WHAT’s happening to our judicial system and to those whose sacred duty it is to implement it?
The top enforcer of our anti-corruption laws, the ombudsman, Samuel Martires, is defending Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Mario Victor Leonen, who has been shown, based on government documents, to have violated one of the key pillars of our anti-graft laws, the one requiring all government officials and employees to submit yearly their statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).
I had disclosed in my column of Sept. 7, 2020 that Leonen has for 15 years failed to file his SALN, from the time he joined the University of the Philippines (UP) faculty from 1989 to 2003 and for the years 2008 to 2009.
He is a worse offender of the SALN law than dismissed Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who was ousted from her post in May 2018 for failing to file such reports for six years. The court ruled that this showed her lack of integrity and nonadherence to the Constitution, and therefore she had “no authority” to occupy the post.
I wrote to Leonen asking him to deny or confirm a July 2018 report that I got from the Ombudsman’s Central Records Office saying that he hadn’t filed his SALNs for 15 years. He could have simply told me that he did file those SALNs, and as the law specifies, I could view and even copy these and “pay a reasonable cost of production.”
Leonen didn’t confirm or deny my claim based on the Ombudsman’s report. He instead ordered the Supreme Court Administrator to reply to me; the latter essentially told me that it was none of my business.
Private lawyer Larry Gadon has urged Solicitor General Jose Calida to file a quo warranto petition in the Supreme Court to remove Leonen because of such patent violation of the SALN law.
Open and shut
It would have been an open-and-shut case. Sereno was removed by the court after just two months of deliberations for exactly the same reason, to quote the short decision:
Sereno “failed to file the required SALN upon her assumption of office, which is a clear violation of Section 17, Article XI of the Constitution. In light of her previous failure to file her SALNs for several years while she was a UP College of Law professor, her failure to file her SALN upon assuming office in 2010 as Associate Justice of this Court constitutes culpable violation of the Constitution.”
Instead of helping his colleagues in the justice system make sure that even Supreme Court justices uphold the Constitution, what does Martires do?
He blocks the straightforward clerical work of confirming if Leonen did or did not file his SALNs. He issued an order on September 15 — eight days after my column on Leonen’s violation of the SALN law appeared — restricting access to these documents to the official or his representative, to somebody acting on a court order, and to the Ombudsman. He even told UP not to reply to the Solicitor General’s query if it still has copies of Leonen’s SALNs.
Martires told the press that he was not defending Leonen, claiming that access to such SALNs has been “weaponized.” He instead said: “According to the experience of the Ombudsman, [the] SALN has been weaponized. It is being used as a means to damage the reputation of a person or besmirch a rival in politics.”
I certainly take offense at that. Leonen is not at all my rival in politics, nor am I working for somebody who is his rival.
I invoked the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act of July in 2018 and asked for Leonen’s SALN in fulfillment of my journalistic duties.
I had been informed back in 2018 by a source at the Supreme Court that Leonen had stupidly told one of his colleagues during the quo warranto case against Sereno: “I myself hadn’t filed many SALNs, and I certainly don’t agree that demonstrates my lack of integrity.” I thought that tip deserved investigation, so I filed a request to get Leonen’s SALNs under President Duterte’s Executive Order 2, or the FOI Program, and got the report.
Leonen actually put his views on this on paper when he wrote in his dissenting opinion on the Sereno case: The SALN is “not the actual measure of integrity, but only a tool.”
“Integrity is a collection of attributes that tend to show the quality of a person’s character,” he wrote. Indeed, Leonen couldn’t help himself from writing: “I grieve the doctrine of this case. It should be overturned in the near future.”
Leonen should blame Covid-19 for his present predicament. I kept postponing writing on his failure to file SALNs until I forgot about it. I rediscovered the documents when because there was not much else to do in this months-long lockdown, I started cleaning out my filing cabinet of old files.
Martires should be ashamed of himself. The Yellow pillar Conchita Carpio-Morales was still ombudsman when its central records division responded to my FOI request. Now Martires, an appointee of the anti-Yellow President Duterte, is blocking demands for his office to confirm whether or not Leonen violated the SALN law.
How can Martires claim to be the Republic’s highest constitutionally designated official tasked to rid government of corruption when he blocks an investigation into whether a Supreme Court justice had violated a key component of our anti-graft laws?
Martires was lying through his teeth when he told media that he was not defending Leonen with this move to stop access to SALNs.
He himself told me in so many ways that he is. In my conversation with him last September 16, 9:42 a.m. (through Viber) in which I asked him about the order he issued the day before, Martires said “it is inappropriate to move against Leonen, as we are achieving a high degree of judicial stability.”
He was referring to his view that the Supreme Court had become more stable after Sereno and Antonio Carpio had stepped down, as the two were often quarreling with most of the other justices.
Does Martires think he can expand his sphere of responsibility to the Supreme Court (from which he stepped down in August 2018) by having somebody there — Leonen — who is in debt to him?
What is it in the Office of the Ombudsman that makes its occupiers — as in the case of Carpio-Morales — think they are the “supreme guardians” of our justice system?
Morales was behaving in exactly that way when in her obsession to remove the late Chief Justice Renato Corona, she made a false testimony at the impeachment trial where she deliberately inflated Corona’s dollars accounts.
Now her successor Martires thinks it his duty to strengthen “judicial stability” by blocking moves to remove Leonen from the court for his violation of the Constitution. Martires even judged — when absolutely no study of such a thing has been undertaken — that, as he put it, the SALN law has been “weaponized.” If it is a flawed law, it is not for Martires to amend it in any way; it is job for the Congress.
Martires even actually amended our Constitution when he restricted access to the SALNs. What is it in the following provision of the Constitution that Martires doesn’t understand: “A public officer’s declaration under oath of his assets, liabilities, and net worth shall be disclosed to the public in the manner provided by law.” And the SALN law of course didn’t restrict such access only to the Ombudsman nor only through a court order.
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