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[OPINION | Just Saying] Associate Justice Leonen impeachment complaint: A waste of time

Associate Justice Marvic Leonen does not pose a threat to  the administration of justice, national security, public order, the general welfare, and the well being of the nation. From his legal opinions, he undoubtedly understands the Constitution. His opinions, whether concurring or dissenting, intelligently elevates any discussion on national issues such as Martial Law, the burial of a dictator, bail for well-known politicians, and even the issue of the ouster of a Chief Justice. 

The nature of the grounds for impeachment necessarily connotes the most vile, destructive, evil, and perverse acts that a high public official can commit. Just look at the grounds: culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, high crimes, graft and corruption, and betrayal of the public trust.  

The Constitution requires “culpable violation,” not mere violation. This  connotes a malicious intent and a premeditated scheme to directly and  grotesquely injure the State. Hence, even if  President Duterte, the highest impeachable officer of the land, is responsible for the  execution the laws, he cannot, for purposes of impeachment, be held liable for every death of every citizen as a result of the negligence and failure of local authorities to apprehend the culprit, unless it can be shown that he has encouraged or inspired such acts.   

In the same vein, not every delay in the prosecution of cases in our court system may subject the Chief Justice to direct liability also for purposes of impeachment. There is absence of “culpable violation.”

Treason involves an existing war against the republic. Presently, there is no war where Justice Leonen can have connived against the country. Even the slightest act of tolerating, intentionally or through negligence, the intrusion of a foreign country in our territory has not been done, or even encouraged, by Justice Leonen. 

Bribery is receiving money or other gifts in exchange for unwarranted favors. High crimes involve the most heinous of crimes grossly disturbing public order, like murder, rape, plunder, and extrajudicial killing. Graft and corruption deal with a furtive mind to prejudice the government, much like  what a number of  politicians are prone to commit.  

And then there is that much used but abused ground of “betrayal of the public trust.”  The Supreme Court has already ruled that this ground  refers to "acts which are just short of being criminal but constitute gross faithlessness against public trust, tyrannical abuse of power, inexcusable negligence of duty, favoritism, and gross exercise of discretionary powers."

Delay in the disposition of cases (if indeed it is occurring), dissenting in  sensitive cases involving political personalities and national policies, and non-presentation of any document showing failure to submit the SALN does not automatically rise to the level of an impeachable offense. We must remember that even the attempted impeachment of Chief Justice Sereno in the House of Representatives never reached a determination whether non-filing of SALN came within the purview of an impeachable offense. Also, the attempt  to obtain the SALN of Justice Leonen from the Supreme Court miserably failed. 

There is  so no such thing as a precedent in impeachment and Senate trial proceedings. Each case is sui generis (a kind of its own) considering that the dynamics, gravity,  or even flimsiness will be peculiar in each case. Thus, the conclusion in the Corona Senate trials is not conclusive as a precedent simply because another case involving the SALN has been filed. 

Politicians, high government officials, and legislators who do not understand the Constitution are  a dangerous lot, perhaps even more menacing than plunderers. They are capable of cavalierly ignoring   fundamental mandates without hesitation, bereft of any conscience at all.  Their capacity to damage institutions, such as the judiciary, surges as they promote their own selfish greed for power and privilege, or, in some cases, promote the whim, caprice, or the crooked interest of  their unseen benefactors, friends, allies and/or boss.

Sadly, many believed that a lot of our legislators are challenged intellectually if not outright dumb, ignorant, or even “clowns.” Ask some of them what an ex post facto law, bill of attainder, adjournment sine die, or nautical economic zone means, and most likely they have no idea about them and, perhaps, will not even try to know them. We have even witnessed a legislator refusing to be questioned despite the fact that legislative interpellation is very important on matters that need elucidation. These clarifications resulting from questions and answers are  quoted by the Supreme Court when relevant issues on the matter reach it. There is a moral obligation to answer questions. That is just how democracy works and enlightened understanding is reached.

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. –