"The request for access to his SALN was denied by the Supreme Court."
On May 11, 2018, the Supreme Court voted to invalidate Ma. Lourdes Sereno’s appointment as Chief Justice for having violated the requirements on the Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth.
That was after it was uncovered she did not file her SALN during her 17-year tenure as a professor at the University of the Philippines.
Earlier this month, Manila times columnist Rigoberto “Bobi” Tiglao bared Associate Justice Marvic Leonen might also be guilty of the same offense for allegedly failing to file his own SALN during his teaching years, also at UP.
Incidentally, Leonen was among those who had voted against invalidating Sereno’s appointment to the SC high post.
This prompted lawyer Larry Gadon to request before the SC, copies of Leonen’s SALN. This request, unfortunately, was denied by the High Court.
And then, during the budget hearing for the Office of the Ombudsman, Ombudsman Samuel Martires declared that he had decided to restrict public access to SALN records of politicians in public office and other government executives because this is being “weaponized” against them.
Now, why, all of a sudden, does it appear that there are moves from certain offices to deny access to Leonen’s SALN? What’s so special about him?
Even Gadon is puzzled with SC’s denial of his request for a copy of the Associate Justice’s SALN. The High Court itself provides, in its website, the official request form for requisitions of copies of the SALN of its personnel. Gadon attests he used the same downloadable form when he requested for copies of Sereno’s SALN two years ago. Not only was it granted by the SC, but was used successfully in the quo warranto proceedings against Sereno.
Hence, if it was granted by the SC on the Sereno case, Gadon is definitely right when he says Martires was wrong in his assumption that only the Ombudsman has the power and authority to look into SALNs and that the public has no right to access it unless permitted by the official who filed it.
Sereno obviously, did not give consent to the release of the copies of her SALN to Gadon in 2018.
While it is true under RA 6713 that the Ombudsman has the power to subpoena and examine documents relative to the SALN, Gadon insists the law does not prohibit any person from requesting copies for purposes of knowing whether the public official has indeed complied with his lawful obligation to file the SALN.
The exclusive power of the Ombudsman, Gadon says, is that he can ask and examine documents from other agencies to verify the contents of the SALN in connection with an investigation, but not the power to deny access by the public to the SALN itself.
“That it might endanger the public official concerned or might be a victim of hacking of private information, is an imaginary threat and fear which can not defeat the higher and lawful rights granted to the public under RA 6713,” Gadon says.
Now, while Leonen might have found some unexpected allies to cover-up for his alleged offense which could cost him his seat in the High Court, it appears it’s too early for him to be popping the victory champagne.
Last week, Solicitor General Jose Calida, whom Gadon has consulted in Leonen’s case, Calida being the one who has initiated the quo warranto proceedings against Sereno, assured the latter his office is seriously looking into the allegations against the Associate Justice, and that should the allegations be found true, his office would not hesitate to initiate another quo warranto proceedings, this time against Leonen.
And yesterday morning, Gadon again wrote to Calida, reiterating his request for the Solicitor General to initiate a quo warranto proceedings against Leonen.
“If Atty. Sereno was ousted from the Supreme Court due to the lack of integrity as exemplified by her non-filing of SALN in UP for many years, then there is no reason why the same standard should not be applied to associate Justice Marvic Leonen,” Gadon stated in his letter to Calida.
As I have stated before in my earlier column, What is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander, Gadon’s statement is a compelling reason why Leonen should be removed from the SC, if he indeed committed the same offense that Sereno did.
Now, let’s see if there is really something special with Leonen once Calida initiates a quo warranto proceedings against him.