THE most junior magistrate of the Supreme Court (SC), Justice Marvic Leonen, is now in danger of being penalized by the high court, after SC Justice Lucas Bersamin accused him of violating the internal rules of the tribunal by disclosing the magistrates’ confidential deliberations in the case of granting bail to Senator Juan Ponce Enrile.
In a five-page rejoinder submitted to the SC en banc for the August 25, 2015 agenda, Bersamin accused Leonen of overstepping his bounds and having lack of respect for the majority ruling. On Tuesday, August 18, the High Tribunal voted 8-4 in favor of Enrile’s petition for bail. The 17-page majority opinion’s main basis for the grant of bail is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Leonen, Associate Justices Antonio Carpio and Estela Perlas-Bernabe and Sereno dissented from the majority ruling in the Enrile case.
Bersamin’s rejoinder was leaked to the media, and not through the SC Public Information Office (PIO) Chief Atty. Theodore Te, for fear that it would terminate his version of the story, since Sereno, Leonen and Te were allies at the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Law.
He stressed, “Leonen thereby accused me of misleading my colleagues in the Majority by passing around for their signatures during the oral arguments on the Torre de Manila case a version of my ponencia different from what had been voted on. My second impression was that Justice Leonen was blaming my colleagues in the Majority for affixing their signatures [to]the final version of the ponencia despite not having known the contents.”
Specifically, Bersamin accused Leonen of violating Section 2, Rule 10 of the Internal Rules of Court on matters of confidential deliberations of the SC Justices in their deliberations.
“I humbly submit, too, that Justice Leonen violated Section 2, Rule 10 of the Internal Rules of Court, which treats court deliberations as confidential and not to be disclosed to outside parties,” he said.
Bersamin argued that Leonen is just whining about his losing views, and instead of respecting the majority ruling, he went out of control to show the public that he is “self-righteous”.
The senior magistrate said he issued the rejoinder “in self defense, because the comments of Justice Leonen, if left without any rectification, might be held to be the truth. Obviously, such comments were not the truth, but were the result of a self-righteous mindset.”
The rejoinder stated (with some words in bold and capital letters), “At this point, I wish to state that Justice Leonen OVERSTEPPED the bounds of respect for the majority, ONCE THE VOTE WAS TAKEN, he had absolutely no business implying anything against how the majority had voted, or how their consensus had been reached.”
Bersamin lashed back at Leonen, also in bold and capital letters, by stating “HE [LEONEN] WAS A MEMBER OF THE MINORITY; HE SHOULD HAVE STAYED THERE. HE SHOULD HAVE CONFINED HIMSELF TO EXPRESSING HIS LOSING VIEWS. HE SHOULD NOT FRET, AND ASSAIL THE PROCESS THAT HE COULD NOT CONTROL FROM HIS SIDE OF THE VOTE.”
He also castigated Leonen by stating he should look at his own backyard in the minority before accusing the majority of committing any irregularity in the High Court.
“He [Leonen] should first look at his side because two of them signed in favor of his dissenting opinion days before the opinion he wrote for them was completed. But I do not question the wisdom of their having done so out of my sincere and genuine respect for minority. I reiterate that Justice Leonen should mind only the vote of the minority, and should respect those in the majority,” Bersamin stated.
He said the allegations made by Leonen to seven other justices were unfair and intolerable, especially when they were published in the social media and newspapers.
“The comments of Justice Leonen were unfair to me as the ponente and to the seven other members of the court who joined me. I could have tolerated the unfairness, except that the comments were published and soon unavoidably became fodder for people of closed minds and clear biases to criticize my intelligence, regionalism, loyalty, and what else. In this age of the internet, I simply cannot be tolerant but must respond,” Bersamin remarked.
“In the initial draft, I already discussed two grounds for granting bail to the petitioner, namely: the effect of the appreciating two mitigating circumstances on the imposable penalty; and the petitioner’s medical condition. This draft [with minor revisions for style and syntax]was resubmitted for deliberation in the agendas of March 24, 2015; April 21, 2015; June 23, 2015; July 21, 2015; August 4, 2015; and August 11, 2015,” the rejoinder stated.
Bersamin said Leonen even approached him in the Supreme Court’s Baguio summer session “to suggest to limit the justification for granting bail to humanitarian grounds. He should have a clear recollection of this. Hoping that the Court could be unanimous. I said then that I would give his suggestion a serious consideration.”
For the en banc session on August 18, 2015, he submitted a pruned-down version containing 17-pages, which included the signature pages.
“The portions I excised from the original draft were those pertaining to the mitigating circumstances, which I relegated for the determination of the trial court. Otherwise, the prune down version included nothing new,” Bersamin said.
“On August 18, 2015, when the case was up for deliberation, Justice Leonen called attention to his letter posing several questions. He asked for time to circulate a draft. I saw this as a move to delay the vote. It was in exasperation more than anything else that I said that I would revert to the original version, and that the case should now be put to a vote. Much discussions followed. Then the vote was taken,” he said.
“The Majority was well aware that what was to be voted on was the pruned-down version simply because there was no demand from any of them to still first see the original version. On the part of those who voted against, none of them, including Justice Leonen, demanded to first see again the older version before voting,” he added.
During the SC en banc on Tuesday, Leonen, through a letter, asked the high court to reset the deliberation on Bersamin’s complaint to Sept. 28. The justices, however, did not adhere to Leonen’s request, and instead moved to tackle the case next Tuesday’s en banc.