Desperate efforts to save the presidential candidacy of Sen. Grace Poe Llamanzares are bound to intensify in the wake of The Manila Times report that the Supreme Court justice tasked to write the Majority ruling in this case is disposed to declare that the Commission on Elections did not commit grave abuse of discretion when it ruled to disqualify her and cancel her Certificate of Candidacy for President. This is but to be expected. But whatever happens, money should never be allowed to overthrow the Constitution and subvert the rule of law and the administration of justice. The consequences could be incalculable.
The Constitution provides that no person may be elected President unless he is, among other things, a “natural-born citizen” and a resident of the country for at least 10 years immediately preceding the election. The Comelec has agreed with petitioners Francisco Tatad, Estrella Elamparo, Antonio Contreras and Amado Valdez that as a foundling born of no known parentage, who later became an American citizen and lived with her American family in the US, returned to the country after her adoptive father died in 2004 but renounced her US citizenship and sought to “reacquire” Philippine citizenship (which she never had) very much later, Mrs. Llamanzares misrepresented herself in claiming that she meets the constitutional requirements.
She has gone to the Supreme Court on a petition for certiorari, saying the Comelec committed grave abuse of discretion when it ruled against her, and asked the High Court to temporarily restrain the implementation of the Comelec ruling. The Court granted a Temporary Restraining Order, and after five en banc hearings is now ready to rule.
Will money rule?
But people are worried about all the terrible rumors they are hearing. Even in church, in the middle of Mass during this Lenten season, some elderly matron would touch me on the shoulder from behind to ask how the case is moving. They do not seem to mind interrupting their meditation and prayers. They are not worried that either the petitioners’ and the Comelec’s reading of the Constitution or that of the Justices could be wrong, but that the devil’s temptation, which our Lord rejected at the desert, and a tiny portion of which Judas readily accepted to betray his Master would ultimately decide whether or not Mrs. Llamanzares is natural-born.
Absolute restraint is needed among those who seem to believe that with all their money, they could swing the case in her favor. My fellow Times columnist Yen Makabenta has identified my friend Ramon S. Ang as the one bankrolling Mrs. Llamanzares’ “candidacy”; former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, in his Philippine Daily Inquirer column, continues to instruct the Justices, in utter contempt of court, how to dispose of the case; and Danding Cojuangco’s National People’s Coalition, which RSA also supports, has just endorsed Mrs. Llamanzares, as though she were now a bona fide candidate, with no constitutional impediment.
Prepare to do what we must
I find all these regrettable. But having put our case before the Court as clearly, as truthfully and as humbly as we could, we should now pray for the best, and prepare to do what we must should evil strike, rather than speculate on what will happen. That said, we must now recognize that not only the presidential race deserves sorting out, but the senatorial race as well. This also deserves our preferential attention and concern.
The old Senate
The Senate is now 100 years old. But it is no longer the institution it used to be. The likes of Manuel L. Quezon, Claro M. Recto, Quintin Paredes, Camilo Osias, Cipriano Primicias, Ferdinand Marcos, Arturo M. Tolentino, Lorenzo M. Tanada, Jose Wright Diokno, etc. are gone; men and women without quality have replaced men and women of substance and high moral and intellectual worth. The striving for intellectual, parliamentary and legislative excellence has been overtaken by the passion for unaccountable power and illegitimate financial gain.
Taking its name from the Latin “Senex,” which means “old man,” the Senate used to be the hallmark of seniority—-senior in age, senior in wisdom, senior in integrity, senior in dignity. All that has changed. And world boxing champion Manny Pacquiao seems bent to change it further still. Should we allow him to become one of its illustrious members? This is one of the more challenging questions for our voters.
I write as a former senator. After 10 long years in the Cabinet, six years at the interim Batasang Pambansa, a six-year return to journalism, I served in the Senate for two consecutive terms, mostly as Majority Floor Leader through five changes in the office of the Senate President. While the Senate President presided, I ran the Senate business on the Floor during some of its most productive periods in recent years.
Aside from sponsoring major acts, I authored three books during these two terms—two (“Making the System Work,” and “Guarding the Public Trust”) made up of significant speeches on the floor of the Senate and in some international parliamentary forums, and another (“A Nation on Fire: the Unmaking of Joseph Ejercito Estrada and the Remaking of Democracy in the Philippines”), on Estrada’s ouster. These were probably the last three significant books written by any senator in the last so many years.
When I left the Senate in 2001, it was still a functioning assembly where burning issues were debated and mature and lofty ideas were exchanged for the edification, enlightenment and enjoyment of the public. Commercial television stopped covering its plenary sessions after they ceased to be the source of worthwhile ideas or even simple news stories. As a former senator, I find myself speaking to more national issues at any given day than any sitting senator. It is execrable.
The May elections promise no improvement upon the Senate. With 50 candidates running, one cannot seem to find 12 who are fit. Some people have asked me to share my own choices; I have politely declined, not wanting to be held accountable for their wrong choice. I feel like the chairman of the board in a literary contest, who has to go through tons and tons of literary entries, out of which there is not one worthy of a First Prize. The organizers expect the least unworthy to get the Prize; but I feel the entire competition should be junked.
The deterioration has gone unchecked. Its physical appearance alone offends the senses; the proceedings within its walls offend the intellect. As one of “the efficient parts” of the Constitution (Bagehot), it is supposed “to teach the nation what it does not know,” “ express the will of the people,” “inform the Executive of the grave matters before it.” It has ceased to do anything of these, and has become instead a mere adjunct of an imperial Office of the President.
Housed in one hired wing of a government building, it makes no attempt to rise to corporate standards. Infinitely poorer countries have managed to invest their legislative chambers with greater sovereign dignity and architectural elegance. What it lacks in aesthetics, it lacks in integrity too. In the last few years, it has gone through a rubbishing, from which no immediate recovery seems possible.
For the first time in its history, this sovereign body swore in a member who had to employ an official interpreter to translate English, the official language of legislation, into Filipino, so he could follow the discussions. Six years later, he was handily reelected.
For the first time in its history, this exclusive assembly of 24 members, representing some 20 million Filipino families, for a population of 105 million, brought in a mother-and-son, a brother and sister, and two men of the same father, in utter contempt of the constitutional provision against political dynasties.
For the first time in history, senator-judges swore to render “impartial justice” in a Senate impeachment but ultimately received bribes from Malacañang to convict and remove the respondent Chief Justice on one questionable charge out of eight original charges, seven of which the prosecution abandoned during the proceedings.
For the first time in its history, the Senate allowed a small cabal of members to abuse their parliamentary privilege and destroy parliamentary procedure by carrying out an investigation against the Vice President of the Philippines, who is now running for President, on alleged corruption committed so many years earlier when he was still a local executive. Instead of stopping the outrage, the Chairman of the Committee on Rules and the Senate President encouraged it for their own purposes.
For the first time in history, the President of the Philippines deprived the Senate of its right to concur in the ratification of a defense agreement with the United States in defiance of Section 25, Article XVIII of the Constitution, which provides: “After the expiration in 1991 of the Agreement between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America concerning Military Bases, foreign military bases, troops, or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate and, when the Congress so requires, ratified by a majority of the votes cast by the people in a national referendum held for that purpose, and recognized as a treaty by the other contracting state.”
The Supreme Court upheld this patently unconstitutional act as “constitutional,” and the Senate took no further step to assert its right.
For the first time in history, a private petitioner asked the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) to dismiss a sitting senator for not being a natural-born citizen, having been born a foundling of no known parentage 47 years ago. All three Justices and one Senator on the Tribunal agreed she is disqualified to sit under the Constitution, but five senators upheld her “right” to remain in the Senate, for reasons outside and contrary to the Constitution.
And now for the first time in history, world boxing champion Manny Pacquiao wants a seat in the Senate. Many are alarmed he might make it. Despite his lack of education, he is now a boxing legend, the toast of the international set. In a recent dinner I had with some friends in Salt Lake City, one of the actors in “God is not Dead” who sat next to me kept on talking about “Manny Pacquiao and how great a guy he is.”
Lately, Pacquiao has been in the news. Senatorial candidate Walden Bello is worried that his April 9 scheduled bout with Timothy Bradley in Las Vegas could give him so much undue TV advantage over all the other candidates–for free. And that should be prohibited. I am not sure the Election Law can do anything about it. The TV coverage will be originating from abroad, so he’ll have nothing to do with it; all he’ll have to do is knock out Bradley or get knocked out.
Perhaps what the Comelec can do is to bar all TV sets from carrying the fight, or stop the fight altogether on the ground that Pacquiao must be protected from any possible head injury from could impair his ability to think. The real objection though is that the Senate is not for anyone who has devoted his entire basic education to his fists.
But given the present quality of our Senate, lack of character, lack of integrity, and lack of patriotism are much more unspeakable defects. Who, among our present crop of legislators, would have the moral courage to tell the Solicitor General or Ms. Hontiveros that not even animals would consider same-sex marriage? Moreover, if Einstein in his prime had decided to box, would the boxing community have said he had too big a brain for it?