Reading from the media accounts of the oral arguments last Tuesday at the Supreme Court on the Comelec disqualification cases of Sen. Grace Poe-Llamanzares, I had a vision of Ms. Poe as a politician who is running the gauntlet in her obsession to become president of our republic.
“Running the gauntlet” is an idiom that entered the English language in 1676 according to the Oxford English Dictionary.
The expression was a corrupted form of the Swedish word gatlopp, which was adopted into English with the meaning “military punishment in which the offender runs between rows of men who beat him in passing.”
Over time, “To run the gauntlet” evolved to mean, “to run past a row of people who are trying to hurt you.” It can be used either literally or figuratively.
In modern English, It has increasingly been used to describe politicians who run for president, because they must run a gauntlet of primaries, debates, and media criticism to attain the prize.
At Tuesday’s oral arguments at the high court, the image of Ms. Poe running the gauntlet is most fitting, because what she and her hapless lawyer went through under questioning from the 13 justices present looked positively withering.
Should her ambition survive this scrutiny intact, then we may say that she deserves a shot at the presidency. Not since Macbeth have we seen ambition as overweening and obsessive as this.
A compelling drama
The drama last Tuesday was compelling.
Ms. Poe, accompanied by her adoptive mother, Susan Roces, personally witnessed the oral arguments.
Only 13 justices were on hand because Justice Arturo Brion was on leave and Justice Martin Villarama Jr. retired last Friday.
Before the en banc session started, Poe expressed confidence that the law would side with her and with all abandoned Filipino children.
She declared that foundlings like her should be considered natural-born Filipinos.
When the justices commenced their questioning, the image of running the gauntlet firmly took hold. Six justices took turns in questioning Alex Poblador, Ms. Poe’s lawyer. And there is promise of more questioning by other justices on Tuesday, when the orals resume.
I take the time to reconstruct some of the questioning here because they draw for us the eye of the needle that Ms. Poe must pass through. They show how seriously our justices have studied her case. They assure us that they take their duties to the nation and the Constitution as a mandate that they must discharge.
Justices’ key questions and points
Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo led the way by asking Poblador if Poe used her US passport in 2011.
Poblador told the court that Poe’s dual citizenship allows her to continue using her American passport. Poe’s camp had admitted that the last time the senator used her US passport was on March 9, 2010.
Del Castillo also asked Poblador about the error Poe made in her certificate of candidacy wherein she stated that she resided in the Philippines for 6 years and 6 months. Poblador said it was an honest mistake and there was no intent to deceive the public.
Del Castillo also stated pointedly that a dual citizen cannot be president of the Philippines.
Ms. Poe quietly slipped out of the session hall before Associate Justice Antonio Carpio started grilling Poblador.
Carpio took Poblador to task for citing the proceedings of the 1934 Constitution.
The magistrate said Poe’s camp failed to quote completely deliberations between Constitutional Convention delegates Nicolas Rafols, Ruperto Montinola and Manuel Roxas pertaining to inclusion of foundlings as a class of persons considered as Philippine citizens.
“You were saying that Mr. Rafols proposed that children of unknown parents should be considered natural-born Filipinos?” Carpio asked Poblador who answered yes.
The magistrate noted that Poe’s camp did not include the entire deliberations:
“You missed out the most important part … the next page… here… the president [of the Constitutional Convention]says, ‘Does the gentleman from Cebu insist on his amendment?’ and the president said, ‘Let’s submit it to a vote… the amendment is rejected,’ ” Carpio pointed out.
“The records of the Constitutional Convention of 1934 clearly state that Mr. Rafols’ proposal was rejected by the majority,” he added.
For her part, Justice Teresita Leonardo –De Castro made the following statement to the assembled throng:
“A foundling can be a Filipino citizen, but it doesn’t say a natural-born citizen. You cannot apply presumption unless there is established fact.
“Natural-born citizenship is a birthright. If one invokes international law, you do not rely on blood relationship. Jus sanguines applies in the Philippines.”
Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta directed his interpellation to another telling point:
“The case of former first lady and Ilocos Rep. Imelda Romualdez-Marcos is different from Poe’s case because Mrs. Marcos never became a US citizen.”
And then, as if to suggest where Ms. Poe must go to win her case, Justice Peralta declared: “DNA evidence is 99.99 percent accurate.”
Which means that more remains of the departed will have to be exhumed by Ms. Poe’s camp.
A cautionary tale of political ambition
In a fortnight, we may expect this long-running saga of Grace Poe’s candidacy to reach its conclusion because the SC will hand down its decision on the disqualification cases against her. It may overturn the decision of the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET), which mystifyingly ruled that Ms. Poe is a natural-born Filipino, and thereby unseat her from the Senate. Or it may affirm the Comelec in its en banc decision to nullify her candidacy for president in the May elections.
What, many have asked me, do we as a nation and a people gain from all the trials and tribulations of Ms. Poe?
I say this. What we Filipinos have gained is a cautionary tale about political ambition—about what a politician can become when (to quote Peggy Noonan) she “cannot sacrifice her needs , or quell her hungers, and never quite manage to summon the grace to put principle or country before self.”
The saga of Ms Poe should be studied alongside William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the classic tragedy of ambition. Here we see how ambition can lead to tragedy and even madness, when one’s goal is achieved by cheating and deceit. And how concentrating on a false goal causes so much distress
Macbeth’s ambition—to become king—was not false. but he should have won the title honorably instead of stealing it. Not only is this route not rewarding, it may require therapy to overcome .
This is a lesson for young and ambitious politicians like Ms. Poe. But this is even more a lesson for our TV-dominated and money-obsessed politics.