Leonen impeachment junking a positive turn

AT GROUND LEVEL - Satur C. Ocampo - The Philippine Star

The unanimous vote to dismiss the impeachment complaint against Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen may be seen as a positive turn thrice over: for the Supreme Court, for Congress (the House of Representatives and the Senate) and for the Filipino people.

All 44 House committee on justice members in attendance – 37 solons plus 7 House leaders sitting as ex-officio members – voted to throw out the complaint last Thursday after looking into its sufficiency in form and in substance. They found the complaint lacking in both requisites.

For the Supreme Court, the House decision removes a pesky distraction from its two urgent tasks at hand: to rule on the 37 petitions questioning the constitutionality, in whole or in part, of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020; and to respond to several calls for judicial actions on the killings of and threats against lawyers and judges as well as against the clients, especially of human rights lawyers.

On the part of the Legislature, Speaker Lord Allan Velasco himself said: “Congress can now focus more on the task at hand, which is to produce legislation that would further help our kababayans and the economy to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Should the actions by the SC and Congress go by what they promised, these would be of benefit to the Filipino people.

Immediately responding to the complaint’s dismissal, Justice Leonen hailed the House leadership on two counts: First, for “seek[ing] to focus on the gravest threats that we face today, provide succor to the suffering multitudes of our people and in the process find ways and means to heal our needless divisions;” second, for setting a precedent by refusing “to be used to debase and degrade sacred constitutional processes for unworthy ends.”

The complaint was filed by Edwin Cordevilla on Dec. 7, 2020, reportedly with the assistance of Marcos loyalist Larry Gadon. It claims, among others, that Leonen “clearly lacks integrity” for supposedly failing to file his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) during his tenure as UP law professor and dean at the University of the Philippines. Ilocos Norte Rep. Angelo Marcos Barba, first cousin of former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, endorsed the complaint.

Note that it was Justice Leonen who primarily handled, for the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, the electoral protest filed by Bongbong Marcos against Vice President Leni Robredo. He wrote the PET’s ruling dismissing Marcos’ protest and claim of electoral fraud. Sitting as the PET, the SC en banc unanimously approved the ruling.

Also note that one of the ex-officio members of the House justice committee who voted to junk the complaint was Majority Leader Martin Romualdez, Bongbong’s first cousin on his mother’s side. Even more notable was the silence of President Duterte, a close ally of the Marcoses.

Earlier this week, another potentially positive turn – should it be sustained toward its logical conclusion – was the decision of new PNP chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar to turn over to the Department of Justice the case records of 61 deaths resulting from police operations in the Duterte government’s bloody “war on drugs.” The 61 cases, among 6,536 cases from July 2016 to April 2021, had been investigated by the PNP Internal Affairs Service and were “volunteered for further review by the DOJ,” Eleazar said Wednesday.

The submissions, he added, wouldn’t be limited to the 61 case files, “as long as the DOJ [requests] the availability of [other] information” – including cases in which policemen were cleared of wrongdoing because the victims’ relatives supposedly failed to cooperate.

After his meeting with Eleazar, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said a memorandum of agreement giving the DOJ access to PNP records will be drawn up shortly. While he wasn’t sure that the Commission on Human Rights would be given similar access, he assured the CHR it wouldn’t be left out of the review by the DOH-led panel.

“The DOJ has its own separate agreement with the CHR,” he pointed out. The latter’s involvement may be in some other form, such as locating and assisting witnesses, he added. “This was one of the things that I discussed with the CHR… as I intend to honor the DOJ’s commitment to engage (them) in this endeavor.”

On June 30, 2020, Guevarra had an initial interaction with the United Nations Human Rights Council, which had received a report, by UN human rights head Michele Bachelet, which was highly critical of Duterte’s “war on drugs” and recommended a more exhaustive independent international investigation. Guevarra said then that a panel was reviewing 5,655 anti-illegal drug police operations wherein deaths were reported. Last February, he told the UNHRC about the panel’s initial finding: that in more than half of the cases reviewed thus far (328 cases), law enforcement agents were found to not have followed protocols.

Admitting the limited scope of the panel’s investigation, Guevara said the panel “did what could be done given the pandemic and resource constraints.” After the partial report presented to the UNHRC, he promised to pursue the review further, with the “active collaboration” of the PNP and the CHR.

In welcoming the PNP’s cooperation, the CHR said, “We hope that 61 cases is just a beginning and we look forward to more cases being investigated.”

“Opening 61 cases out of thousands is too little… already too late,” observed Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay. The PNP, she noted, shouldn’t have allowed the death toll in the brutal drug war to reach thousands before launching an investigation.

Here’s a good suggestion from National Union of People’s Lawyers president Edre U. Olalia: “Perhaps the best thing to do is to completely and totally open any and all files, documents, records and uncontaminated evidence to an impartial scrutiny by an independent body, with no other purpose but to arrive at the truth in all its glory, to render justice to the victims and to stop the barbaric impunity that has not solved the drug menace to this day.”

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