.

In a 15-page decision, the Seventh Division of the appellate court reversed and set aside the six-month suspension order issued by the Ombudsman against BOC collector Romalino Gabriel Valdez in July 2015.

So, clearly Corona should have not been removed from office on the basis of an erroneous SALN.

Even the late Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, in casting her vote in Corona’s impeachment trial, voiced her opposition in using the erroneous SALN basis for convicting the late Chief Justice.

Unfortunately, the feisty senator, along with Senators Bongbong Marcos and the late Joker Arroyo, failed to convince their colleagues who later on, were found to have received additional benefits from former President Noynoy Aquino in the form of the Disbursement Acceleration Program.

Presently, Leonen is also facing issues concerning his SALN. But not for the same reason as that of Corona. Leonen’s issue is that of an alleged non-filing of his SALN and submission of SALN is a pre-requisite in applying for a post in the High Court.

And it was for that reason that Maria Lourdes Sereno’s appointment as Chief Justice had been invalidated through a quo warranto proceeding.

So, what’s keeping the SC from releasing Leonen’s SALN? Is it because as they have stated in their decision on Corona that SALN “is a tool for public transparency, never a weapon for political vendetta.”

But again, Corona’s and Leonen’s cases are worlds apart. Corona’s is correctible while that of Leonen cannot be corrected without submitting copies of his SALN during the time he was in government service prior to his application to the SC. Without this, he could have never been even nominated for the post. Even the SC has stated that Corona was removed from office by virtue of his erroneous SALN through an impeachment which is political in nature, while quo warranto is judicial — that could be the fate facing Leonen.

The SC, I believe, should release copies of Leonen’s SALN, if indeed he has filed, or a statement stating he has none to avoid suspicions they are just trying to save the neck of their colleague.

And by the way, it seems there are also other parties who might be trying to save Leonen. 

In an article written by dear friend Ben Rosario of the Manila Bulletin, he raised the possibility of Speaker Lord Allan Velasco violating the Constitution when he failed to include the impeachment complaint filed by Ed Cordevilla against Leonen within 10 session days after its filing.

According to Rosario, Congress had already met in a hybrid session for at least 15 days, five days beyond what is stated in the Constitution.

However, Rosario quoted Deputy Speaker and Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez saying that under the rules of the Lower House, the regulation ten days given to Velasco to put the impeachment complaint has not been violated.

But Rosario quickly pointed out that House sessions were only suspended for four times on February 1, 2, 3 and 8, meaning they were in session for already 11 days, one day beyond the required period.

So why the delay?

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