The last time our senators took a vote on May 29, 2012, after taking an oath to render “impartial justice,” they convicted and removed Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona on the basis of questionable evidence on a non-impeachable charge, after having been impeached at the behest of Malacañang by188 congressmen who never read the Articles of Impeachment they had signed.
Nineteen of the 20 senator-judges each received P50 million or more from Malacañang’s P150-billion Disbursement Acceleration Program, which the Supreme Court subsequently declared unconstitutional, and for which grave misconduct Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, among others, is now facing criminal charges before the Ombudsman.
The senators committed a despicable crime, for which not a single one of them has been prosecuted until now. Some of the nineteen have since left the Senate, some others are still there and running for reelection or for higher office in May 2016.
On Tuesday, Nov. 17, while the nation was being entertained by all the government hoopla for the APEC Economic Leaders Summit, six senators, three of whom were among the 19 senator-judges who had been paid off three years ago to remove the country’s highest judiciary official, took another vote. This time, on a complaint before the nine-man Senate Electoral Tribunal questioning the right of Sen. Grace Poe Llamanzares to sit in the Senate, for her not being a natural-born Filipino citizen and for having failed to meet the residency requirement of at least two years immediately preceding the May 2013 elections.
The six senators on the SET are old timers Vicente Sotto 3rd, Loren Legarda and Pia Cayetano, and newcomers Nancy Binay, Cynthia Villar and Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino, first cousin to President B. S. Aquino 3rd. The old-timers have yet to wash the grime off their hands or face from the Corona impeachment scandal.
Except for Binay, who voted with the SET chairman Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Justices Arturo Brion and Teresita Leonardo de Castro, who found Mrs. Llamanzares ineligible to sit in the Senate for not being a natural-born Filipino and not having lived in the country as such Filipino for at least two years before the 2013 election, the five other senators voted not according to the Constitution and the law and the documented facts of the case, but for reasons known only to themselves and having nothing to do with the merits of the case.
They acted as a cabal. There is no evidence, so far, that anyone got paid for their vote. So until the evidence presents itself, or surfaces from a credible source, we must reject any precocious suggestion that one well-known CEO of a conglomerate who seems determined to own the next president bankrolled Mrs. Llamanzares’s paper-thin temporary victory.
I say “temporary” because the SET ruling suffers from an obvious “grave abuse of discretion” on the part of the five senators who chose to “politicize” what is indisputably a constitutional issue. The existing jurisprudence tells us that the Supreme Court will not countenance this kind of political mumbo-jumbo. I expect petitioner Rizalito David to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, after filing a Motion for Reconsideration, which the SET majority will most likely deny.
I do not want to second-guess the Court, but it cannot possibly stray from the constitutional parameters of the case. The issues are simple enough. Under Article VI, Section 3 of the Constitution, no person shall be a Senator unless he is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, and, on the day of the election, is at least thirty-five years of age, able to read and write, a registered voter, and a resident of the Philippines for not less than two years immediately preceding the day of the election.
The provision is written in simple elementary English. Anyone who understands every word in it should be able to understand the whole provision itself. You don’t need a degree in law or in English from anywhere to understand it. Now, in how many opposite ways can two opposing lawyers, or a cabal of senators, understand this very clear provision which does not need to be interpreted?
Only one, it appears. The provision says “no person shall be a Senator unless he is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines…” What does this mean, and how are we to understand it? This is what it means: “No person shall be a Senator unless he is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines.” But what is a natural-born Filipino citizen? That is what we have to find out.
But Section 2 Article IV of the Constitution tells us what it means: “Natural-born citizens are those who are citizens of the Philippines from birth without having to perform any act to acquire or perfect their Philippine citizenship. Those born before January 17, 1973 of Filipino mothers, who elect Philippine citizenship upon reaching the age of majority, shall be deemed natural-born citizens.”
In how many different ways can we understand what this section means? Only one, it appears. The law is clear, it’s only a question of facts. Mrs. Llamanzares offers two certificates of live birth, two sets of facts. One contradicts the other, both are technically defective.
The first certificate, dated Nov. 27, 1968, and with heavy intercalactions, says a foundling named Mary Grace Natividad Contreras Militar was found in the premises of the parish church of Jaro, Iloilo City on Sept. 3, 1968. Its parents were unknown. Therefore their citizenship was unknown, and the foundling’s citizenship was unknown. In other words, stateless. On the right hand side of the certificate is a notation by hand which says, “Adopted child by the spouses Ronald Allan Poe and Jesusa Sonora Poe as per Court Order, Mun. Court, San Juan, Rizal by …Judge Alfredo U. Gorgonio dated May 13, 1974 under Sp. Proc. 138.”
The document is obviously falsified. If it was executed on Nov. 27, 1968, how could it possibly carry a notation about Mary Grace’s alleged adoption on May 13, 1974? The document speaks for itself.
The second certificate, dated May 4, 2006, was executed by Mrs. Jesusa Sonora Poe, who is identified in the Nov. 27, 1968 document as the spouse of Ronald Allan Poe, who adopted Mary Grace in 1974. But this 2006 certificate says Mary Grace was born to Jesusa Sonora Poe and Ronald Allan Poe on Sept. 3, 1968. The couple were married on Dec. 25, 1968, and Mrs. Poe was never known to have borne a child nor carried a pregnancy all her life.
So no evidence was presented to show that Mrs. Llamanzares was a Filipino at birth who did not have to perform any act to acquire or perfect her citizenship. Therefore the decision of the five senators to declare her qualified to sit in the Senate has no basis in law or in fact.
As to her two-year residency prior to the 2013 election, the dates could be computed using a computer or one’s fingers and toes. Whatever method is used, it doesn’t quite add up in favor of Mrs. Llamanzares. How the five senators arrived at their conclusion in her favor requires a new math.
For a while, I was thinking Tito Sotto would inhibit from the voting, having declared himself an “independent senatorial candidate” under the “independent presidential candidacy” of Mrs. Llamanzares. I was disappointed at my own naivete for having thought even for the moment that this was a remote possibility within the realm of our highly unprincipled politics.
But what’s impossible to explain was Bam Aquino’s vote. If he got to the Senate because of his cousin PNoy, and as LP titular head and chief campaigner for Mar Roxas, PNoy would like to see Mrs. Llamanzares out of the presidential race, for the same reason SET petitioner Rizalito David wants her unseated from the Senate, shouldn’t he have voted in favor of the Constitution, together with Binay and the Justices? Is it too soon to speculate that despite his open statements for Mar Roxas, PNoy is secretly playing the Grace Poe Llamanzares card?
My own fear now is that if there is any chance for the May 2016 elections to become a legitimate and honest process, and for our voters to begin to understand the implications of the SET vote to the integrity of the senators who took part in it, Sotto’s chances of being returned to the Senate may have been completely vaporized, despite any effort to connect to AlDub’s popularity at the noontime TV variety show, Eat Bulaga.
To those who have sent queries, I would like to say the SET ruling has nothing at all to do with my petition before the Commission on Elections for Mrs. Llamanzares’s disqualification as presidential candidate, as well as the two other petitions seeking the cancellation of her certificate of candidacy. So it’s too early for Mrs. Llamanzares to jump for joy or uncork the champagne or open the San Mig, and for the campaign donors to rush to the aid and comfort of the American husband, Mr Llamanzares.