[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