Aquino’s Trojan horse
THE cat is finally out of the bag. The Manila Times banner story on Monday spelled it out, quoting highly reliable sources: President B. S. Aquino is now poised to dump LP presidential candidate Mar Roxas in favor of the constitutionally ineligible former American citizen Grace Poe Llamanzares, allegedly because of his poor showing in the propaganda surveys. She has been disqualified as a candidate and her Certificate of Candidacy has been cancelled by the Commission on Elections for not being a natural-born citizen, and for lacking the 10-year residency requirement before the May 9 election. But PNoy’s partymates have revealed his plan to use her as his Trojan horse.
Many have long suspected it, but they never expected Aquino’s partymates to put it out in the open. It is a recipe for national disaster. This is not to say that the nation’s fate and that of Roxas are inexorably intertwined. But what looms as political treachery against Roxas could end up as treason against the Filipino electorate. They expect their presidential candidates to comply first with all the constitutional requirements–that they be natural-born citizens, registered voters, able to read and write, not less than 40 years old, and residents of the country for at least ten years before the election. They expect them to be candidates first of the Constitution, before they are their own self-nominated candidates, or the candidates of political parties.
Mrs. Llamanzares is a self-nominated candidate. She is running as an independent, in response to popular demand from herself, her American family, her lawyer-friends who seem to believe that an individual who did not have a known nationality from birth and who does not know her parents until now could be elected president of 100 million Filipinos, and rich financial backers who would like to own the next President of the Philippines to ensure the unimpeded ballooning of their private wealth. She has been rating fairly high in the paid propaganda surveys conducted by pollsters who do not feel it their duty to tell the people being surveyed that she has, in fact, been disqualified by the Comelec, and that right now, her only chance lies in the Supreme Court declaring the Comelec erred or abused its discretion in reading the provisions of the Constitution with respect to presidential candidates.
The new ‘Villaroyo’
On the basis of these surveys, there is a sustained effort in the media, both social and mainstream, to describe her falsely as “the leading presidential candidate,” even though the latest polls have put Vice President Jejomar C. Binay on top of everybody else. With Aquino’s reported inclination to adopt her in place of Roxas, comparisons are now being made between her and Nacionalista Party presidential candidate Manny Villar in 2010. In that election, Villar led all the early propaganda surveys, while President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s official candidate, former Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr., who was easily the brightest and most erudite among the candidates, failed to rate at all. Villar’s propaganda ratings suddenly collapsed after he was branded as “Villaroyo”–Arroyo’s Trojan horse–and Aquino’s men took control of the propaganda polls.
But the similarity ends there. Assuming Villar was in fact Mrs. Arroyo’s “secret card” in that election, he met all the constitutional requirements as a candidate, and never posed a threat to the letter and spirit of the Constitution. The exact opposite is true of Mrs. Llamanzares. She has been disqualified and her COC cancelled because she is not a natural-born citizen and lacks the 10-year residency requirement prior to the election. There is no reason to believe she does not know she is not eligible under the Constitution.
She knows what she lacks
She knows that under the 1935 Constitution, which was in force when she was born in 1968, only those born of Filipino fathers are natural-born citizens; those born of Filipino mothers have to elect Philippine citizenship upon reaching the age of majority. She was born a foundling, found in the premises of the Catholic church in Jaro, Iloilo on Sept. 3, 1968, and she knows by now that foundlings have a right to a nationality, but that this is not automatically conferred at birth; it must be acquired through the appropriate legal process. That very process destroys any claim to natural-born status, which under the Constitution belongs to those who are Filipinos from birth without having to perform any act to acquire or perfect their citizenship.
The Comelec en banc promulgated its ruling on Mrs. Llamanzares on Dec. 23. On Dec. 28, she filed a petition for certiorari and asked the Supreme Court to temporarily restrain the implementation of the Comelec resolution. On the same day, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno issued a Temporary Order subject to confirmation by the Court en banc when it returns from its Christmas recess. On Jan. 12, the Court confirmed the TRO. But it did not reverse the decisions of the Comelec First and Second Divisions and the Commerce en banc.
What the TRO means
As the SC En Banc Jan. 14 Advisory explained, the High Court confirmed the TROs issued by the Chief Justice on Dec. 28, 2015 “not necessarily because the merits of the cases demand the same but only for the purpose of not rendering the cases moot and academic.”
So yesterday, the Court heard oral arguments on the petition for certiorari. Commissioner Arthur Lim spoke for the Comelec, while lawyer Manuelito Luna spoke on my behalf, as lead petitioner. I had to be in Court and had to write this column before the orals got started, so I am unable to report here what happened there.
The Llamanzares camp has exploited the TRO to mislead the public into believing that the SC would ultimately rule in her favor. One TV commercial likens her case to that of her late adoptive father, Fernando Poe, Jr., who faced a similar disqualification suit when he ran for President in 2004. Unlike his adopted daughter, though, he was not a foundling whose parents were unknown, and he was able to prove that he was natural-born. In the present commercial, the message is that like FPJ, Mrs. Llamanzares would hurdle the disqualification suit against her and would be allowed to run in the end.
It is a crude attempt to influence public opinion in a case where the Constitution and the law alone should rule. Through Atty. Luna, I have asked the Court to take appropriate steps against the commercial. Earlier I have asked the Court for similar relief against a column written by former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, who tried to tell the SC Justices how to rule on the case. In the preliminary conference at the Supreme Court last Thursday, Justice Marvic Leonen appealed to the parties to avoid contumacious acts or statements that could affect the dignity of the proceedings. Apparently the other side is not listening.
Last Saturday, some garden variety lawyer managed to insert himself into the Kapihan at Anabel’s (Quezon City) and tried to bamboozle the audience with every argumentum ad misericordiam which has been rejected in every forum where it had been raised before.
The poor fellow had more words than ideas, and appeared convinced he was making a point with all the tired cliches and sub-literate phrases he could muster to advance the nonsense that foundlings are natural-born citizens who did not have to be mentioned in the Constitution.
With some pomp and in a loud voice, he said it would be cruel to deprive Mrs. Llamanzares of her “right” to run for President, just because she was not natural-born.
One broadcaster asked whether, following the man’s logic, it would also not be cruel for people below 40 years of age, who are not registered voters, who cannot read nor write, and who have not lived in the country for at least ten years before the election to be prevented from running for President. The fellow did not know what hit him.
It is worth noting that the Comelec has disqualified most of the 130 presidential filers as “nuisance candidates” even though they meet all the constitutional requirements. Their only deficiency–which is not the least constitutional–is that the have no money or organizational capability to mount a national campaign. No private parties have sought their disqualification, yet they were quickly disqualified motu proprio by the Commission.
By contrast, four petitions were filed against Mrs. Llamanzares, and the Comelec has ruled against her; but she hangs on because of a TRO, which she now uses, in her propaganda, to claim that she is winning, or has, in fact, won.
The report that Aquino is now inclined to use her as a candidate exacerbates the situation. It shows that regardless of what the Comelec has said, and what the High Court itself could say, he would like to see Llamanzares run. He seems to believe he could overturn the Comelec ruling and get the High Court to declare Mrs. Llamanzares eligible, despite her inherent and indisputable disqualification. Will this not exert undue pressure on the Court?
In the latest Court ruling on the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the US, many believe the Court bowed to Malacañang in upholding the constitutionality of EDCA as a mere “executive agreement” instead of classifying it as a treaty that needs Senate concurrence. None of the Justices questioned the President’s right to enter into an expanded military agreement with the US or any other country for that matter; what Justices Teresita Leonardo de Castro, Arturo Brion, Marvic Leonen and Estela Perlas-Bernabe questioned was the constitutionality of excluding the Senate from any role in the agreement.
It is not easy to misunderstand the meaning of the Constitution when it says, “After the expiration in 1991 of the Agreement between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America concerning Military Bases, foreign military bases, troops, or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate and, when the Congress so requires, ratified by a majority of the votes cast by the people in a national referendum held for that purpose, and recognized as a treaty by the other contracting State.”
But some of our brightest Justices clearly misunderstood it. They described EDCA as a mere “implementing agreement” to the Visiting Forces Agreement, which in my defense of it on the Senate floor in 1999, I had described as an “implementing agreement” of the 1950 Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and the US. Now, we have an implementing agreement to an implementing agreement. Can we be more creative than that?
Apparently Justice Brion saw this clearly, so in his dissent, he suggested that the President be given 90 days to submit the EDCA to the Senate for its concurrence, before it is allowed to take effect. Despite that, the 10-4-1 vote in favor of EDCA should have pleased PNoy.
But apparently not content with that, PNoy reportedly spent the next half hour after hearing of the EDCA decision, expressing his anger at two of his Court appointees who dissented from the Majority.
This seems to be the real danger now. If PNoy finally decides that Mrs. Llamanzares should be her candidate at all costs, what will he not do to bring it about? The patriots on the Court will resist, but how do we avoid a constitutional crisis?