Malacañang will soon appoint a relatively unknown and soon-to-retire Malabon regional trial court Judge Leonardo Leonida, 59, as elections commissioner, four sources with links in Malacañang and the judge’s legal circle confirmed with abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak.
President Arroyo is expected to issue an ad interim appointment for Leonida this week or next. She is also expected to reappoint Commisioner Moslemen Macarambon, who was twice bypassed by the Commission on Appointments, the sources said.
Leonida’s appointment is expected to raise questions on the selection process in Malacañang. We found out that Leonida is facing an administrative charge before the Supreme Court for unethical conduct. This draws parallelism to the controversial appointment of Macarambon, whose reputation in the judiciary is under question. (Read: SC ruled twice against new Comelec Exec)
Leonida was not in the shortlist submitted to Malacañang early this year. (Read: Panel Submits Comelec Shortlist to Palace) Apparently, he is a new addition to the shortlist submitted to Malacañang last month. According to a source privy to the search process, the first shortlist was expanded from 10 to about 20 because of politics in the Palace. Leonida is one of 10 regional trial court judges that made it to the list. (There are three vacant positions.)
His inclusion in the Malacañang shortlist was a surprise for many as Leonida is practically unknown to Comelec and the legal circles in Metro Manila. ABS-CBN’s Willard Cheng reported on Sunday that the shortlist was trimmed to three names—Leonida, lawyer Howard Calleja, and chief state prosecutor Jovencito Zuño. Two independent sources said a bishop close to President Arroyo recommended Leonida to the Comelec post.
We checked with Comelec chief and former Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo, Commissioner Rene Sarmiento, Calleja of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), and Vincent Lazatin of the Transparency International Network and they don’t know Leonida.
“I have not met him. I’m in the black,” Melo told abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak when asked if he knows the background of Leonida.
Among lawyers in Metro Manila, Leonida’s name does not strike recall. “At least with Metro Manila practitioners, [he is] absolutely unknown,” said another lawyer who has connections in government.
We could not reach Leonida for this article. According to a Malabon RTC clerk of court, Leonida is on terminal leave. He is the acting judge of the court’s branch 74.
San Beda student
But there is one person we found to have personally known him. It is elections lawyer Sixto Brillantes, although he last got in touch with Leonida in the 1970s. He was then Brillantes’s student in the San Beda College of Law. Leonida finished his law degree in 1973. As a student, Brillantes said, “He’s okay. He is good and efficient.”
But that was in the past. Two other sources familiar with Leonida’s judicial career told abs-cbnNEWS.con/Newsbreak said that Leonida has a “bad reputation.”
To those in the legal community who are familiar with Leonida and his certain appointment to the Comelec, “the reaction was very negative. He does not enjoy a good reputation in legal circles,” said one.
“With the choice, it is obvious that there is no determination or sincerity [on the part of the administration] in instituting reforms at Comelec,” he added.
Scandal in Laguna
Based on an interview, we found out that Leonida was transferred from Laguna to Malabon for an alleged indiscretion.
abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak was able to verify this with the Supreme Court (SC). An insider confirmed there’s a pending administrative case against Leonida on the alleged affair. We also gathered that it was his wife who asked for Leonida’s transfer. The complaint is now pending before the 2nd Division of the SC.
We failed to obtain copies of the administrative case from the SC’s Office of the Court Administrator as such cases are confidential in nature.
Long government service
Leonida passed the bar in 1974, with a grade of 79.75 percent. In 1983, he started his career in government service as secretary to one of several committees of the Batasang Pambansa. After Martial Law, he served again as a committee secretary in the 1986 Constitutional Commission.
In 1987, he was appointed as the 3rd assistant provincial prosecutor of Rizal. He was a fiscal in various courts for ten years until he was he was appointed in 1997 by President Fidel Ramos as presiding judge of Branch 27 regional trial court in Sta. Cruz, Laguna.
He is a native of Marinduque, where he finished his grade school and high school. He finished Bachelor of Arts in Manuel L. Quezon University in 1969, BS Law in 1973, and BS Business Administration in 1983. He now lives in Paranaque. –with reports from Jenny Lynne Aguilar (abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak)