The House of Representatives performed its constitutional duty when it referred to the House Committee on Justice the impeachment complaint filed against Supreme Court Justice Marvic Leonen, Majority Leader Martin Romualdez said Tuesday.
“Before the referral of the impeachment complaint to the Justice Committee, I presided the House Committee on Rules’ regular meeting this afternoon where members overwhelmingly adopted the motion of Iloilo City Rep. Julienne Baronda to include the matter in the Calendar of Business,” Romualdez, representative of Leyte’s first district, said.
Meanwhile, a lawmaker underscored the need for the House of Representatives to give premium on the merits of the impeachment case filed against Leonen and not on suspicion for which the case was filed.
Interviewed over ANC, House Deputy Speaker Rufus Rodriguez said Congress should not be joining the political fray between former Senator Ferdinand Marcos and Vice President Leni Robredo, who were locked in an electoral protest that was allegedly intentionally delayed by Leonen.
“We could not jump to the motive of filing or deciding whether or not it is political. We are going to look at the allegations in the complaints -- whether there are sufficient grounds and evidence for that,” said Rodriguez, himself a legal luminary, when asked to comment on allegations dragging the impeachment complaint as purely political in nature.
Romualdez cited Section 3, Article XI of the 1987 Constitution, which provides that “the House of Representatives shall have the exclusive power to initiate all cases of impeachment.”
“The same section of the constitutional provision mandates the House to act on a verified complaint for impeachment filed by any Member of the House of Representatives or by any citizen upon a resolution of endorsement by any Member thereof,” added Romualdez, a lawyer and chairman of the House committee on rules.
On December 7, 2020, Edwin Cordevilla, secretary general of Filipino League of Advocates for Good Government, filed the impeachment complaint against Leonen. Ilocos Norte Rep. Angelo Barba endorsed the complaint.
Romualdez said Barba properly endorsed the complaint “in accordance with that constitutional provision.”
“The ball is now in the hands of the House Committee on Justice, ably chaired by Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso III who had served as Justice of the Court of Appeals,” Romualdez stressed.
“The Constitution and the House Rules of Procedure in Impeachment Proceedings are clear on the timetable for acting on such a complaint.
The Committee on Justice, after hearing, and by a majority vote of all its Members, shall submit its report to the House within 60 session days from such referral, together with the corresponding resolution,” Romualdez said.
“We believe that the Chairman and Members of the House of Committee on Justice will act judiciously on the impeachment complaint based on constitutional grounds and in accordance with established rules and practices,” he added.
Romualdez earlier said Speaker Lord Allan Velasco sent his committee on March 25 the impeachment complaint filed against Leonen.
Velasco has assured Leonen that he would get a “fair trial” on the impeachment complaint levelled against him.
Cordevilla asserted in his complaints that Leonen deliberately violated several provisions of the 1987 Constitution and betrayed public trust.
Among the bases of Cordevilla’s complaint against Leonen were the alleged snail-paced release of his ponente on 82 cases filed at the Supreme Court, failure to act as chairman of the House Electoral Tribunal on the electoral protests of a number of candidates in the 2019 elections, and his failure to submit his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Networth for 15 years while a law professor and at one time dean at the University of the Philippines College of Law.
Aside from culpable violation of the Philippine Constitution, Leonen was also slapped with violations of Republic Act 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.
According to Rodriguez, while there may be some truth in the allegations of political motive behind the filing of the impeachment case against Leonen, all those have remained speculation.
“So of course, they are saying that this may be connected with the case of former Senator Bongbong Marcos and Vice President Robredo, but we will look beyond all of these allegations and suspicions and we have to go into the complaint,” he added.
Interestingly, Rodriguez admits he still has yet to formally receive a copy of the complaint but vowed to look into its form and substance.
“If there is the existence of these two [form and substance], we will proceed now to requiring the answer, and once we have these documents, we will determine whether the sufficient grounds exist,” the Deputy Speaker further averred.
Rodriguez also warded off cynicism amid fears that the House committee on justice might be used for fishing expeditions.
“Well, with me, I will not allow any attempt for a fishing expedition.
Whatever documents were presented – that’s it. We are here hearing it [impeachment case]. We are not prosecutors at this time yet. We become prosecutors once there’s already an approval of the impeachment articles. But at this point we are here just to judiciously objectively find out whether there is ground,” he said.
The lower legislative chamber earlier insisted on its exclusive jurisdiction over the impeachment complaint filed against Leonen by Cordevilla in his capacity as secretary-general of the Filipino League of Advocates for Good Government “Impeachable officials, like Supreme Court associate justices, can only be removed by impeachment,” Rodriguez earlier said in a virtual press briefing.
“The Constitution is supreme over the rules of court, definitely. I believe that it was a mistake for the Supreme Court to proceed with the quo warranto especially because at that time Congress had already been hearing the impeachment,” he said.
Rodriguez was referring to the removal of then Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno through a quo warranto proceeding in the Supreme Court in 2018.
Quo warranto is a special legal action requiring a person to show by what warrant he occupies a public office or franchise and Sereno was removed because she was found to have failed to file her statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs) when she was a law professor at University of the Philippines.
But Rodriguez said, “It was a violation of the Constitution. It’s very clear, impeachable officials can only be removed by impeachment and there’s no statement there that the quo warranto can be used against an impeachable officer. So that should not be.”
If another quo warranto proceeding is allowed against Leonen, Rodriguez said Congress would “abdicate from its duties as enshrined in the Constitution.”
“So let Congress do its part to be able to comply with the Constitution. Otherwise, the Constitution will be dead letter law if that will not be observed,” he said.
In the impeachment complaint against Leonen, Cordevilla said the associate justice was “unfit to be a member of the judiciary” because the magistrate, like Sereno, failed to file his SALNs when he was a professor at the UP College of Law.
Leonen was also accused of being “negligent and incompetent” in resolving 37 cases in the Supreme Court in violation of the constitutional mandate that cases should be decided within 24 months from the time it is submitted for resolution.
“Administrative proceedings like these require substantial evidence,” he added.
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