The countdown on President B. S. Aquino’s exit from power has begun. And some people are al-ready looking forward to his “second term”—-in jail. I was a guest, along with broadcaster Herman Laurel, on “Talking with Harry” at Harry Tambuatco’s GNN TV show on Monday afternoon, and off camera, the host mentioned a couple of individuals who are already preparing to file criminal charges against PNoy as soon as he vacates Malacanang, on July 1.
Jubilee of Mercy
I am not prepared to say whether or not this is a wise move. “Impartial justice”—-a term used by senator-judges in the last two Senate impeachment trials—-must be served, and no crime should go unpunished. But we must also do what we can not to perpetuate the very evil we abjure. Despite Aquino’s unpunished crimes, most of them the product of a juvenile and diseased mind, many of us long for a new system that would have the courage and the wisdom to look to the future rather than to the past, and find a legitimate reason to embark upon a pilgrimage of “mutual forgiveness.”
We are all sinners, and at one point or another, we all have wronged one another. In this great Jubi-lee of Mercy, many are wondering, myself included, whether our country could advance by at least five years its celebration of 500 years of Christianity in 2021, by embarking upon such a pilgrimage. Call it an utopian dream of a failed reformist. But I put it inside the pot from which we could draw our lottery prizes.
Conversion for Aquino
I dream of and pray for PNoy’s conversion, as Saul, our Lord’s great persecutor, was converted on his way to Damascus. I have no illusion that if it could happen, it would happen anytime soon, but our duty is to pray and to hope for the impossible, not just for what is possible. But right now, we must contend with certain ugly and unpleasant facts that involve Pony.
The decision to reopen the Senate inquiry into the Mamasapano inquiry on its anniversary on Jan. 25 invites a lot of questions. It will be recalled that the Senate report on this inquiry was archived upon the initiative of the committee chair, Sen. Grace Poe Llamanzares, without the report being dis-cussed on the Senate floor.
Changed premises on Mamasapano
The general impression at the time was that Llamanzares wanted to do PNoy a favor: she wanted to spare him from any embarrassment or incrimination by any further discussion of his role in the Ma-masapano affair. She had topped the 2013 senatorial elections because of PNoy’s 60-30-10 PCOS operation, and she was a PNoy ally at the time.
The political premises have since changed. Although the reopening of the inquiry is apparently driv-en by new materials that had come into the hands of former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile dur-ing his forced absence from the Senate, which could include a video showing what PNoy actually did in Zamboanga city that led to the withholding of military reinforcement to the Special Action Force commandos in Mamasapano, Sen. Llamanzares’s political and personal motivations may have completely changed. This could affect the general direction of the inquiry.
The SET and Comelec cases
Mrs. Llamanzares is fighting for her survival, both as a sitting senator and as a presidential candi-date. Five of her Senate colleagues on the nine-man Senate Electoral Tribunal had tried to save her from being unseated from the Senate, for not being a natural-born citizen, although not for failing to meet the two-year residency requirement for senatorial candidates when she ran for office. But the three Supreme Court justices on the SET all voted to unseat her for failing to meet the citizenship requirement.
Petitioner Rizalito David has raised the SET ruling to the Supreme Court in a petition for certiorari, alleging grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction. Solicitor General Flor-in Hilbay, who is seeking a seat on the High Court, has decided to defend the SET decision before it, raising eyebrows in the legal community among those who believe the ruling trashes the Constitu-tion in favor of purely political motives.
At the same time, the Commission on Elections en banc has affirmed the rulings of the First and Second Divisions declaring that Mrs. Llamanzares is not a natural-born Filipino citizen and cancel-ling her Certificate of Candidacy as a presidential candidate. Mrs. Llamanzares has filed a petition for certiorari before the Supreme Court and asked the Court to restrain the implementation of the Comelec ruling.
The provisional TRO
In response, Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno has issued a provisional TRO while the Court is on re-cess. This will have to be confirmed by the Court en banc when it resumes on Jan. 12. But all seven commissioners of the Comelec, including the one who dissented against the decision of the First Division, agreed that Mrs. Llamanzares is not a natural-born Filipino.
As principal petitioner in the Comelec First Division, I have asked the High Court through my law-yer Manuelito Luna to dismiss the Llamanzares petition and dissolve the TRO, for being entirely without merit. A writ of certiorari (from the Latin, “to be informed of,”) is usually issued by a supe-rior court on a lower court or tribunal if the latter has committed a grave abuse of discretion, amounting to an excess or a lack of jurisdiction, and resulting in the violation of the Constitution.
In the SET case, this appears to be the case. The Constitution was completely set aside by the ma-jority of five senator-members, who ruled on the basis of extra-constitutional considerations. By contrast, the Comelec First and Second Division rulings, which came after lengthy clarificatory hearings and submission of memorandums, were all premised on the undisputed facts and the clear provisions of the Constitution. There is not a tinge of abuse of discretion or jurisdictional error that could be adduced to by Mrs. Llamanzares.
Malacanang against itself?
Qualified sources have identified a powerful Cabinet member, who clearly does not support Roxas and would like to use Mrs. Llamanzares against his candidacy, as the one responsible for “securing” the TRO, together with the CEO of a well-known conglomerate who reportedly provided the need-ed “incentive.” This means Malacanang is not a monolithic LP bloc behind Roxas, but a house di-vided against itself.
If this report is true, then Mrs. Llamanzares could use the Mamasapano inquiry as a gun to PNoy’s head—- to force him to use all his clout on the SC justices to rule in her favor on the SET and Comelec cases. This will be impossible to manage.
The Comelec case against Mrs. Llamanzares is so clearly presented, argued and supported by the evidence that no SC Justice who cares for the Constitution and the law, and for his honor, reputa-tion, personal wellbeing and safety, would dare to read it in favor of Mrs. Llamanzares. No amount of corruption or intimidation will work. Although corruption has now become the system, it still has its limits, and not all the money in the world could turn a duck into a fighting cock. Aquino will have to physically usurp the authority of the Court, take the place of the Justices themselves and personally declare that Mrs. Llamanzares a natural-born citizen and a resident of the country for the last ten years, and therefore eligible as a presidential candidate. Thus, even with a Mamasapano gun to his head, he may not be able to help reverse Mrs. Llamanzares’s fate.
On the other hand, if the videos presented by Enrile at the hearings prove to be sufficiently incrimi-natory, they could facilitate PNoy’s departure from office, and let Vice President Jojo Binay take over without having expected it, or guarantee PNoy’s “second term” in prison after he vacates. Or it could set in motion the final “wild card” that PNoy’s hard-core Cabinet supporters seem to be-lieve is the only thing that will save him from ignominy and imprisonment. This group is not large in number, but it exercises control over the police, the military and the money, and it exists to please Aquino only.
One cannot expect their game to be electoral. Their only objective is to save Aquino and themselves, and that is not compatible with saving democracy or the country. Yet it could change the entire po-litical play.
Openly for Binay
On my Monday afternoon GNN interview, the host surprised us when at the closing sequence of the program, where we did not discuss any presidential candidacy, he unexpectedly declared his support for Binay. He said there was only one presidential candidate worth supporting in May. This was Binay, and he was going all out for him, he said.
At a business luncheon with some newspaper colleagues earlier that day, a number of well-known public commentators openly declared their support for the same candidate.
The next day and the next I heard the same thing from individuals who were normally reserved on these matters.
At a university fundraiser yesterday, a couple of businessmen seemed so eager to tell me they were for Binay too.
Indeed, after a prolonged season of being on the receiving end from all the attack dogs in the Sen-ate and in Makati, Binay is finally bouncing back. You don’t need the surveys to tell you that, which falsely report that PNoy’s approval rating is on the rise too. You only talk to people about it, and they tell you. This has prompted a loyal supporter to predict with a lot of hope and confidence that “the stone which the builders have rejected will eventually become the cornerstone.”
The real wild card
But it seems to be getting clearer with each passing day that ultimately Binay and the rest of the nation will have to contend not with Mar Roxas, not with Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, not with Grace Poe Llamanzares, but with Aquino.