A Supreme Court justice should always adhere to the Rule of Law and should not act, in any way, above the law, according to retired SC Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza.
"Why should a Supreme Court justice be above the law?" Jardeleza said, in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel.
Jardeleza made this observation as the Committee on Justice in the House of Representatives is set to commence this week its deliberation on the impeachment complaint filed against Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen for alleged culpable violation of the 1987 Constitution, particularly for failure to file his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).
"It is so simple. If you are a Supreme Court justice, before you become a justice, then you file your SALN. What is so difficult about that?" Jardeleza stressed.
The retired SC magistrate pointed out that government employees, including justices of the Supreme Court, are required to submit their SALNs because it is a constitutional requirement.
"If you don't want SALNs, it's simple, don't go into government," said Jardeleza who also served as Solicitor General before being appointed as justice of the 15-member bench.
Nonetheless, he admitted that it remained an "open question" whether the prescriptive period for failure to file SALNs would apply to a sitting justice.
Jardeleza was referring to the Supreme Court's decision in 2018 that set the 8-year prescriptive period for Republic Act 6731 or Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, which governs the filing of SALNs.
The former SC justice also said that it was a "question of facts" whether Leonen violated the Constitution in failing to resolve cases within 24 months.
"Under the Constitution, the courts are supposed to render their decisions within 5 years I believe from the time final pleadings are filed. Those are the questions of facts involved whether indeed a justice has complied with these requirements of the Constitution,” he said.
"That's for Congress to determine first on the facts, then they will apply the law," he added.
In 2019, the Supreme Court held that the 24-month period in Section 15(1), Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution was "a mere directive to ensure this Court’s prompt resolution of cases, and should not be interpreted as an inflexible rule," he added.
Edwin Cordevilla, secretary-general of the Filipino League of Advocates for Good Government, filed the impeachment complaint against Leonen last December 7.
He cited Leonen’s alleged failure to act timely on cases, as well as his supposed failure to file his SALN.
These allegations had also been used to seek the ouster of the late Chief Justices Renato Corona and Maria Lourdes Sereno.
The complaint was endorsed by Ilocos Norte 2nd District Rep. Angelo Barba, a cousin of defeated Vice Presidential candidate Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos whose electoral protest was supposedly delayed by Leonen.
The Supreme Court, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, has already dismissed Marcos' electoral protest against Vice President Leni Robredo.
Leonen is 1 of the 3 remaining appointees of then President Benigno Aquino III in the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has approved the application of Associate Justice Edgardo delos Santos for optional retirement effective June 30, 2021.
In a notice, the SC revealed that Santos has cited his current state of health as reason for leaving his post one year ahead of his mandatory retirement age of 70 on June 12, 2022.
“Acting on the letter dated May 5, 2021 of Associate Justice Edgardo I. Delos Santos, the Court resolved to approve his request for optional retirement effective June 30, 2021, for reasons pertaining to his current state of health, subject to the availability of funds and usual clearance requirements,” the document stated.
“The Court further resolved to direct the Committee on retirement to coordinate with the Office of Justice Delos Santos regarding the conduct of Justice Delos Santos retirement ceremony,” it said.
Delos Santos served as an associate justice of the Court of Appeals before he was appointed by President Duterte to the Court.
Besides Delos Santos, former Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta had also opted for early retirement.
In November 2020, the Court also approved. Justice Priscilla Baltazar-Padilla ‘s disability retirement just three months after her appointment to the SC.
In a related development, the Judicial and Bar Council has set a public interview of the candidates for the position in the SC that was left vacant following the appointment of Associate Justice Alexander Gesmundo as Chief Justice last April 5.
Scheduled for public interview on June 2, 2021 are Sandiganbayan associate justices Geraldine Faith Econg, and Rafael Lagos, Court of Appeals Associate Justice Ronaldo Robert Martin, and Benedicta Du-Balabad, accountant-lawyer and founder of BDB Law-DU Baladad and Associates.
On June 3, the JBC will interview Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Alex Quiroz, Department of Finance Undersecretary Antonette Tionko and Deputy Court Administrator Raul Villanueva.
Other candidates for the said post but whose public interview are still valid are Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez, CA Associate Justices Japar Dimaampao Apolinario Bruselas, Nina Antonio-Valenzuela, Ramon Cruz, and Maria Filomena Singh, Sandiganbayan associate justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang, and former Ateneo de Manila Law Dean Sedfrey Candelaria.