Deeply concerned about the developments in the Grace Poe Llamanzares case, highly reputable Malacañang sources have revealed that a private meeting between President B. S. Aquino 3rd and Mrs. Llamanzares a week before the Supreme Court met in Baguio City on April 5 had paved the way for the pro “Poe-quino” Justices to declare the former American citizen of no known biological parentage “qualified” to run for President of the Philippines.
This may have plunged the country into a constitutional crisis.
Last Saturday, the Supreme Court En Banc released from Baguio a minute resolution denying the Motions for Reconsideration filed by the Commission on Elections and private respondents Estrella Elamparo, Francisco S. Tatad, Antonio Contreras and Amado Valdez on the Court’s March 8 decision voiding the Comelec’s disqualification of Mrs. Llamanzares, for falsely misrepresenting herself as a natural-born citizen and a resident of the country for 10 years and 11 months immediately preceding the May 9 elections.
A one and one-half page Notice, signed by Clerk of Court Felipa B. Anama, said all the issues raised in the MRs “had already been passed” upon by the Court in its March 8 ruling, and that “no substantial arguments were presented to warrant the reversal of the questioned Decision.” Thus, the Court denied the Motions by the same vote of 9-6, with which it had earlier declared Mrs. Llamanzares “qualified” to run for President.
As to why the Court issued a minute resolution rather than a full-blown decision, Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, in her concurring opinion, explained that under the Internal Rules of the Supreme Court, a minute resolution may be used to deny a motion for reconsideration “in the absence of a compelling or cogent reason to grant the motion, or the failure to raise any substantial argument to support such motion.”
Not compelling enough
It appears that as far as Sereno is concerned, the respondents’ argument that the majority has turned the Constitution upside down when they decided that Mrs. Llamanzares is a natural-born citizen by statistical probability and disputable presumption, is not compelling enough to merit a reversal of the decision.
The MRs had forcefully argued that in declaring Mrs. Llamanzares “qualified” to run for President, the nine Justices had in fact sought to amend the 1935 and 1978 Constitutions without any authority to do so.
The Justices refused to engage the respondents on the difficult issues they could not refute. But while saying that “the motions do not raise any new substantial arguments,” the Justices were prepared to consider foundlings as natural-born citizens just because a 1934 constitutional delegate had proposed their inclusion in the enumeration of citizens, even though the proposal was ultimately rejected. In any case, the Court’s statement is contradicted by the fact the MRs have pointed out all the errors in the ponencia written by Justice Jose Perez.
In fact, the MRs may have exceeded their zeal in exposing the folly of the theory of statistical probability and disputable presumption, which Solicitor General Florin Hilbay advanced to argue the alleged natural-born status of one foundling named Mary Grace.
Still no majority
There was no showing in the March 8 decision – as Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio has revealed in his dissent – that a majority of eight Justices had voted in support of Mrs. Llamanzares’s claim that she is a natural-born citizen and a resident of the country for at least 10 years immediately preceding the May 9 elections. On the citizenship issue, seven supported her claim, five opposed, and three did not vote; on the residency issue, seven supported her claim, six opposed and two did not vote.
There is still no showing that this lack of a majority vote was cured during the En Banc session in Baguio. But the Court has warned the parties that “no further pleadings or motions will be entertained.”
What happens then to the rights of the respondents? Under Rule 15, Section 3 of the Internal Rules of the Supreme Court, the parties may file a second or even a third MR, as has happened in several cases, when the court ruling is patently unjust, and potentially capable of causing serious damage or injury to the parties – in this case, the entire Filipino people.
Are the parties simply going to be gagged, even if they do not accept the justness and fairness of the ruling? Sereno says she expects the dissenting minority to attack the decision. But worse than that, the people themselves may not accept it. This is what we mean by constitutional crisis.
Some legal luminaries had earlier suggested that the Court might have to reverse itself, as it has done in the cases involving Ang Bagong Bayani, Imelda Romualdez Marcos, Cebu Shipyard, and the League of Cities, in the face of error so patent and so gross. But this did not happen. Why? Sereno lends us her own special insight.
“Had the Decision dated 8 March 2016 been reversed,” she writes, “this Court would have authorized the Comelec to continue to play politics. The Decision and the concurring opinions were strong indictments of the grave abuse of discretion that infested the Comelec’s actions ‘from roots to fruits.’ The ponente characterized the acts of Comelec as bordering on bigotry, and similarly strong language was used by the concurring opinions on the unfairness and prejudice displayed by the Comelec toward petitioner. This Court thus rightly issued strong words of disapproval of the Comelec’s actions.”
Who’s playing politics?
This was completely unexpected. Having followed all the proceedings and read all the opinions from the Comelec, I have to ask what is the factual basis of this offensive paragraph? At the Oral Arguments before the Supreme Court en banc, one had the distinct impression that when CJ Sereno delivered her long harangue to the Court, she was in fact already openly ‘lawyering’ for Mrs. Llamanzares and, yes, “playing politics.”
In fact, a columnist for another paper speculated that Sereno’s motive was strictly personal: she reportedly feared that if any other candidate should win the presidency, she might be impeached and removed, just like then-Chief Justice Renato Corona was removed at Aquino’s behest.
Now she says the Comelec had to be stopped from playing politics by making Mrs. Llamanzares a bona fide candidate, despite her constitutional disabilities? It just doesn’t wash.
During the interpellations of Commissioner Arthur Lim, who spoke for the Comelec, no question was ever asked about any alleged unfairness or prejudice displayed by the Comelec against Mrs. Llamanzares. Almost all of the questions from the Justices were on Mrs. Llamanzares’s citizenship and residency; Justice Francis Jardeleza was about the only one who suggested that the Comelec “might have crossed the line” when it disqualified her without first proving that she was born of foreign parents.
To which Lim replied that there was no need to prove anything because she was the one who had declared at the very beginning that she was born a foundling, of no known parentage, found inside the parish church of Jaro, Iloilo on Sept. 3, 1968. The rest of her personal circumstances were then stipulated.
In 1974, she was adopted by the movie actors couple Fernando Poe, Jr. and Susan Roces. In 1991, she traveled to Boston to study; got married to an American citizen of Filipino descent; in 2001 became an American citizen herself. She visited the Philippines after her adoptive father died in Dec. 2004, and later decided to repatriate herself and renounce her American citizenship. In 2010, she was named chairman of the Movies Television Review and Classification Board, while still an American citizen. In 2013, she ran for the Senate after having resided in the country for six years and six months immediately preceding the May 13, 2013 election.
To any neutral observer, it seemed a completely straightforward case of applying the 1935 Constitution, which was in force when she was born, and the 1987 Constitution, which is now in force. The first provides that one should have a Filipino father in order to be a Filipino from birth; the second provides that no person may be elected President unless he is a natural-born citizen, which means a citizen from birth without having to perform any act to acquire or perfect one’s citizenship.
Under either Constitution, she cannot run for President.
As far as her 10-year residency is concerned, it’s a simple case of computing backwards from May 9, 2016 to May 13, 2013, when she was elected to the Senate, and adding six years and six months, which according to her was her period of residency in the country when she ran for senator. This does not add up to 10 years, so she cannot run for President.
But the Sereno Court has ruled that the Comelec committed a grave abuse of discretion when it disqualified her, and cancelled her Certificate of Candidacy, on the basis of the Constitution and the relevant facts. How did this happen? There were earlier suggestions of extraneous influences upon the Court. But the latest allegation speaks of Aquino intervening following his secret meeting with Mrs. Llamanzares.
‘Poe-quino’ at Pangarap
According to sources, the meeting took place at the Bahay Pangarap. Mrs. Llamanzares was allegedly accompanied by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, and her Chief of Staff Nelson Victorino. Two solemn commitments were exchanged. She would protect him from all possible legal harm, should she become the President. And he would work now on the Justices to qualify her as a bona fide presidential candidate.
The immediate impact of this would be on the candidacy of LP standard-bearer Mar Roxas. He is Aquino’s publicly anointed candidate. But he has not been rating well in the propaganda surveys, compared to Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and Mrs. Llamanzares. Aquino has given Roxas until April 25 to improve his ratings, the sources said. If nothing changes, Aquino’s support shifts to Mrs. Llamanzares.
The new Villaroyo?
However, should there be a groundswell in favor of Roxas, Mrs. Llamanzares is likely to be undressed as PNoy’s failed candidate. She could end up like the once extremely popular Manny Villar in the 2010 campaign, who ultimately ended on the ocean floor after he was exposed as “Villaroyo,” meaning President Arroyo’s candidate.
Aquino and his Justices would like to impose upon our politics a former American citizen whose claimed natural-born status our people need not recognize or respect. We cannot risk our national dignity and national security interests; they are paramount. Without a higher forum where we could appeal our case, we have nowhere and no one to turn to but ourselves. Sovereignty resides in us, the people; from us emanates the full authority of the State. We must now learn to do things by ourselves. As we prepare to get rid of Aquino, we must expose the wiles of Mrs. Llamanzares, and prepare to throw out all our unworthy Justices.
Justice, says the philosopher, prophet and Nobel Prize laureate Frederich Hayek, is the indispensable foundation and limitation of all law. But if our faith in justice and in the majesty of our Constitution and the law is extinguished by the very forces whose sole reason for being (raison d’etre) is to keep that faith burning in our hearts, how can that faith ever stand and why should we ever allow those forces to subsist? A positive evil has been introduced in our midst, and passive resistance alone may not suffice; active resistance, which is legitimate under moral law, may have become necessary.