Universal Support for Justice Leonen

The impeachment complaint filed against Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen is devoid of merit and should not be given due course. It is a direct attack on the independence and integrity of the Supreme Court of the Philippines and the whole Judiciary.

While I have been critical of the impeachment cases against former Chief Justices Corona and Sereno, the Leonen complaint brings the weaponization of impeachment to a new level. Corona and Sereno were both targeted by Presidents Aquino and Duterte for their political differences with them; the Leonen complaint, as speculated by many, seems to be about one particular case. Indeed, I do not so far see the hand of Duterte behind this complaint as it will not benefit him or his daughter Sara or close ally Bong Go, if Leonen is ousted. But some people believe that others will benefit from this impeachment and the removal of Justice Leonen.

For sure, this is not about the integrity of Justice Leonen: “This integrity relies on speaking truth to power and a deep understanding of the law as an instrument for equity, justice, and human rights, which Justice Leonen embodied, and continues to embody, in his work with impoverished communities, as a law professor and dean, as a peace negotiator, and as a respected member of the highest Court of the land.”

Speaking as Justice Leonen’s colleagues, co-workers, and friends working with him in many local farmer and indigenous communities across the Philippines to promote and defend their human rights and ancestral domains, we have seen up close Justice Leonen’s idealism, probity, deep integrity, high professional work ethic, and love for the law as an instrument of justice rather than oppression.

It’s laughable to describe Justice Leonen as having no experience in legal practice. Leonen has used his legal skills for farmers and peasant communities, for indigenous peoples, for human rights victims and for environmental justice. He has appeared at all levels of courts, administrative, and quasi-judicial agencies. He has been an expert, consultant or resource person in many legislative Senate hearings. He argued many cases in the Supreme Court and won several groundbreaking cases.

This impeachment is an international embarrassment. As Friends of the Earth Asia Pacific, have stated, this complaint is “a manifestation of the disturbing trend of shrinking democratic spaces around the world,” highlighting “the decline in democracy and increasing volatility of institutions against the interests of politics.”

Justice Leonen’s colleagues in the faculty of the University of the Philippines College of Law, in a statement which I also signed and has been echoed by many law deans and professors across country, have also issued an unequivocal statement of support:

“Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen, our former Dean, is no stranger to the line of fire. He has stood in it for many years. He continues to do so now—honorably and excellently—in the face of an impeachment complaint that strains the limits of credulity and common sense. The complaint does not state any ground for impeachment—certainly, not the alleged sloth or alleged incompetence or even that he frequently dissents—yet he has been targeted because he dares to uphold the laws and procedures that try to safeguard our electoral processes against the whims and abuses of those seeking greater political power. He is under fire because he remains a steady, sanguine, and intelligent voice against the increasingly unreasonable demands of despots-in-waiting and their cohorts.

“We may not agree with everything he has written while on the Court, but we stand by his character, his integrity, and his principles.  As teachers of the law and formators of future lawyers, we value the freedom to think, and to form, hold, and express an opinion. We aspire for an independent, responsive, relevant, and principled judiciary that stands for, and serves, the people…

“We must not allow this latest assault to send our nation further down the dark road, especially while a global pandemic still hangs over all our heads and threatens to bring our society into despair and destitution. Overcoming the pandemic demands the undivided attention of the Executive and Legislative Branches, and the spectacle of political circuses should not distract the government from this far more important task.”

Former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban and retired Associate Justice Antonio Carpio have argued persuasively that the grounds of SALN and delay in deciding cases are without merit. In addition, several bishops of the Catholic Church, applying a moral lens, have issued strong statements of support for Leonen.

Dean Mel Sta Maria says it best what our esteemed Representatives must do: “As I have previously said, the dismissal of a flimsy impeachment complaint  will benefit two great institutions: the Judiciary and Congress. The legislators’ reputation as ‘clowns,’ lackeys, and an unthinking bunch of media-cravers will be replaced by what the House of Representative ought to be: a national body of deliberative, wise, and fair solons whose true  objective is the paramount interest of the nation.”

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