SET ruling is erroneous and reversible

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“An error does not become a mistake until you refuse to Correct it.”            
–John F. Kennedy

President Kennedy said those words in an address before the American Newspaper Publishers Association, on April 27, 1961, in New York City.

The full passage deserves to be quoted here because they express the temperament of a statesman and his approach to public policy, and because they bear much relevance for our public life today in light of (1) a president who cannot admit error, and (2) senators who are unable to see their duty to the Constitution and the nation.

JFK said: “No President should fear public scrutiny of his program. For from that scrutiny comes understanding; and from that understanding comes support or opposition. And both are necessary. I am not asking your newspapers to support the Administration, but I am asking your help in the tremendous task of informing and alerting the American people.


“This administration intends to be candid about its errors; for as a wise man once said: ‘An error does not become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.’ We intend to accept full responsibility for our errors; and we expect you to point them out when we miss them.”

SET ruling riddled with error
If you read the 32-page majority opinion and the four concurring opinions supporting the majority verdict, you hear one refrain running in all of them like a line from a song, “ Grace Poe-Llamanzares as a foundling is a natural-born citizen.”

The entire reasoning of the senators to support their vedict of dismissal of the petition to rule Mrs. Llamanzares unqualified revolves around the theme that Ms. Poe is a foundling and as such should be officially recognized as a natural-born citizen of this country, and should enjoy the rights and privileges of a citizen, including becoming a senator and presumably the right to run for President.

There is a worm, however, in this reasoning. And it’s a big one. Ms. Poe is not a foundling. She was never registered as a foundling.

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), you won’t find Grace Poe among the 4,350 foundlings registered in its records from 1950 to the present.

Atty. Manuelito Luna, counsel of Mr. Rizalito David, who filed the quo warranto case for Ms Poe’s disqualification as a senator of the republic, dug up the fact through able research. He says there is a law that requires that foundlings or found children must be officially registered. No such registration was performed for Baby Grace.

In Ms. Poe’s first birth certificate, there is a note that says a certain Edgardo Militar claimed to have found her. But that is all. There is no formal certification and no registration with the proper authorities in Ilo-ilo.

Consequently, there is no legal basis for Ms. Poe and her defenders to say that she is a foundling. What is known is simply a lot of folklore and some anecdotal tales about her alleged discovery in a church.

Is Grace Poe really a foundling?
In a column last September, when I first wrote about Sen. Grace Poe-Llamanzares, I posed the question whether Ms. Poe is really a foundling

(“Is Grace Poe really a foundling?,” Manila Times, 21 September 2015).

I wrote then:
“If ever I get the chance to meet Sen.Grace Poe in person, I will ask her the following question:

“ ‘Madam senator, I hope you will not be offended, but I have to ask you this question because it is bugging a lot of people: Are you really a foundling? Can you prove that you are one?’

“The question has to be presented in these existential terms because the question of the senator’s identity has really become that serious. And the fate of our nation and the sanity of next year’s presidential election could hang in the balance.”

I questioned the veracity of the founding story, because, first, Ms. Poe submitted contradictory birth certificates to the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET).

And because, second, when Ms. Poe announced her candidacy for president at UP Diliman, she dropped mention about being a foundling altogether.

My query did not receive a response from the Senator and her publicist.

It turns out that proving that Grace Poe is a foundling could be as difficult as proving that she is a natural-born Filipino.

The patent falsehood of the foundling story undercuts completely the majority ruling of the Senate tribunal.

A reversible error
To be fair to all nine members of the tribunal, I mention the theoretical possibility that each or all of them could change their minds. The reality is that, with some of them, change is an impossibility; but there are a few for whom a reversal of judgment is possible and even likely.

At the Saturday forum at Annabel’s last Saturday, November 28, the featured guests were Mr. Rizalito David (petitioner in the SET case) and his lawyer Atty. Manuelito Luna.

Atty. Luna said declaratively, the SET majority ruling is a “reversible error.” Meaning that it can be reversed by SET itself during the review, because the erring senators can correct their erratic judgment, if they wish. It can also be reversed by the Supreme Court when it reviews the case and the ruling, because David and his counsel will take the matter to the High Court for review. There is precedent of the SC overturning an electoral tribunal’s decision on the grounds of grave abuse of discretion.

Senators explain their vote
Sen. Nancy Binay, among the senator members of SET, has little explaining or revising to do, because she took the most sensible course. She took to heart the arguments and opinions of the three SC justices in the panel. She chose to follow the Constitution, as is her duty.

Her senatorial colleagues in the tribunal did not see their duty with the same simplicity. They had a more sexy view of their powers.

Sen. Tito Sotto grandly explained his vote this way: “I voted for all the orphans, foundlings, and adopted children in the Philippines. It was not a vote for Grace Poe. A disqualification vote would have serious repercussions on many of our countrymen.”

Sen. Loren Legarda, for her part, attempted to explain the vote of the five senators who constituted the tribunal majority that dismissed the petition.

She explained that the five senators recognized that Poe, as a foundling, is a natural-born Filipino. But she gave assurances to the public that she studied the facts well and even wrote her own opinion on the case.

In his three-page opinion, Sen. Bam Aquino declared that “logic dictates” that foundlings are neither naturalized nor stateless, but natural-born Filipinos.

Sen. Pia Cayetano, who voted with the majority, still has not come up with her concurring opinion.

She only said “But I have a separate opinion explaining my vote which will be made available to the public soon.” That opinion may never get written because of the overwhelming swing of public opinion against Ms. Poe.

Sen. Cynthia Villar appears to be the hardliner of the bunch. She insists that they had a right to make a political decision, because senatorial membership in the tribunal is mandated by the Constitution. Their very presence in there makes their work as jurors political not judicial.

Much of the senatorial rationalization betray the amateurism of the senators and their legal staffs. They have no clue about Ms. Poe’s problematic status as a foundling. Still less did they imagine the depth of legal reasoning and scholarship that the learned SC justices would bring to their opinions.

The contrast between the shallowness of the senators and the erudition of the justices is embarrassing. You wonder how these senators pole-vaulted themselves into the Senate.

A no-win situation
The senators are in a no-win situation. If they insist on their original verdict and do not correct their error, they will entomb themselves in a monumental mistake.

If they wait for the Supreme Court to nullify their decision and tar them with grave abuse of discretion, they will enter their names in the annals of Philippine jurisprudence.

For three senators especially – Senators Pia Cayetano, Loren Legarda and Tito Sotto—it is a dreadful prospect. They are already in judicial annals for their acceptance of DAP money in the impeachment of former chief justice Renato Corona, as recorded in the Supreme Court decision on the Disbursement Aceleration Program (DAP).

They will be making legal history a second time around.

Fortunately for the senatorial five in the SET case, their error of judgment is reversible. They can correct the error before it becomes a mistake.

yenmakabenta@yahoo.com

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26 Comments

  1. Ang kapal talaga ng mukha….sinungaling at oportunista pa….

    How can anyone elect to the presidency someone who renounced being a Filipino once, and then being an American, a second and worse time…?

    Do not desecrate the constitution just because GP is popular and loved by so many
    uneducated voters…Justice Tinga’s appreciation and dissenting opinion on the FPJ case said it best….

  2. Is it grace poe’s fault if she was not registered as foundling when she was a child. Was it her duty to register herself as foundling when she was a child? She may not be registered before because of failure of lical govt registrar’s office to file their names to the NSO. but she can still file for late registration just like my mom who file to nso on 2009.

    And why should the burden to prove that she is a foundling be on her side. Those who contest her being naturalborn should prove otherwise.

  3. This is the reason why we all should help educate our fellow countrymen so that we are assured of having politicians in the Senate, congress or even in the executive branch that will truly serve our interest and not theirs and their compatriots. It’s very shocking that the Senators who voted in favor of Mrs. Llamanzares can err with their decision. This country needs a big shake up in order to get back to its feet.

  4. Having all these no-clue legislators both in the Senate and Lower House which appears like “halo-halo” with actors/actresses, media personalities, plain housewives of politicians, radio announcers, children of politicians even brothers and sisters of retired politicians who does not know anything about being legislators are being “elected” is an anomaly that will destroy the political landscape of this country if things will not change. Having all these jesters and clowns manning the legislative branch is a gift to the Filipino people by no less than the mother of the current clown-in-chief, Pnoy, Corazon C. Aquino who authored all these ridiculous and highly damaging laws like the party-list representation, the pork-barrel and other laws which only perpetuates political family dynasties, oligarchy and cronyism. This is the reason why Rody Duterte is getting very popular because in the manner of his discourse, his is not afraid to change things should it become a necessity. And hopefully he will lead the way of changing all idiotic laws which makes the rich richer and the poor, poorer.

    • This is not to defend these people, but put the blame where it should be. They are there because collectively you voted for them. Now you are trashing these people whom you have chosen to stand there in your place. Such kind of language is like spitting to the sky.

      Next time, vote for people who will really represent your ideals, your aspirations; and work for their attainment. You will be happy for it. If not be there yourself.

  5. I wonder if you can devote one of your next columns to the question of this woman’s criminal liability with regard to her submissions to the Bureau of Immigration where she claimed to be the natural born daughter of Susan Roces and FPJ? Can somebody petition the BI to nullify her re-instatement as a citizen based on this lie, and on the fact that her documents were signed not by the Commissioner but an official whose identity is unknown up to now?

  6. “An error does not become a mistake until you refuse to Correct it.” …JFK

    So Yen, when did the ERROR in electing BSA III (why is there no “C” for Cojuangco ?) shift into a certified MISTAKE ? I am sure a couple or so years na and yet we have not corrected it to-date. And some people even refuse to correct it constitutionally next year ? Sabi nga ng CBCP President in context or in effect is that we should stay meek as lambs and not rash and beastly as Duterte even in the face of unspeakable plunder and rape of our democracy. Is this an ethical or a moral issue ? Isn’t electing Mar or Poequino already a Masochistic thing ?

  7. Whether Mrs. Grace Poe Llamanzares was registered as a foundling or not is now irrelevant. The members of SET have made their decision, and during that hearing, the lawyers of the opposing parties agreed that Mrs. Grace Poe Llamanzares was a foundling as her biological parents are unknown. Thus, when the case goes before the Supreme Court, the “foundling” issue will not be revisited, except as it relates to whether Mrs. Llamanzares, as a foundling, is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines or not.

    Senator Bam Aquino, like the other four senators, has proven himself to be clueless when it comes to the Constitution. He plays a double game and is not to be trusted as Rep. Leni Robredo’s Chief Campaign Manager. According to Bam, “logic” dictates that a foundling such as Mrs. Llamanzares, is a natural-born Filipino. Yet, his “logic” is conspicuously inconsistent with the logic of Mar Roxas – Rep. Robredo’s running mate. Mar, after reading the decision of the three SET judges, now calls Mrs. Llamanzares a “foreigner” and an “alien”. Given the discrepancy between the two “logics”, shouldn’t Bam resign from Rep. Robredo’s campaign?

  8. Its not the SET TRIBUNAL that handed down the verdict in favor of Mrs Llamanzares but a gang of IMBURNAL Senathieves.They are a shame to the country. PWE…mga animal at linta ng lipunan.

  9. It is hard to accept that the hallowed Chamber of the Senate is now occupied by underserving statesmen who are a far cry from the likes of the senators of the past.

  10. EVERY FILIPINO MUST RESPECT THE PHILIPPINE CONSTITUTION SO THE LIKES OF BAM AQUINO, LOREN LEGARDA, CYNTHIA VILLAR, AND PIA CAYETANO ARE NOT A GOOD EXAMPLE AS TRUE SENATOR OF THE PHILIPPINES. NEVER MIND TITO SOTTO BECAUSE HIS TERM IS ENDING AND DO NOT VOTE FOR HIS RE- ELECTION AT THE SENATE

    • Leodegardo Pruna on

      Agree with a big YES! Pia has desecrated her vow as a lawyer who would protect and defend the Philippine Constitution, Villar for ignorance of the law and sticking mainly to political reasons, Sotto for simply relying on popularity in Eat Bulaga , Legarda for grandstanding. They don’t deserve the support of the people. God bless the Philippines.

    • Correct to the High Heavens! No vote for Sotto and the four senators who do not care about the Phil. Constitution. We have been fooled by these Senators who hypocritically showed to the Filipinos their supposed loyalty to our Constitution. Puro daldal at pera lang pala!

  11. Jose A. Oliveros on

    Mr. Rod Kapunan, a columnist of the Manila Standard, wrote in one of his recent columns that the only person who could prove that Grace Poe-Llamanzares is indeed a foundling is the one who allegedly found her in front (or was it the baptismal fount) of the Jaro Iloilo Cathedral. (Another version is she was found by one Chayong or Sayong Military who, in turn, entrusted the infant Grace to Edgardo).

    As for the vote of the 5 Senators, the Supreme Court, in the 1991 case of Lerias v. Mercado and Comelec, declared that politician-members of the electoral tribunals should act as judges and not as politicians.

    • Leodegardo Pruna on

      Agree! Webster defines tribunal as a Court of Justice thus the senators especially Villar cannot invoke political reasoning for her and speaking for the others their decision. We are still a nation of laws and guided by the law, the decision must be. Pia who is a lawyer is out of touch of her world. God bless the Philippines.

    • Another person who can attest or give light is Rosemarie who gave birth in Hawaii in 1968. She disappeared in limelight not until 1969.

  12. Mr. Makabenta, through your column, I would like to engage Mr. “Logic Dictates” Senator Bam Aquino to a friendly debate regarding his opinion on the DQ case of Sen Poe. Tingnan natin ano ang logic nya. I hope you can send this message to the Senator.

  13. Isobel Valdevieso on

    Many of us are hoping that comelec does the right thing and dismiss the complaints. Grace Poe has done an extraordinary job in a short period of time. The credible evidence suggests she will do even more if given the opportunity. Let the people decide who their next leaders should be.

    http://www.gracepoe.ph/legislative-agenda

    • Extra-ordinary? When you are just doing your mandate, you are paid.
      Did she go beyond her mandated task? no. Let the court decide if she is a foundling and natural-born not in election, where one requisite is natural-born citizen.

    • Jose A. Oliveros on

      So, you are also one of those who espouse the “let the people decide” mantra, the principal proponent of which is former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban. Well, please read the following:

      Former Chief Justice Panganiban has the penchant for citing his ponencia in the 1996 Frivaldo case that on questions of qualification of a candidate, let the people decide. But in 2008, the Supreme Court, in an en banc decision, debunked that position in the following words:

      Petitioner also makes much of the fact that he received the highest number of votes for the position of Vice-Mayor of Catarman during the 2007 local elections. The fact that a candidate, who must comply with the election requirements applicable to dual citizens and failed to do so, received the highest number of votes for an elective position does not dispense with, or amount to a waiver of, such requirement. The will of the people as expressed through the ballot cannot cure the vice of ineligibility, especially if they mistakenly believed that the candidate was qualified. The rules on citizenship qualifications of a candidate must be strictly applied. If a person seeks to serve the Republic of the Philippines, he must owe his loyalty to this country only, abjuring and renouncing all fealty and fidelity to any other state. The application of the constitutional and statutory provisions on disqualification is not a matter of popularity. [Jacot v. Dal and Comelec, G. R. No. 179848, Nov. 17, 2008, En Banc, citing , citing Lopez v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 182701, 23 July 2008, Labo, Jr. v. Commission on Elections, G.R. Nos. 105111 and 105384, 3 July 1992, 211 SCRA 297, 308. Frivaldo v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 87193, 23 June 1989, 174 SCRA 245, 255.]

      In his dissenting opinion in the 2004 FPJ citizenship case, then Associate Justice Tinga characterized the “let the people decide” mentality as a “malaise, whether caused by academic sloth, intellectual cowardice or judicial amnesia which has unfortunately plagued this Court. (here, Tinga cited the 1996 case of Frivaldo v Comelec). Continuing, Tinga said: “It is an easy cop-out that overlooks the fact that the Constitution is itself an expression of the sovereign will. The Filipino people, by ratifying the Constitution, elected to be bound by it, to be ruled by a fundamental law and not by a hooting throng.”

  14. I find no reason for the Senators to change their votes. I believe their decision defends the rights of foundlings. If ever they voted against poe, they are saying that foundlings have no business to be running s a senator or existing as a citizen who as basic rights in our country.

    • Please name any other foundling aside from Poe who is in the government right now and I will agree with you that foundlings do deserve protection from not being declared Filipino citizens.

    • Rodan Guerrero on

      Sir: youi are not reading and your idea is as good as thrash….Grace Poe is just hiding behind the word foundling. She is not, foundlings in our country are registered and GP is not found on the list of Filipino foundlings. That`s how congenital liar is GP…aside from committing perjury and falcification of public documents in pursuit of her futile ambitions.

    • Hijo, nag aral ka ba ng logic sa college? Hindi naman foundling ang issue sa SET. Ang issue ay ang pagsunod sa Constitution. Pwede naman tumakbo ng maski anong position sa gobyerno ang sinumang foundling pero ang sinasabi sa saligang batas na ang pwede lang tumakbo sa pagka pangulo at pangalawang pangulo ay natural born citizen. Mismo si Ms. Grace ay di nya mapatunayan kun foundling sya dahil wala sya sa rehistro at hindi pa rin nya mapatunayan na natural born citizen sya dahil wala nga DNA match. The requirement of the constitution for the position is a natural born citizen. Hence, the onus of proving that you are rests in the applicant for the position. Pag nag apply ka ng trabaho at sinabi mo sa application mo na college graduate ka, kailangan patunayan mo na college graduate ka. Hindi ang pinag aaplayan mo ang magpapatunay na hindi ka college graduate.