By Daniel Llanto

The Supreme Court sitting as Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) soundly reprimanded Solicitor Gen. Jose Calida for seeking the inhibition of Associate Justice Marvic Leonen from former Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s election protest case against Vice-president Leni Robredo.

SC en banc said on January 25 Calida as the government’s top lawyer should know better than to misinterpret PET’s status as “People’s Tribunal” where anyone can “wantonly” seek a member-justice to inhibit. 

Last November, Calida sought Associate Justice Marvic Leonen’s inhibition from the long-drawn-out case bearing the same arguments filed by Marcos.  Calida’s and Marcos’ appeals were filed just within hours of each other and supposedly not related. 

The Court unanimously denied Marcos’ motion and issued a show cause order against the Solicitor General and journalist Jomar Canlas, whose reports were cited in the pleadings. In a resolution, the high tribunal opted to prioritize the resolution of the poll protest and the member-in-charge moved to deal with the OSG’s actions at a much later time.

While the show cause order was later withdrawn, the tribunal however said that Calida’s assertion that it filed the motion for inhibition as People’s Tribune should be reviewed as this is a status “not to be hoisted wantonly in big-ticket cases involving private parties.”

It stressed that PET is properly invoked as a People’s Tribunal only when the People of the Philippines are a party litigant to a case but this was not the case in the poll protest.

The PET also said that if Calida had really been concerned on the supposed delay of the poll protest’s resolution, then he should have just limited his arguments on this issue as this was the only one relevant to the public.

The PET also reiterated that it is a collegial body and the member-in-charge of a case can only recommend what actions to be taken.

Calida and Marcos both accused Leonen of exhibiting bias against the Marcos family supposedly seen in the Leonen’s dissenting opinions and votes.

The Solicitor General also cited the ruling of SC’s Third Division in Chavez v Marcos, which Leonen penned. Calida said Leonen was “blinded by partiality” and “betrayed his oath to administer justice with competence and probity.”

But the tribunal pointed out that SC division had then only spoken through Leonen, thus his accusation of incompetence and lacking probity extends to all justices in the Third Division.

It also said that while Calida and Marcos said Leonen was “grossly ignorant” when the tribunal sought comment from the Commission on Elections and the OSG on pending matters on the poll protest, the move was done by the PET as a collegial body.

“Lawyers for litigants at the highest level of our judicial system are expected to have a better knowledge of our workings. They do a disservice to our clients when they mislead them and the public that the SC is less than a collegial body,” the PET said.

It added: “That the protestant’s mistaken view of this court is joined by no less than the Solicitor General is deeply disturbing.”

The tribunal then cautioned parties, counsels and those acting on their behalf to “be more circumspect in their pleadings and in their public pronouncements.”

“All counsels including the Solicitor General are reminded to attend to their cases with objectivity and dignity demanded by our profession and keep their passions and excitement in check,” the PET added.

The decision was not attributed to a justice but was written per curiam. Twelve justices signed it, with Associate Justices Rosemarie Carandang and Amy Lazaro-Javier on wellness leave.