The Commission on Elections en banc has come under attack from the camp of Sen. Grace Poe Llamanzares for disqualifying her as presidential candidate and canceling her Certificate of Candidacy on Dec. 23, 2015—two days before Christmas. The en banc ruling affirmed the Dec. 11, 2015 resolution of the First Division, which found Mrs. Llamanzares ineligible to seek the presidency for not being a natural-born Filipino, and for lacking the 10-year residency requirement under the Constitution.
A week or so before the en banc resolution, the Times headlined a story predicting a five-to-one vote disqualifying Mrs. Llamanzares and cancelling her CoC. The story was attributed to former Comelec chairman Sixto Brilllantes, Jr., a well-known Poe Llamanzares supporter. The 30-page ruling confirmed the Brillantes story, except that the vote is six-to-one, with only Commissioner Christian Robert S. Lim dissenting.
Unanimous on citizenship
But on the issue of whether or not Mrs. Llamanzares is a natural-born citizen, all seven commissioners agree that she is not. Lim, in his 81-page dissent on the First Division ruling which he has adopted at the En Banc, says “no amount of legal juggling” can make Mrs. Llamanzares a natural-born citizen because she has no known biological parents at least one of whom is a Filipino citizen, and six other reasons. He goes so far as to suggest that she may be criminally liable for misrepresenting her citizenship status.
Chairman Andres Bautista, in his three-page concurring and dissenting opinion, argues that “a former Filipino who reacquired Philippine citizenship should be deemed to be a naturalized Filipino citizen.” However, he appears to be caught in some kind of political dance: he fails to state categorically that Mrs. Llamanzares is not a “former natural-born citizen” who has validly reacquired her former citizenship; and he has been seen on television criticizing the En Banc decision, which it is his constitutional and ethical duty as chairman to defend, even if he were opposed to it.
The timing or the ruling itself?
If we understand the objection, what is being objected to is not so much the ruling per se as the “timing” of the same, which the Llamanzares camp finds “suspicious” for being so close to the holidays when the Supreme Court is on recess.
I am no apologist for the Comelec. I have at least a couple of petitions against the Comelec before the Supreme Court, but this is one instance when all the parties concerned should be thankful to the Comelec for acting on this case with reasonable dispatch. Regardless of the unseemly conduct of the Chairman, which has not escaped the attention of the public, this is one time when the Comelec as a body is not sinning but rather sinned against.
There are four petitions against Mrs. Llamanzares—-one initiated by Atty. Estrella Elamparo and assigned to the Second Division, and three filed by this writer, Prof. Antonio Contreras and Dean Amado Valdez and assigned to the First. The petitions argue that Mrs. Llamanzares is not a natural-born Filipino, that she has not met the 10-year residency requirement prior to election day, and that she has misrepresented herself in both issues. She is, therefore, not eligible to run for President. This was the common finding of the two Divisions, and this was affirmed by the En Banc.
The only questions
The questions addressed by the En Banc are the same questions of relevance to the public. Is she a natural-born Filipino or not? Has she been residing in the country for at least ten years prior to the May 9, 2016 elections? Did she or did she not make any material misrepresentation on any of these two issues?
This is what the En Banc says in part:
“The 1935 Constitution, including the 1987 Constitution, adheres to the principle of jus sanguinis or blood relationship as basis of natural-born Filipino citizenship.
Any blood relatives?
“The principle of jus sanguinis posits that one is a natural-born Filipino because she is born of a Filipino parent. Under the 1935 Constitution, a natural-born Filipino citizen is one whose father is a citizen of the Philippines. Under the 1987 Constitution, a natural-born Filipino citizen is one whose father or mother is a Filipino citizen. Respondent does not fall under any of the definitions provided for by the Constitution as to who are natural-born citizens. The fact that the Respondent was a foundling with no known parentage or blood relative effectively excluded her from the coverage of the definition of a natural-born citizen. The enumeration under the 1935 Constitution is exclusive; a strict interpretation of who are natural-born citizens must be applied, especially when the same is read in conjunction with the elective position of President, the highest and most powerful position in the land. Unless Respondent can show that she falls under the definition of natural-born citizen as envisaged in the 1935 Constitution, this Commission has no choice but to dismiss her claim of natural-born citizenship…
“As found by the First Division, which we affirm, Respondent is not a natural-born citizen of the Philippines. She has likewise failed to comply with the ten (10)-year residency requirement…
“In her CoC for President, Respondent declared that she is eligible to the position she seeks to be elected to. In Item No. 7 of her CoC, Respondent claimed that her period of residency in the Philippines as of the day before the 2016 Elections on 9 May 2016 is ten (10) years and eleven (11) months; in item no. 8 Respondent declared and affirmed that she is a natural-born Filipino citizen. This is a false declaration because Respondent does not possess the qualifications pertaining to natural-born citizenship and the ten (10)-year residency requirement…
“Upon a review of the facts and evidence on record, the applicable laws and relevant jurisprudence, We affirm the findings of the First Division that Respondent deliberately misrepresented her citizenship so as to hide her ineligibility and mislead the electorate…
She knows what she is, and what she’s not
“Respondent knows that she was a foundling, that she has no known blood relatives, and that she was an adopted child of Susan Roces (Jesusa Sonora Poe) and Fernando Poe Jr. (Ronald Allan Kelley Poe). As a foundling, it is clear under the 1935 Constitution that Respondent could not have fallen under the definition of who are natural-born citizens. As previously shown, the language of the 1935 Constitution is clear: unless Respondent can show that she is born of a Filipino parent or father, she cannot claim natural-born Filipino citizenship.
“…Despite knowing her ineligibility, Respondent chose to ignore the facts, the law, and the Constitution, as well as jurisprudence, and misrepresent herself as natural-born Filipino citizen and mislead the electorate, clearly in order to serve her purpose and suit her intent of running for the Presidency.”
Ignorance not excused
The ruling quoted part of the resolution of the First Division as follows:
“Ignorance of the law excuses no one. Respondent is presumed and expected to know the law. She is bound by its effects and consequences in case of violation thereof. Indeed as a public servant, member of the Philippine Congress—the country’s lawmaking body and the third coequal branch of government—-Respondent is all the more charged and expected to know the law. As a lawmaker, it is the Respondent’s duty to know, abide by, and apprise herself of the laws of the Republic.”
Referring to the Respondent’s claim of “honest mistake” in computing her period of residence in the country, when she ran for Senator in 2013, which adversely affects her statement in her CoC for President, the En Banc said:
“Respondent’s “honest mistake” excuse crumbles in the face of the fact that six years and six months computed from 2 Oct 2012, the date Respondent filed her CoC for Senator, is more or less around April 2006. This still does not match respondent’s claim that she has been a resident of the Philippines since 24 May 2005…Thus the Commission En Blanc finds that Respondent committed material misrepresentation in her CoC when she declared herein that she has been a resident of the Philippines for a period of ten (10) years and eleven (11) months as of the day of the elections on 9 May 2016.”
Was there a deliberate intent on the part of the En Ban to prejudice the rights of the Respondent In promulgating its ruling, two days before Christmas? Wouldn’t the Llamanzares camp be cheering wildly if the En Banc had, instead, reversed the ruling of the First Division on Christmas eve? Mrs. Llamanzares would have considered it the greatest Christmas gift she ever received. So, contrary to her pleading, it is not the timing of the ruling, but the ruling itself that she is unhappy about. She apparently had hoped the five commissioners on the First and Second Divisions, who had voted to disqualify her and cancel her CoC in two separate resolutions, would reverse themselves at the En Banc. But what might have been the basis of that?
What really happened
In fairness to all concerned, what happened here was that the En Banc started meeting continuously as soon as the two rulings were elevated to it. It was not easy to arrive at the final consensus. The Commissioners had to revisit their positions to make sure they had not erred. Thus, in the case of Commissioner Luie Tito F. Guia, he arrived at the conclusion that, contrary to his earlier position, in support of Commissioner Rowena Guanzon’s ponencia in the First Division, Mrs. Llamanzares may be “considered to have effectively transferred her domicile from the US to the Philippines as of May 2005”, and is therefore compliant with the 10-year residency requirement under the Constitution. This removes one vote from those who maintain that she does not meet that requirement.
Once they arrived at a consensus and the votes of its members were recorded, the En Banc had to make the result public. They had to promulgate it. They have no right to withhold it from the public. The En Banc therefore cannot be accused of malice for coming out with the ruling when it did. I received the news about in on the evening of the 22nd (Tuesday) when my lawyer Atty. Manuelito Luna alerted me to it, and Rappler called me about it. It is disingenuous to say the Llamanzares camp was caught flat-footed. This was their biggest battle, their lawyers (unless they are not paid for their services) should have been prepared to take the next step as soon as the expected ruling was out.
The people’s right?
Now, you have one silly so-called political analyst conjuring a possible “upheaval” because of the En Banc ruling, and Mrs. Llamanzares herself talking of “the people’s right to choose their own leaders” being violated. Were Mrs. Llamanzares constitujtionally eligible for the office, and were she in fact a legitimate candidate, and some brute force was trying to prevent the people from writing her name on the ballot, then that statement would make some sense. But Mrs. Llamanzares merely wants to impose herself on the electoral process even though she is not constitutionally eligible for the office. We cannot allow this madness.
We must thank and commend the Comelec, for all its faults, in trying to save the nation from this pompous and puffed-up nuisance candidate.