As the Supreme Court prepares to rule on Sen. Grace Poe Llamanzares’s constitutional eligibility to run for president, after having been disqualified by the Commission on Elections for misrepresenting herself as a natural-born citizen and a resident of the country for over 10 years prior to the May 9 elections, one cannot help but wonder whether she might not, in fact, have an easier time if she was mercifully shut down, and spared of so much more and bigger troubles.
As far as the Constitution is concerned, her ineligibility to run springs purely from the “circumstances” of her birth and domicile, not from any fatal character flaws or any hidden and unpunished crimes. She came into the world, through no fault of her own, a foundling of no known parentage, abandoned inside the parish church in Jaro, Iloilo on Sept. 3, 1968: she had the right to a nationality, but not to an instant citizenship—because of our jus sanguinis (right of blood) doctrine, she cannot claim to be natural-born, and the 1935 Constitution, which was in force in 1968, does not consider her a citizen.
This is the state of the law, which only a constitutional amendment or revision, not a judicial ruling, can change.
Given her well-known circumstances, she should be able to withstand an adverse ruling, without having to torment herself further. However, the situation could turn adverse, if for any reason she overcomes the otherwise final and non-reviewable ruling of the Comelec and becomes a bona fide candidate. If the ruling is attended by any suspicion of illegal conduct on the part of any interested party, trouble could embroil not only her candidacy but even the entire nation.
Even if the majority accepted such a ruling, her enemies will want to demolish her, not for being a foundling, but for her fatal flaws in her character and her alleged crimes, which had remained unexposed for so long as she was not yet a bona fide candidate. These flaws could include her demonstrated capacity for lying, blatant opportunism, utter lack of commitment and loyalty to the flag, otherwise known as patriotism, overweening ambition and inordinate hunger for power undeterred by her unbounded limitations and lack of experience.
The data have piled up, and on Wednesday this week The Daily Tribune, in an exclusive expose by its publisher and editor-in-chief Ninez Cacho-Olivares, added the latest. The paper reported that in her early years in the United States, where she went to pursue her college education in Boston, Massachusetts in 1988 and became an American citizen in 2001, Mrs. Llamanzares took the social security number of a dead man–SSN 005-03-1988, issued between 1934 and 1951, before she was born– and used it as her own.
The paper described this as “identity theft,” a punishable crime under US federal law.
Mrs. Llamanzares allegedly used it three times in 1999, and once in 2006. Aside from this social security number, she allegedly took out another number–SSN 538-25-2008, this time her own.
Her campaign spokesman Gatchalian was quick to denounce the report as “black propaganda,” saying that SSN 538-25-2008 was her student ID number when she was studying political science in Boston. But the spokesman failed to say anything about the other number, SSN 005-03-1988, which allegedly used to belong to a dead man.
This was rather like the man who, accused of butchering innocent children for his meals, and abusing equally innocent virgins, protested with all his might that he had never in his life violated virgins.
Thus, whatever the final truth about the Tribune story, it will most likely be repeated against her at the hustings. No one will be prevented from suggesting a link between this alleged use of a dead man’s identity in Fairfax, Virginia and her decision to dig up the graves of unknown dead men in the province of Guimaras in search of a possible DNA match to establish her Filipino parentage.
Character and patriotism
All this will go into the examination of her character. Just what kind of a person is she? Some people will want to ask more intimately personal questions: How much alcohol does she take, especially in the company of her running mate, Sen. Francis Escudero? How heavily does she smoke? Does she have a history of using drugs–and of being rehabilitated from the use of drugs–while she was in the US? All these, and more.
But the one charge that is likely to summon the intense wrath of many Filipinos still has to do with her citizenship–her decision to renounce and abjure any allegiance and loyalty to the Republic of the Philippines in 2001 when she swore allegiance to the United States of America and bound herself to bear arms for the US, if needed–even it meant doing so against the country of her birth.
A renegade president?
Having previously completely cut off her ties with the Philippines for sheer personal convenience, what gives her the gall to think that any right-thinking Filipino should want her to become the President? Indeed, what makes her think that she could be the president of the Filipino nation while she lives with an American husband and their American children, whom she conveniently identifies, without proof, as “dual citizens?”
The first one is unforgivable, the second one unacceptable, to decent and patriotic Filipinos.
Having been born with no known citizenship, it remains unclear how she became a naturalized Filipino citizen in the first place. This was not sufficiently discussed in the extensive Oral Arguments or in the exchanges of memoranda before the Supreme Court.
She was adopted by Ronald Allan Kelley Poe, aka Fernando Poe Jr. and Jesusa Sonora Poe, aka Susan Roces, in 1974, in a municipal court proceeding in San Juan, Rizal, at a time when municipal courts did not have any jurisdiction on adoption cases; she eventually registered as a voter and obtained a Philippine passport.
She has since cited these circumstances to claim Filipino citizenship, but several Justices have pointed out this is not correct– the illegal exercise by a non-citizen of the rights of citizenship does not prove or confer upon her actual citizenship.
Filipino by day, American by night
Mrs. Llamanzares’ first known and uncontested citizenship is that of an American; and her last known and uncontested citizenship is that of an American too. She officially renounced her US citizenship in 2011, but her husband and children remain American. Assuming they are, as she claims, “dual citizens,” although this must be sufficiently proved, they are at least “half-Americans,” or as a friend of mine puts it, “Americans by day, Filipinos by night,” or “Filipinos by day, Americans by night.”
In the United States, no one who had previously abandoned American citizenship could ever hope to run for President or any high office. In the Philippines, members of the diplomatic service in the beginning had to abandon the service if they were to marry foreigners; later they were required to obtain the government’s official permission before they could. This liberalized the policy, without eliminating the security risks. But no one has ever sought the presidency or even the vice-presidency while being married to a foreigner. It is simply anathema, unthinkable, for any self-respecting, sovereign state.
This is because the presidency is the highest repository of the nation’s sovereignty, and top official secrets–the nation cannot afford the risk of having a president who sleeps with a potential if not actual foreign agent. Mrs. Llamanzares is the first former American to aspire for the Philippine presidency, and she has never been subtle or shy in trying to make people believe she is “the American candidate,” assuming the US has a particular presidential candidate.
A gross insult
No doubt, the US is our primary ally and Filipinos are generally “pro-American.” But even though our national interests may not collide, their permanent interests are separate and distinct from our own. We cannot afford to have a president serving US national interests as though they were our own, and well before our own. For this reason alone, it is a gross insult to the nation to even consider a former American as a possible presidential option.
Mrs. Llamanzares’ record of lying under oath has been thoroughly documented in the course of the Comelec, Senate Electoral Tribunal, and Supreme Court proceedings. We shall not replay this here. But every lie she has ever told about her personal circumstances to try to establish her “right” to run for president will surely be thrown back at her during the campaign.
Beyond this, her celebrated double-speak in the Senate hearings of the Mamasapano massacre to cover up for President B. S. Aquino 3rd will not be forgotten. In those hearings, she initially declared that Aquino, who took personal charge of Oplan Exodus, which resulted in the death of 44 Special Action Force commandos of the Philippine National Police in the hands of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, was directly accountable.
But she became the principal instrument for the cover-up when she sent the committee report on the hearings to the Archives, in apparent conspiracy with the Senate leadership, without first discussing it on the Floor. She never rectified this mistake even after the inquiry reopened recently, upon the motion of Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, to reexamine Aquino’s culpability in the death of the 44.
Many saw this as the beginning of her effort to assure Aquino that she would protect him from his enemies, after he is out of office, if she became the president. More and more people are now convinced that if she ends up finally running, it would principally be because of Aquino, and she would be doing so as his “Manchurian candidate.” They also see her as the candidate of “big business.” Although she is not yet a bona fide candidate, she is already outspending some of the bona fide candidates, because of the unabashed support of the CEO of one well-known conglomerate.
If for any reason then she is allowed to run, she will have to convince the voters that she is not wholly-owned by any political, commercial or foreign interest, and that if she should ever win, it would because the election was clean, honest, and transparent, and not because it was bought and manipulated by an outgoing single-term president, who is trying to avoid a “second term” in prison, and by the President’s crony on top of a privileged conglomerate who may have long gone beyond his permissible reach.
She may or may not survive the ferocity and nastiness at the trenches. The campaign could be more brutal and unforgiving than anything she had ever imagined or prepared for. This is why it may be all for her own good that Mrs. Llamanzares and her patrons abandon all their desires and ambitions to overthrow the Constitution and make fools of us all.