Impeaching the CJ?
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno’s unusual performance at the Oral Arguments before the Supreme Court on the disqualification case of presidential candidate Grace Poe Llamanzares has apparently so scandalized some legal practitioners that one lawyer has asked me, a non-lawyer, whether, in my judgment, she has not qualified herself for impeachment. I do not have the competence to answer the question, but my inability to do so does not alter the fact that it has been asked; between now and after the next President assumes office on June 30, some people might want to answer it competently.
The Corona impeachment has created a precedent. And Sereno was and still is at the very center of it. On Dec. 12, 2011, President B. S. Aquino 3rd, having taken office on June 30, 2010, had Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona impeached on eight counts; 188 members of the House of Representatives signed the Articles of Impeachment even without reading the document. On May 29, 2012, Corona was convicted in the Senate impeachment trial, where 19 of the 20 senator-judges who voted for his conviction each received P50 million or more from the so-called Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). On August 24, 2012, Sereno, having been named to the High Court two years earlier, became the first female—and the country’s 24th—Chief Justice. Assuming good health and good behavior, she will be there until 2030.
Did PNoy err?
However, her extended harangue in court last Tuesday caused many to wonder whether Aquino did right in naming her to the Court. Instead of simply ‘interpellating’ Commissioner Arthur Lim of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on its disqualification of Sen. Grace Poe Llamanzares and the cancellation of her Certificate of Candidacy for President, she tried to make the constitutional provisions on citizenship stand on its head, to allow Mrs. Llamanzares to run for President, despite her not being a natural-born Filipino and lacking the 10-year residency requirement prior to the election.
At one point she sounded like she wanted Mrs. Llamanzares to be accorded natural-born status, not in spite of the fact that she was born a foundling with no known parentage, but rather precisely because she was born a foundling with no known parentage. The appeal was to sheer pity, not to the law or to justice, and pity for one specific foundling and not for all those, naturalized and natural-born citizens, who, for various reasons, cannot run for President.
Sereno warned against dire “reverberations around the world,” if the letter and spirit of the Constitution were strictly followed to deny her special foundling her alleged “right” to run for President.
No other member of the Court has done what she did. During interpellation, the justices asked the counsel standing before them the sharpest questions on the Constitution, the law and jurisprudence, either to shatter or simply test his position; but they uniformly took care not to be seen as “lawyering” for either of the parties. This was what Justices Antonio Carpio, Arturo Brion, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Mariano del Castillo, Jose Perez, Diosdado M. Peralta, Estela Perlas-Bernabe and Marvic Leonen did in the last three sessions of the oral arguments, and the exchanges have been most instructive. The Chief Justice’s suis generis performance, on the other hand, took the method of interpellation to an altogether different world.
As head of the 15-men-and-women court whose majority opinion constitutes the last word on the Constitution and the law, the Chief Justice is supposed to lend gravitas and wisdom to the Court on points of the Constitution, the law and jurisprudence, both in style and in substance. This is but consistent with the principle that from him to whom much has been given, much is also expected. Sadly, Sereno has managed to make sure that no legal scholar or plain observer would ever accuse her of possessing those qualities, as she dispensed her argumentum ad misericordiam and argumentum ad baculum, from the bench.
In the course of the hearings, some Justices chose to raise some political issues. For instance, one of them asked, what made Mrs. Llamanzares decide to become an American citizen, (even before she could establish any claim to being a Filipino citizen?) This was an important political question, but hardly a constitutional one. It might have been far more productive had they asked her (through counsel Alex Poblador) when, and how, she became a Filipino, after having been born of no known parentage and nationality in 1968.
But nobody asked the question, and in the official narration of her personal history, this particular detail never surfaced. Everyone was simply left to surmise that she became a naturalized American citizen in 2001, after renouncing her “Filipino citizenship,” which proved to be non-existent.
And yet, that political question serves to point out that even if she had not been born a foundling of unknown parentage, and were, in fact, a natural-born citizen, the very fact that she once renounced and abjured all allegiance and loyalty to the Republic of the Philippines at age 33 to become a citizen of the United States creates a grave political impediment to her running for President of the Philippines, or even as member of the Senate.
Unthinkable in USA
As the Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Randy David points out in his Jan. 31, 2016 column, (with which we are in full agreement), in the United States nobody who ever renounced American citizenship can ever expect to regain it. Or even if she could, “it would be unthinkable for America to allow her to seek the presidency of the United States.”
The reason for it is self-evident. It was the express will of the Founding Fathers that only a natural-born American should become President of the United States of America for the noblest of motives. In his letter to George Washington on July 25, 1787, John Jay (1745-1829), who served as US Chief Justice from 1789 to 1795, said it would be “wise and seasonable to provide a strong check to the admission of foreigners into the administration of our national Government; and to declare expressly that the Commander-in-Chief of the American army shall not be given to, nor devolve on, any but a natural born citizen.”
Neither Apolinario Mabini nor Felipe Calderon, who single-handedly wrote the Malolos Constitution, found it necessary to expound on this doctrine; but its truth is so evident there is no need to sketch it in a power-point presentation to our learned Justices.
Sinking in hell
Perhaps one could sympathize with CJ Sereno’s position if the nation was sinking into the bottom of hell and the only one who could save it was this particular foundling. But this is far from our situation here. All she apparently wants to do is to save Mrs. Llamanzares’s inordinate personal ambition, at the nation’s expense. For even if a forced rereading of the Constitution, the law and jurisprudence, (nourished by the big lobby that is said to have induced the smoke of Satan into some otherwise sacred chambers), succeeds in declaring Mrs. Llamanzares a natural-born citizen, our salvation—if indeed we need saving—cannot possibly come from her.
She is essentially unfit, in the perception of Mr. David—and the CJ should be the first one to see it — for having once renounced and abjured all allegiance and loyalty to the Republic of the Philippines in favor of a foreign flag of convenience. Even now, she continues to insult our collective patriotism and intelligence by saying that her American husband, who is said to work (we hope, with a proper work permit) for a Filipino conglomerate, and her American children are prepared to become Filipinos should she be elected President. Her having crashed into the Senate, after misrepresenting herself as a natural-born citizen, and having access to State secrets, which should not be shared with any foreigner, has clearly failed to make any impression on her. What a shame.
Is this the politically damaged property for which Sereno is willing to throw away the Constitution, the law and jurisprudence, and her own future as Chief Justice for the next 14 years? The whole thing reminds me of one of the final scenes In Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons, where Sir Richard Rich is made Attorney-General for Wales in exchange for giving false witness against the King’s good servant, but God’s first – Sir Thomas More. This prompts More to exclaim: “For Wales? Why, Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world… But for Wales!”
I am not suggesting any resemblance between Richard Rich and the Chief Justice. But after the CJ’s unexpected performance last Tuesday, we need to be assured that nothing remotely similar happens in this case. The rest of the nation—not just the Comelec and the petitioners against Mrs. Llamanzares—must now get involved. We have to make sure, with the necessary militance, that no guardian of the law puts a dagger into the heart of truth, reason and the Constitution, in the name of a false mercy for someone who has committed one lie after another in order to hoodwink the gullible and the naive and hijack the presidency.