(Position of Rep. Edcel C. Lagman, member of the Committee on Justice, on 27 May 2021)
Distinguished Chairman Vicente “Ching” Veloso and Members of the Committee on Justice:
I respectfully submit that the impeachment complaint against Supreme Court Associate Justice Mario Victor F. Leonen is insufficient both in form and in substance pursuant to the Rules of Procedure in Impeachment Proceedings of the House of Representatives.
Insufficiency in Form
- Section 3 of the House Rules of Procedure in Impeachment Proceedings provides that the complaint’s verification should be based on complainant’s “personal knowledge” or “authentic records”.
- Complainant’s verification stated that his allegations are based on his “personal knowledge” and “authentic records”. However, a reading of the complaint readily reveals complainant’s lack of personal knowledge respecting the proffered grounds of culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust against Justice Leonen.
- In lieu of his personal knowledge, complainant vicariously relied on newspaper accounts and columnists’ opinions which are not authentic records and are invariably hearsay.
- 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.
- Verily, complainant’s lack of personal knowledge and dismal failure to attach the pertinent official certifications or authentic records indubitably make his complaint insufficient in form.
- “Liberality” as to form may overlook these defects. But it must be recalled that in previous proceedings before the Honorable Committee on Justice, the then Chairman of the Committee announced that henceforth “liberality” will no longer be accorded in assessing sufficiency in form. The reason is that form is not a matter of formality but it is an initial essential prerequisite to be satisfied by the complainant. In fact, it is the least requirement which a complainant must comply with. His default is fatal.
Insufficiency in Substance
- The complaint charges that Justice Leonen committed culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust for failure to decide within 24 months around 37 cases assigned to him. Justice Leonen is accused of purportedly violating Section 15 (1) of Article VIII of the Constitution which provides that “All cases or matters … must be decided or resolved within 24 months from date of submission for the Supreme Court”.
- The Supreme Court has categorically and consistently held that for Supreme Court justices and for the High Court itself, the subject constitutional provision is merely directory, not mandatory, because “magistrates must be given discretion to defer the disposition of certain cases to make way for other equally important matters in this Court’s agenda”, and as “the court of last resort, this Court should be given ample amount of time to deliberate on cases pending before it.” (In Re: Complaint-Affidavit of Elvira Enables, et. Al., against Former Chief Justice Leonardo-De Castro, A.M. No. 18-11-09-SC; Marcelino v. Hon. Cruz, Jr., G.R. No. L-42428, March 18, 1983; and Coscolluela v. Sandiganbayan, G.R. No. 191411, July 15, 2013).
- Verily, non-compliance with directory matters does not constitute an impeachable offense.
- Justice Leonen allegedly failed to submit his SALN for the years 1989-2003 and 2008-2009. Granting again that this is true, it cannot be a ground for impeachment because:
- a)The alleged failure happened before Justice Leonen was appointed Associate Justice in 2012. An impeachable incumbent official should only be impeached for offenses committed during his incumbency. This would foreclose malevolent searches for bygone skeletons in distant closets. Moreover, Justice Leonen’s qualifications and compliance with mandatory requirements have been vetted by the Judicial and Bar Council;
- b)The offense of failure to file SALNs prescribes after eight years pursuant to RA No. 6713 (incorporating the SALN Law) in relation to RA 3326 (prescription of offenses in special laws). This is doctrinal (Del Rosario v. People, G.R. No. 199930, June 27, 2018; and Republic v. Cojuanco, Jr., et al, G.R. No. 139930, June 26, 2012) The last year when Justice Leonen allegedly failed to file his SALN was 2009, the prosecution of which prescribed in 2017. Since impeachment proceedings are akin to criminal prosecution, then Justice Leonen cannot be impeached for an offense which has already prescribed or lapsed. Prescription both bars prosecution and impeachment.
ACCORDINGLY, it is respectfully submitted that the impeachment complaint filed by Mr. Edwin M. Cordevilla against Supreme Court Associate Justice Mario Victor F. Leonen must be dismissed for insufficient in form and substance.
EDCEL C. LAGMAN