My letter to the Comelec
LAST Tuesday, I hand-carried a letter to the Law Department of the Commission on Elections asking for the exclusion of Mrs. Grace Poe Llamanzares from the list of certified presidential candidates in the May 9, 2016 elections. With me was Atty. Manuelito Luna, my lawyer. The letter was straightforward. It pointed out that in view of the decisions of the First and Second Divisions of the Comelec granting the four petitions against Mrs. Llamanzares’s candidacy, of which I am one of the petitioners, and canceling her Certificate of Candidacy for president, her name should now be dropped from the list of presidential candidates.
This was not a favor we were asking from the Comelec. We were simply asking the Comelec to implement its own decisions. The two Divisions did not simply “recommend” or “threaten” Mrs. Llamanzares’s disqualification and the cancellation of her CoC. They actually “disqualified” her and “cancelled” her CoC, for not being a natural-born citizen, and for not being a resident of the Philippines for at least ten years on the day of the May 9, 2016 elections. Her disqualification and the cancellation of her CoC are concrete official acts, whose completion must be reflected in, and be verifiable through, the certified list of candidates.
Null and void ab initio
What the two Divisions did was to declare that Mrs. Llamanzares’ candidacy was null and void ab initio–that it had no legal existence. The cancellation of her CoC is a declaration of nullity that should be reflected in all the relevant Comelec documents; it is not and cannot be compatible with a certified Comelec list that still carries, even for one short minute, her name as one of the certified candidates. Such a list impugns the integrity of the rulings and the Comelec itself. Having been based on unchallenged information before the Divisions ruled, such a list should have been purged automatically as soon as they had ruled.
In the same manner that such a list has done away with the names of those whom the Comelec has declared “nuisance candidates,” it should have, motu proprio, automatically dropped the name of Mrs. Llamanzares, who cannot claim any status different from or superior to that of the “nuisance candidates.” As I said in my letter, “this is but in accord with the aforementioned decisions and fully consistent with the need to show utmost respect for, and obedience to, the rule of law, in particular the official act of the Commission in the discharge of its constitutional mandate.”
Does this mean Mrs. Llamanzares can no longer appeal the decisions of the two Divisions to the Comelec en banc or to the Supreme Court? Of course not. She is free to do so, and I believe her lawyers as well as her vice presidential candidate Francis Escudero have advised her to. In my letter, I said, “We have no wish to bar the respondent from exploring further any possible means of seeking relief from the adverse effects of the rulings, but unless a contrary ruling from the highest tribunal restrains or modifies the present rulings, we do not believe there exists any legal obstacle to the Commission implementing the lawful, logical and immediate consequence of its own decisions.”
Before raising her case to the Supreme Court on certiorari, however, she will have to raise it to the Comelec en banc. This means the seven commissioners, including the chairman. The six of them have already voted; only the chairman has not. Three commissioners on the Second Division, ruling on the Estrella Elamparo petition, have already disqualified Mrs. Llamanzares and cancelled her CoC. Two others on the First Division, ruling on my petition and those of Prof. Antonio Contreras and Dean Amado Valdez, have similarly disqualified her and cancelled her CoC.
The Division’s presiding commissioner (Christian Robert S. Lim) has voted to “dissent” from the ruling on the three petitions, but his opinion argues as forcefully as Commissioner Rowena Guanzon’s ponencia that no amount of “legal juggling” can make Mrs. Llamanzares a natural-born citizen. Then he has decided to inhibit from the en banc proceedings because of his previous professional association with one of the petitioners (Elamparo). So, with the exception of the chairman, all those on the en banc had already voted to disqualify Mrs. Llamanzares and cancel her CoC.
Delisting completes DQ ruling
It seems fruitless to speculate on the chances of the commissioners reversing themselves at the en banc, but that is not the point here at all. What I want to point out rather is that what should be raised to the Comelec en banc, and ultimately to the Supreme Court if at all, are not just the rulings that disqualify Mrs. Llamanzares and cancel her CoC without proof that she has been delisted as a candidate, but rather those very same rulings as shown by the fact that she has, in fact, been delisted as a candidate. The delisting, to repeat, completes the decision of the two Divisions, and it is their complete decision which the en banc and ultimately the High Court must either uphold or reverse.
What is the legal basis for deferring the delisting? And who has the authority outside and in contravention of the Comelec rulings to order such deferment? Outside of the en banc reversing the rulings, no one has such authority, and no one has any legal basis. Chairman Bautista, who has yet to be heard officially on the petitions, has no authority to order that the two Divisions’ decisions to disqualify a particular candidate and cancel her CoC should not be reflected in the certified list of candidates.
Better qualified “nuisance candidates”
In the case of the so-called “nuisance candidates,” they have been summarily disqualified, their CoCs cancelled, and their names stricken off the list of certified candidates, without an elaborate process. But while most of them have been declared “nuisance candidates” because they had no money or manifest capability to wage a national campaign, most, if not all of them, are compliant with the Constitution–they are natural-born Filipinos, registered voters, able to read and write, at least 40 years of age on election day, and residents of the Philippines for at least ten years before the election.
This is more than what we can say for Mrs. Llamanzares. She has been disqualified precisely because she is not a natural-born Filipino, and she will not have lived in the country for at least ten years on election day. But she remains listed as a presidential candidate, even after the two Divisions had ruled that her candidacy was null and void ab initio, and had no legal existence. How could anyone explain this? Wouldn’t this be a serious material misrepresentation on the part of the Comelec?
Hoping against hope
Because hope springs eternal even in the breast of the constitutionally ineligible candidate, some people in the Llamanzares camp seem to believe that what the Comelec unanimously finds unconstitutional, the Supreme Court could yet declare constitutional. This is reportedly encouraged by the powerful CEO of one big conglomerate who says he had asked a former Chief Justice to canvass the position of the sitting Justices, and had been told that many are “open” to persuasion.
Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro and Justice Arturo Brion–three of the country’s most highly regarded justices–have already ruled on Mrs. Llamanzares’s citizenship in Rizalito David’s quo warranto petition before the Senate Electoral Tribunal. They had declared she is not a natural-born Filipino and therefore not eligible to sit in the Senate, where she won a seat in 2013, based on her claim of being natural-born and, please don’t forget, the marvelous efficiency of PNoy’s infamous 60-30-10 operation in favor of all his senatorial candidates.
But the expert legal reading of the Constitution by the three Justices was unceremoniously overwhelmed by the political reading of the same by five of the six senators on the nine-man SET, so the petitioner had to take the case to the High Court. It is now set for oral arguments on Jan. 19, 2016. The decision on this case would be binding on the Comelec and the four petitioners in the DQ and CoC cancellation cases. But there seems no reason to speculate that the other Justices will depart from the reading of the Constitution by their three colleagues and by the five commissioners of the Comelec.
In my letter to the Comelec, I said that “any speculation that the Supreme Court might see the case differently is just that–pure speculation, while the rulings of the two Divisions, based on a clear reading of the Constitution and the facts of the case, are unequivocal and certain.” Not only is there no legal basis for keeping Mrs. Llamanzares listed as a candidate after she has been declared ineligible to run, and her CoC cancelled; it is also utterly confusing to the voters, and inimical and dangerous to the process.
What would happen if, for some unexplained reason, her name remains on the list, the list is made the basis of printing the ballot, and her name gets printed on the ballot, even if the Comelec has already cancelled her CoC? What happens if she gets more votes than the other candidates? Wouldn’t all the demagogues in town be shouting, “vox populi, vox Dei,” (the voice of the people is the voice of God) so that, as in Pilate’s murderous court, they could make the voice of the ill-informed, the misled, and the bigots the “voice of God?”
Pure ego trip
Even if she does not lead in the count, if she gets any sizeable number of votes, wouldn’t she unnecessarily distort the legitimate distribution of votes–i.e., votes that should have gone to a legitimate candidate would instead go to her, thereby disrupting the chances of that candidate?
This would be pure ego trip. There is no legal, moral, or practical reason why Mrs. Llamanzares or anybody else should be listed as a certified presidential candidate after the Comelec has decided, on unimpeachable constitutional grounds, that she is not eligible to run for the office, and that her CoC has already been cancelled. It seems as simple as that.