Butuan City: I write from Butuan, where the moral leaders of the National Transformation Council are meeting to assess the prospects of holding a clean, honest and credible presidential election on May 9, amid growing fears of war following the failed political process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Little has prepared me for what I am hearing here.
Continuing skirmishes between the military and the rebels in Lanao and Maguindanao, the reported deployment of 10 military battalions against the Abu Sayyaf in Jolo, the reemergence of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding chairman Nur Misuari as the “revitalized leader” of previously contending anti-government factions, and the reported incursion of ISIS-influenced elements into some critical areas crowd into the background of these consultations. ISIS-influenced elements into some critical areas crowd into the background of these consultations.
But qualified observers are quick to point out that President B. S. Aquino 3rd’s failure, if not downright refusal, to assure the nation of clean, honest and credible elections, coupled by his reported intervention in the disqualification case of Grace Poe Llamanzares as a presidential candidate, could spawn a civil war faster than anything now troubling southern Philippines.
They saw yesterday’s Manila Times story, alleging an attempt by two unnamed individuals to buy off some Justices in order to “disqualify” Mrs. Llamanzares, whom the Commission on Elections has already disqualified, as a desperate bid to confuse the issues and turn the tables on those who had earlier exposed Aquino’s effort to compel Justices to qualify her as a candidate. The allegation contradicts the dominant perception that an SC ruling affirming the Comelec decision cannot be avoided, so Aquino is trying very hard to work on the Justices. It cannot therefore be believed.
Even here, observers see Aquino’s distasteful meddling in the Court’s business as the surest indication that the election would be rigged in favor of his “Manchurian Candidate,” should the majority of the Justices bend to his impious wishes. They see him as more interested in cooking the results of the election to make sure that the next President would later protect him from criminal prosecution for any of the unpunished crimes he has committed in the last six years. He also wants to keep his political enemies on the defensive even after he leaves office.
The PNoy-Poe courtship
Although Aquino had much earlier publicly anointed former DILG Secretary Mar Roxas as his official candidate, the latter’s failure to take off in the paid propaganda surveys has prompted him to furtively court Llamanzares, who has also been courting him on the sly, precisely to help her survive her disqualification as a candidate. Thus, she went out of her way to protect him during the last Senate inquiry from any accountability in the Mamasapano massacre in which 44 Special Action Force police commandos were killed.
She has also dropped broad hints that she would not go after Aquino, in the same manner that he had gone after his immediate predecessor and most important detainee, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, should she ever become president. No one else has made Aquino that promise, even though not one of them has ever attacked him for anything.
Facts of the case
Upon the petitions of Estrella Elamparo, Antonio Contreras, Amado Valdez and this writer, the Comelec has disqualified Mrs. Llamanzares and cancelled her Certificate of Candidacy for President for misrepresenting herself as a natural-born citizen and a resident of the country for ten years and 11 months up to the day of the election.
The Constitution provides that no person may be elected President unless he is a natural-born citizen, a registered voter, able to read and write, at least 40 years of age on election day, and a resident of the country for at least ten years immediately preceding the election. By natural-born, the Constitution means a person who is a citizen from birth without having to perform any act to acquire or perfect his citizenship.
Mrs. Llamanzares is not natural-born. Neither is she a citizen under the 1935 Constitution, which was in force when she was born. She was born a foundling of no known parentage; found at the premises of the parish church in Jaro, Iloilo on Sept. 3, 1968; was adopted by the spouses Ronald Allan Kelley Poe, aka Fernando Poe Jr., and Jesusa Sonora Poe, aka Susan Roces, in 1974 in the municipality of San Juan, Rizal; moved to the United States for her college education in 1988; got married to an American citizen of Filipino origin; became an American citizen in 2001; sought to reacquire a Philippine citizenship she never had in 2006 and was granted the same, after misrepresenting herself under oath as a “former natural-born citizen.”
The Comelec’s First and Second Divisions ruled in favor of our four petitions, and the Comelec en banc affirmed these rulings. The en banc ruling is final and non-reviewable, but Mrs. Llamanzares filed a petition for certiorari against the Comelec, alleging grave abuse of discretion amounting to excess or lack of jurisdiction. She also asked the Supreme Court for a Temporary Restraining Order. The TRO was granted, so her name was allowed to stay on the ballot pending the Supreme Court verdict.
She has been campaigning ever since, as though she were a bona fide candidate, without any constitutional impediment. Her financiers have also been burning money on TV ads and propaganda surveys to create the impression that she is popular. Without explaining that she could still be excluded with finality from the race, the commercial media, which have already made hundreds of millions of pesos on her propaganda, have not hesitated to describe her as a “front runner.”
On Monday, our paths crossed in Butuan. I arrived at 6:15 am on the PAL flight from Manila, but had to wait at the terminal for the rest of my party who had taken Cebu Pacific from Manila and arrived at 7 am. Mrs. Llamanzares flew in on board an unmarked old jet before the Cebu Pac flight got in, so there was a clear prospect of a chance meeting if I simply stayed where I was. But I wasn’t ready to ask for her autograph, nor I believe was she ready to ask for mine, so I walked to my car outside to spare us both of any embarrassment.
A small crowd of young welcomers stood outside the terminal, but some of them did not mind cheering me when I passed by and said lightly that they should try supporting a natural-born Filipino candidate. There was no sign they were aware of the fact that she had serious citizenship and residency problems. Our paths nearly crossed again when we called separately on Bishop Juan De Dios Pueblos, on the eve of his 73rd birthday, at his residence.
What Aquino can expect
As I was writing this yesterday, no reports had yet come in on whether the Court was finally able to vote as scheduled, and whether Aquino’s intervention had prevailed. [Opinion Section Editor’s note: At press time the SC decided in favor of Ms. Poe. It is the banner of today’s issue.] However, qualified sources warned that an Aquino “victory” would certainly not be taken lightly by the camps of Vice President Jejomar C. Binay, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, and even Roxas, who would all be adversely affected. The sources did not discount the possibility of trouble instantly erupting if what had been deemed unlikely happened. The aggrieved parties could band together and work to prevent the elections from pushing through.
If elections are held at all, there seems very little prospect that the participants would accept the results if the vote counting machine is not fixed to satisfy those who have asked the high Court to compel the Comelec to restore the security and safety features that had been illegally removed during the last two elections. We could have a real revolt if the voters decide that it is the entire electorate, not just some particular candidates, that has been cheated.
The Batangas ‘revolt’
The last time we were threatened with an election-related popular revolt was in 1949 when the late former President Jose P. Laurel, who had presided over the Japanese puppet republic, lost to President Elpidio Quirino in an election marred by allegations of rampant cheating, particularly in the South. Laurel claimed that even the birds and the bees voted for the Ilocano president. He threatened to lead the Batangueños in revolt, but ultimately reconsidered and accepted defeat. It seems too early to tell, but there is every chance that if, at any stage, the May elections provoke an uprising, it may not be easily contained.