Attack on constitutional govt
UNLESS the ruling penned by Supreme Court Associate Justice Jose Perez and joined by Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno and seven other Justices, on Grace Llamanzares’s petition for certiorari against the Commission on Elections is overturned, “it will wreak havoc on our constitutional system of government,” warns Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro in the opening paragraph of her dissent. My honest fear is that it already has.
It would have the effect of amending the 1935 Constitution to add foundlings of no known parentage, which is the admitted status of Mrs. Llamanzares, to the enumeration of natural-born citizens, De Castro points out. It would also amend, (in my view), the 1987 Constitution which defines natural-born citizens as those who are citizens from birth without having to perform any act to acquire or perfect their citizenship.
Brion’s fiery dissent
Justice Arturo Brion’s trenchant and merciless dissent of 144 pages blasts the “outstanding errors” of the Perez ponencia like a super storm. He writes, as he says, with “utmost frankness,” mincing no words, “so that everyone may know what really happened within the Court’s veiled chambers.” I don’t believe he reveals all, though, for there is no reference to the loose talk about the P50 million to P100 million which Mrs. Llamanzares’ powerful financiers were supposed to have used on individual Justices to get past the watch of St. Michael the Archangel.
But the gloves are off, and the Justices are wearing brass knuckles. Never before have I seen the disagreements in Court rise to this level. Where De Castro dismisses as ridiculous and absurd the ponencia’s use of Mrs. Llamanzares’ statistical analysis to show her alleged filiation to a Filipino father, Brion sneers at the ponencia’s holding that Mrs. Llamanzares is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines “by circumstantial evidence, by presumption, and by implication from the silence of the (1935) Constitution.” He accuses the ponente of crossing the forbidden threshold of judicial legislation, by playing around even with “the express wordings of the Constitution.”
All for one expatriate
The ponencia “dishonors our Constitution through its slanted reading that allows one who does not qualify to serve as President, to be a candidate for the office,” says Brion. “Shorn of the glamor and puffery that paid advertisements and media can provide, this case is about an expatriate —-a popular one—-who now wants to run for the presidency after her return to the country.” Brion likens her to the subject of a scathing piece written by the late Justice Isagani Cruz entitled, “The Return of the Renegade.”
He stops short of saying that the ponencia was tailored precisely to allow Mrs. Llamanzares to run for President, for reasons having nothing to do with the Constitution, the rule of law or her “qualifications.” But the exact meaning is clear. It leaves no space in the ground for Justice Perez to hide his head as seabirds do during a raging storm; it leaves not a single reed of an argument in favor of Mrs. Llamanzares standing.
Our people —-not just the judges, lawyers and readers of this paper—-deserve to read this piece and make it part of the education of their children. They would have missed an important part of their lives, if they didn’t.
The Perez ponencia calls the Comelec rulings “diseased from roots to fruits,” without showing the basis for this angry and pejorative statement. The Comelec rulings disqualified Mrs. Llamanzares as a presidential candidate and cancelled her Certificate of Candidacy for President, for falsely representing herself as a natural-born Filipino and a resident of the country for 10 years and 11 months counted backwards from the day before the May 9 elections, based on the Constitution, the law and the evidence presented during the hearings.
Private petitioners Estrella Elamparo, Antonio Contreras, Antonio Contreras and this writer Francisco Tatad were the first ones to point out that she was born a foundling of no known blood parents; that her first and last known and undisputed citizenship was that of a naturalized American; and that her continuous residence in the country from the time she abandoned her US domicile is less than 10 years. The Comelec First and Second Divisions separately heard the four petitions, and, upon appeal of the respondent, the Comelec En Banc affirmed the rulings.
No basis for alleged abuse
Nothing happened during the proceedings that could possibly support any claim of grave abuse of discretion, amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction. But the pro-Llamanzares justices embraced her outlandish claim that the Comelec does not have the authority of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, which judges post-election cases, to pass upon the qualifications or lack of qualifications of presidential candidates (before the election). Thus, the Comelec committed a grave abuse of discretion when it ruled upon her citizenship and residency status, in relation to her false representations on these two issues.
Brion was unforgiving in pointing out that the Court in so many instances had confirmed and reconfirmed Comelec’s authority to pass upon the qualifications and disqualifications of candidates. In fact, some of the recent Court decisions were even penned by the same Justice Jose Perez, who now holds the exact opposite. These include Ongsiako Reyes vs Comelec (June 25, 2013) and Cerafica vs. Comelec (Dec. 2, 2014). Whatever happened to this “home-grown” Justice? What strange and irresistible illumination compelled him to reverse himself?
Neither Brion nor De Castro asked this question; some other people, myself included, are asking it.
Can SC rule where Comelec can’t?
If despite existing jurisprudence, the Comelec no longer has the authority to pass upon the qualifications of candidates before an election, what would be the authority of even the highest Court to pass upon the same issues without a post-election protest? What would be the basis of the ponencia’s dispositive paragraph “declaring Mary Grace Natividad Sonora Poe Llamanzares qualified to be a candidate in the May 9, 2016 elections”?
What the ponencia is saying is that the Comelec does not have the authority to declare whether Mrs. Llamanzares can run or not. So it has stopped the Comelec from saying that. What now gives the pro-Llamanzares justices the authority or the power to say she can run, despite her constitutional disabilities?
No majority vote
When the citizenship issue was put to a vote, seven of the 15 justices —less than the required majority of eight—voted in favor of Mrs. Llamanzares’s claim that she is a natural-born citizen; five voted against, and three did not vote. When the residency issue was put to a vote, seven accepted her claim that she is a resident of the country for 11 months in excess of the 10 years required of presidential candidates; six voted against, and two did not vote. As Justice Antonio Carpio pointed out, there was no majority vote.
But nine Justices held egregiously, (to borrow Brion’s word) that whatever material misrepresentations she may have committed about her citizenship and residency status, she did not intend to deceive, and the Comelec failed to prove any such intent. The plainest meaning of this is that if anyone has been deceived by her “series of falsities” (Brion) about her citizenship and residency status, it was not because she had intended to deceive them, but only because they were naturally inclined to deceive themselves.
This suggests that certain lies can rise to the same level as Truth, provided there are credentialed Justices willing to say so. Even the father of lies will most likely dispute this thesis. Herr Himmler used to caress his revolver to thwart the distinction between truth and lies, between reason and madness; in our time, big money, big media, and false propaganda surveys could easily create an avalanche of lies to replace or supersede the truth. This is the tragedy that has befallen the Sereno Court.
Justices without just men
In my book, Nation on Fire, reproduced in Power Without Authority (Icon Press, 2003), I wrote, “Injustice, not poverty, is the gravest social evil. Too many laws, but not enough justice. Too many justices, but not enough just men. We have become a lawless people.” It pains me to have to repeat this today. But there is such a hunger and thirst for justice, aggravated beyond all measure by the present case. The nation could be near the point of moral death, except that many of the guardians of our morality do not seem to know it. In this Lenten season, we need more than prayers.
His Eminence Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, Archbishop Emeritus of Cebu, and Bishop Jose C. Sorra, Bishop Emeritus of Legazpi, two genuinely well-loved pastors and princes of the Catholic Church, will be celebrating the 60th anniversary of their priesthood tomorrow. We join them in thanksgiving and prayers for continued good health.
The Cardinal has been bishop for 45 years, cardinal for 31, and is vibrant at 85. At 10 am, he will be presiding at a solemn High Mass at the International Eucharistic Congress Chapel in Cebu City, together with Archbishop Jose Palma, his auxiliary bishops, some visiting bishops and the archdiocesan clergy. A simple reception will follow.
In Legazpi , Bishop Sorra, who is 87, and on his 42nd year as Bishop, will be presiding at a solemn High Mass at the St. Gregory the Great Cathedral at 5 pm. Concelebrating will be Bishop Joel Baylon, bishop of Legazpi, who is also celebrating his 38th year as a priest and 18th year as bishop; Bishop Lucilo B. Quiambao, auxiliary bishop emeritus of Legazpi, on his 56th year as a priest and 34th year as a bishop; Bishop Nestor Cariño, bishop emeritus of Pasig and longtime Secretary-General of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, on his 55th year as a priest and 38th year as a bishop; other visiting bishops and priests, and 24 diocesan priests, 18 priests originally from Legazpi but incardinated in other dioceses, and four on foreign missions, who are also celebrating their 60th, 50th, 40th, 30th and 25th sacerdotal anniversaries.
A fraternal meal with the poor will follow at the Provincial Astrodome.
The World Youth Alliance celebrated its 17th anniversary in New York this week by, among other things, conferring the Kathryn Hoomkwap Award for Extraordinary Service in Defense of the Dignity of the Human Person on Ms. Maria Erika Victoria Cantero Tatad, WYA’s first Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, and recent recipient of the WYA Freedom for Excellence Award.
WYA was founded in 1999 at the United Nations by the young Canadian scholar Anna Halpine as the youth’s spirited response to the challenges of the modern world. More than one million young people under 30 in six continents have signed the WYA Charter to join the World Youth. WYA is now present in 167 countries.
For many years, I sat on WYA’s international board, while my daughter Erika ran the WYA Asia Pacific headquarters in Manila. She had spent a year-long internship at WYA New York after doing political science at Ateneo and international business and marketing at Berkeley, before establishing the WYA HQ in Manila. She has since been involved in helping social enterprises incubate and reach sustainability at the shortest possible time.
The Hoomkwap Award is named for the highly respected Nigerian leader who sat with us at the WYA international board from 2005 to 2008, the year she died. She was the first woman president of the Christian Health Association of Nigeria, official delegate to the 1994 UN Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, and delegate of the Holy See to international conferences in Beijing, Istanbul, New York and Rome. She left many friends and pleasant memories at the UN and in the international pro-life and pro-family circuit.