SC justice chides MT senior reporter

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[Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen addresses the letter below to Jomar Canlas, one of our senior reporters.]

I refer to your article, “SC Justice slammed for misbehavior,” which appeared in the online edition of The Manila Times on June 16, 2013, and on the front page of the broadsheet edition on June 17, 2013. It is unfortunate that the article is inaccurate and a misrepresentation of the events that transpired during my trip to The Netherlands last month, as well as the response of my colleagues to what had taken place.

It is true that I had been incorrectly registered as a Justice of the Court of Appeals, instead of the Supreme Court, during the International Judicial Colloquium on Insolvency organized by the International Association of Restructuring, Insolvency & Bankrupcy Professionals (and not, as your article claims, by the American Bar Association). Although a number of my colleagues have served as Justices of the Court of Appeals before serving the Supreme Court, I did not have that honor. It was improper for me to misrepresent myself as having served as a Justice of that Court. It is in this context that I had sought to correct the mistake. Through telephone conversations and email, we quietly consulted with the conference organizer, and the American Bar Association, which had assisted in registering conference participants from the Philippines. In this way, we were able to reach a solution. The error was corrected even before the conference started.

I did not “boycott the conference” to “dramatize” my “discontent.” As a matter of fact, upon being apprised of the error, the conference secretariat offered to revise the directory to correct the error in my designation. I, however, suggested it would be unnecessary. Up to this day, the directory lists my position as “Court of Appeals Justice.”


More worrisome to me, however, is your account of how my colleagues at the Supreme Court reacted to these events. Contrary to your assertions, I was not “slammed for misbehavior” by my colleagues, some of whom had approached me to clarify what had actually transpired, and then affirmed that I had done the right thing in requesting the conference organizers to correct the mistake.

One of the things I have learned in my first few months with the Court is that its Members are candid toward each other, and quick to point out any concern they might have with each other. Your report, which claims to carry the opinion of some of my colleagues, suggest otherwise. But based on my own experience with the Court, I do not believe that Justices of the Supreme Court would stoop so low as to use the media to air personal grievances, when they regularly communicate their views candidly toward each other.

I respect the right and power of the media to report stories that they believe are important. That you have characterized me as a “complainer” is your prerogative. I, however, think that there is a difference between one who simply complains and another who believes that there are more efficient and effective ways of doing things—and then does something about it. I hope you do not mean to suggest that Justices of the Supreme Court should timidly accept the status quo, especially if they have the opportunity to change things. “Complainers” have a huge role to play to make our world a better place to live in.

Humility is a difficult human trait to master. Public officials who are entrusted with correcting wrongs and doing justice can be vulnerable to losing that valuable human trait. That is why I give time to reading criticisms whether right or wrong, honest or dishonest. I try to see beyond the inaccuracy in some criticisms to discern kernels of truth that I can learn from. I am willing to accept this burden of public office.

It is my hope that you and your editors accept the burden of good journalism too—that is, the duty to be objective when presenting a story. My understanding is that it is good journalistic practice to hear every side of a story, to give every side an opportunity to respond. Unfortunately, only one side of the story was presented in your report, and an incorrect one at that. One wishes that you might have tried to verify your story with our office, or with the Supreme Court Public Information Office. You failed to do so.

Through acceptance of criticisms, I think we can help achieve the level of humility that public service requires.

With you in service,

Marvic M. V. F. Leonen
Associate Justice

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12 Comments

  1. Rey Gonzales on

    I personally know Marvic when he was still a law student and I find your judgment rather harsh. I believe Marvic’s version more than that of a reporter knowing full well how often journalism in the country fails to follow rules of conduct as there a few who would rather go for sensationalism to get attention than to tell the truth after careful investigation….

  2. As a government official Justice Leonen is subject to public scrutiny and, therefore, need not be onion-skinned. First, the report is not totally untrue. Reporter Jomar Canlas could not have gotten details of the news item from the “Gate of Hell.” I have this gut feeling that he has sources in the Supreme Court who provided him the information but would now want to have nothing to do with the questioned report. By claiming that it was improper for him to misrepresent the Court of Appeals, Justice Leonen appears to be on a clever way to play gobbledygook. I suspect the Justice has this feeling of superiority that disabled him to accept the mistake of listing him in the directory of participants as a mere justice of the Court of Appeals. There is this inference in his letter that he is exceptional because he went straight to the High Tribunal without passing through the lower courts, including the CA. I read his letter 11 times before making this comment.

  3. Sunnyside Up on

    Inasmuch as you are entitled to your own opinion, this is mine; I have doubts that you were even there at the actual event to give first hand account of what happened, and thus your comments only suggest “here-say”.

    Would it be fair to say that there are people who tell me that you are actually a prick who does nothing but complain about everything but have solutions for nothing attitude? And that explains your obvious attacking opinion. Unfair right?

    It would always be best to see people with compassion. And more importantly, see God in everything. :)

  4. Between sloppy, unethical journalism and a clear admission from an identified party, whom should we believe? Personally I’d put more stock in the guy who wasn’t running after a submission deadline, any day of the week and twice on Mondays.

    The question now is, what will ML do? Will ML do the right thing and apologize for the errors, and issue a retraction?

    What will the “senior reporter” do? Will the writer stand by his story, despite the verifiable mistakes of fact in the article and the clear lapse in journalistic ethics in not seeking the side of Assoc. Justice Leonen prior to running the story?

  5. Mario Lamberte on

    It seems some in the media still have not learned basic journalistic principles. I’m interested to know what actions MT has taken beyond publishing the good SC justice’s clarification on the matter.

  6. This is what makes Justice Marvic Leonen rise above the rest and he definitely earns our respect compared to other justices who would have probably sued for libel.

    I was one of those who jump to conclusion upon reading Jomar’s article not realizing that there are writers that are not exactly truthful for reasons he probably is the only one who knew why. What a shame, unfortunately these sloppy writings are gobbled up by ignorant highly partisan Pinoys like sponge. What is even disgusting is that these kind of writing persist because there is no one that hold them accountable. Is the NPC doing something about this kind of writer and the lies they publish?.

  7. Well, Your Honor, reporters have editors and you do not. So I’d tend to take your days-after-the-fact damage control with a grain of salt. Perhaps the reason the report was so believable is that it was a shoe that fit, according to people who know you.

    • Sunnyside Up on

      That’s the thing with opinion Ben, it is based on the view, filter and biases of an individual based on his or her unique experience in the world. It is not necessarily factual but a reflection of understanding based on their intelligence or the lack thereof. :)

    • Sunnyside Up on

      Inasmuch as you are entitled to your own opinion, this is mine; I have doubts that you were even there at the actual event to give first hand account of what happened, and thus your comments only suggest “here-say”.
      Would it be fair to say that there are people who tell me that you are actually a prick who does nothing but complain about everything but have solutions for nothing attitude? And that explains your obvious attacking opinion. Unfair right?
      It would always be best to see people with compassion. And more importantly, see God in everything. :)

    • Rey Gonzales on

      I personally Marvic when he was still a law student and I find your judgment rather harsh. I believe Marvic’s version more than that of a reporter knowing full well how often journalism in the country fails to follow rules of conduct as there a few who would rather go for sensationalism to get attention than to tell the truth after careful investigation….