At the 54th anniversary celebration of the Philippine Constitution Association last week, I found myself the “impromptu” guest speaker. There were no prior arrangements. That morning, I joined Philconsa chairman Manuel “Lolong” Lazaro and former Budget Secretary Ben Diokno file a petition before the Supreme Court questioning the constitutionality of President B. S. Aquino 3rd’s P424.14 billion lumpsum appropriations in the General Appropriations Act of 2015. Our co-petitioners—-Philconsa president and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa, Archbishop Romulo de la Cruz of Zamboanga, Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla of Davao, and former national security adviser Norberto Gonzales—-could not make it, so we had to be there at all cost.
In the evening, there was the anniversary dinner. It took me more than two hours to get to Manila Hotel from Ortigas Center. Chairman Lazaro and Congressman Romualdez had already spoken, and a musical ensemble was trying to help the guests hurdle dinner. Former First Lady and now Ilocos Norte Rep. Imelda Marcos thought a much softer chamber music would have allowed freer conversation around the tables, and the ever-beautiful Gemma Cruz Araneta was beginning to feel she had walked into a jam session. Former AFP Chief of Staff General Hermogenes Esperon Jr. and Justice Lazaro thought we could excuse the ensemble if we had a guest speaker. So they pointed at me, and asked BizNews Asia publisher Tony Lopez to do the introduction. Tony rose promptly to the podium, and I found myself responding without any inhibition.
I spoke of the Constitution. I said the Constitution was much older than the Philconsa’s 54 years, but that it faced a 47-year-old problem. This fell flat on the audience. I had to elucidate by saying that Sen. Grace Poe Llamanzares was 47 years old and she had become our most formidable constitutional problem. She wants to run for President, despite the fact that, not being a natural-born Filipino, nor even a naturalized Filipino (she has yet to apply for this) she is not eligible for the office. In fact, she is facing possible disqualification from the Senate on the same ground.
This statement found its mark with the audience. All I had to do then was to recap what I had been saying in this space, nearly ad nauseum, about her not being natural-born, and therefore not eligible under the Constitution to remain in the Senate or to run for president, as she threatens to do.
I thought the topic would instantly take the seniors to dreamland. But nobody dozed off, and to my pleasant surprise, so many thanked me after my speech for clarifying things for them. “Now, I can say she is not natural-born, and cannot run for president, or stay as senator,” said a young matron. “She was born stateless because her parents were unknown,” she continued, quoting what I had said earlier; “now she’s stateless again, because she already lost her American citizenship, but was not yet legally a Filipino citizen.”
But comes the most distressing report now. Apparently expecting to be unseated as senator by the Senate Electoral Tribunal, and barred from running for president, the beleaguered political neophyte has reportedly asked her inner circle to prepare to mount street protests once the SET rules against her. Sources said that with the help of the head of a powerful conglomerate who reportedly supplies most of her logistical requirements, Mrs. Llamanzares has begun sounding out a powerful politico-religious group for possible street support.
Sources said some members of the group appeared to be personally sympathetic, but thought her cause was neither lawful nor righteous, and therefore could not commit to march for her. They reportedly doubted that the rabble, rather than the court, should decide the constitutional issue about her citizenship.
Still, in an apparent effort to substitute the passion of the mob for the ruling of the SET or the court, former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban was reported by the Philippine Daily Inquirer to have proposed that the people decide whether or not Grace Poe Llamanzares could remain in the Senate or run for president.
Well, the people have long spoken. As the real authors of the Constitution, they have decided that no person may be elected president or vice president or senator or congressman unless he is, first of all, a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, which means a Filipino from birth without having to perform any act to acquire or perfect his citizenship.
For this reason, before anyone could be a candidate of any political party or group of business tycoons or speculators for any high office, he should first of all be a candidate of the Constitution.
This means he should first of all be a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, not one of no known nationality upon birth, but who has manufactured his own political existence by means of false statements under oath and fraudulent documents.
Where exactly is Panganiban coming from? What kind of law or political science did he learn in school? Where was he when the law professor was talking about Chief Justice John Marshall’s famous declaration in Marbury v. Madison that the duty of the Supreme Court is to say what the law is? Therefore, it is the Court, not the mob, that says what laws govern the electoral process.
Is Panganiban’s position not a complete perversion of the doctrines, principles and values that had given him the title he continues to wear even in retirement—-former Chief Justice? Is this really the former Chief Justice speaking as himself and for himself, or is it Atty. Panganiban speaking for some valued client?
It is a settled doctrine, as SET petitioner Rizalito David through his counsel Manuelito Luna points out in his disqualification suit against Mrs. Llamanzares, referencing “The Law on Public Officers and Election Law” by H. S. De Leon and H. M. De Leon Jr, that “the qualifications which relate to a public office must be complied with by persons seeking that office. To hold a public office, one must be eligible and possess the qualifications and by law. An election or appointment to office of a person who is ineligible or unqualified gives him no right to the office.”
His use of the Frivaldo case to help the respondent is unfortunate, because the two cases are not on all fours. Frivaldo was a natural-born Filipino who became an American citizen, and continued to get elected as governor of Sorsogon by voters who did not know he had become a naturalized foreigner. He was therefore disqualified, but eventually allowed to hold office after he renounced his American citizenship and became a Filipino all over again.
In her case, Mrs. Llamanzares had no nationality to speak of. He became an American citizen then lost it; but her purported reacquisition of citizenship was based on a misrepresentation, and was therefore invalid. She could become a naturalized citizen, true, but that is subject to a legal process, and will not qualify her to become a senator, congressman, president or vice president.
How would “the people” now decide the questions of law and the facts in this case? What higher standard of truth or quality of justice would the rabble bring into the process, which cannot be reached through the SET or the court? What unique understanding of Section 2, Article VII of the Constitution, (which says “no person may be elected President unless he is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines,”) or of Sec. 2 of Article IV, ( which says, “Natural-born citizens are those citizens who are citizens from birth without having to perform any act to acquire or perfect their Philippine citizenship,”) does the mob have, which is far beyond the court’s or our own understanding of it?
Can the mob decide that just because Mrs. Llamanzares is allegedly more popular than the other presidential wannabes she should be allowed to claim she is a natural-born Filipino, even though she is not; and that she was born to the spouses Ronald Allan Poe and Jesusa Sonora Poe on Sept. 3, 1968, even though she was born a foundling of no known parents and found at the premises of the parish church of Jaro, Iloilo City on that said date, four months before the Poe couple got married on Dec. 25, 1968, and had a childless marriage until the husband’s death in Dec. 2004?
This is truly unfortunate. The first oath that a President-elect takes upon assuming office is to preserve and defend the Constitution. Mrs. Llamanzares seems to believe that by defying and destroying the Constitution, she could become president. This is a fight she cannot win; she would be well advised to call it “no contest” and recalculate. She could probably improve her hand by pulling out of the race, not in favor of Francis Escudero, but rather in favor of her surrogate mother, Susan Roces.