In professional boxing, the fight is usually stopped when one fighter is already too bloodied to carry on. In chess, a player gracefully yields when he sees the inevitable “checkmate” coming. In politics, even the fiercest gladiators usually know when they are beaten. This was true of Lords Rothermere and Beaverbrook of Fleet Street when they fought British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin.
In 1931, the two press barons used their newspapers to try to weaken Baldwin. The latter responded through a spirited address in which he accused the press lords of wanting to exercise “power without responsibility, the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.” He borrowed the quote from his cousin, the famous English writer Rudyard Kipling.
It was widely reproduced all over England, and as soon as the press barons saw it, they knew they had been beaten. Baldwin won the ensuing parliamentary elections, and his quote became one of the most enduring quotes against the press of all time.
Sen. Grace Poe Llamanzares could learn from the press barons.
She can’t be what she is not
It is neither too early nor too late in the day for her to see that her cause is lost; that she could never become what she is not – a natural-born Filipino citizen, qualified to be a senator or president under the Constitution.
Despite the five-to-four Nov. 17 ruling in her favor from the nine-man Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) in Rizalito David’s quo warranto petition, her best move now could be to vacate the Senate and withdraw from the presidential race before the SET acts on David’s motion for reconsideration, and before the Commission on Elections (Comelec) acts on the four petitions seeking her non-participation in the May 2016 elections.
The reason is simple. This is the best way she could avoid a definitive verdict that she is not a natural-born Filipino citizen, and therefore not eligible to run for senator, congressman, president or vice-president under the Constitution. She could then reconfigure her political life, perfect her naturalization, and in the next election run, if she likes, for a position that does not require a natural-born Filipino status. Her personal dignity would remain relatively intact; she could then say she had voluntarily withdrawn from the highest office instead of having been barred from it.
This is not to say her final defeat at the SET, or at the Supreme Court, if the case goes up, is certain. There are powerful individuals who appear to have assured her that they could make the Supreme Court justices vote like Senators Tito Sotto, Loren Legarda, Pia Cayetano, Cynthia Villar, and Bam Aquino – and she apparently believes them. But that’s – pardon the word – bullshit.
The reign of greed and evil has its limits, and if the people cannot impose those limits, a higher power will – and such a power exists. As we race toward the breaking point, some men and women, who cannot bear it any longer, will risk everything to put their most valued principles to the test.
What I am saying here is that it is too risky for Mrs. Llamanzares to believe that she would prevail against the Constitution and the rule of law on the basis of assurances by foreign agents and demagogues that they could always sway our highest court. And that if this happened, there would be no active reaction or resistance on the ground.
The justices dissent
In their separate dissenting opinions to the 31-page majority resolution, SET chairman and Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio (35 pages), Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro (22 pages), and Justice Arturo Brion (66 pages) have put on record everything there is to know about Mrs. Llamanzares’ claim to natural-born citizenship. It provides free education on the Constitution and international law insofar as they apply to Mrs. Llamanzares’ claim of natural-born status. All three justices meet the respondent’s claims head-on. They spare nothing.
Respondent contends, among others, Carpio notes, that (1) she has a right to nationality from birth; (2) has a right to be protected from statelessness; and (3) is presumed to be a citizen of the country in which she is found. She anchors her claims on the (1) 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), (2) 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), (3) 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), (4) 1930 Hague Convention on Certain Questions Relating to the Conflict of National Law (1930 Hague Convention), and (5) the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness (CRS), among others.
Carpio demolishes all arguments
Then Carpio proceeds to demolish these claims, one by one.
1) Article 7, Sec. 1 of the 1989 CRC provides: “The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.”
The Philippines signed this Convention on Jan. 26, 1990, and ratified it on Aug. 21, 1990. But Mrs. Llamanzares was born 20 years before that, so there’s no way she could benefit from it. Moreover, the Convention merely guarantees a child’s right to acquire a nationality, in accordance with national law; it does not confer nationality at birth.
2) Article 24, Sec. 3 of the ICCPR provides: “Every child has the right to acquire a nationality.” Adopted in Dec. 1966, this Convention entered into force March 23, 1976. Like the CRC, it recognizes the right to acquire a nationality but does not automatically confer a nationality upon a child.
3) Article 15, Sec. 1 of the UDHR provides: “Everyone has the right to a nationality.” This was adopted on Dec. 10, 1948, with the Philippines as one of the original signatories. But this is merely a declaration, and does not obligate states to automatically confer nationality on a foundling at birth.
4) Article 14 of the 1930 Hague Convention provides: “A child whose parents are both unknown shall have the nationality of the country of birth… A foundling is, until the contrary is proved, presumed to have been born on the territory of the State in which it was found.”
Article 15 provides: “Where the nationality of a State is not acquired automatically by reason of birth on its territory, a child born on the territory of that State of parents having no nationality, or of unknown nationality, may obtain the nationality of the said State. The law of that State shall determine the conditions governing the acquisition of its nationality in such cases.”
The Philippines is not a signatory to this Convention, which came into existence when the country was still a colony of the United States; therefore, it is not bound by it. Moreover, Article 14 says the foundling shall have the nationality of the country of birth, not at birth. And Article 15 expressly provides that municipal law shall determine the conditions for a foundling to acquire a nationality.
5) Article 1 of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, ratified by 64 states out of the 193 UN member-states as of Aug. 2015, provides: “A Contracting state shall grant its nationality to a person born in its territory who would otherwise be stateless. Such nationality shall be granted: (a) at birth, by operation of law, or (b) upon an application being lodged with the appropriate authority by or on behalf of the person concerned, in the manner prescribed by the national law.”
Article 2 provides: “A foundling found in the territory of a Contracting State shall, in the absence of proof to the contrary, be considered to have been born within that territory of parents possessing the nationality of that State.”
The Philippines is not a contracting state-party to this Convention, and is, therefore, not bound by it. Moreover, the Convention does not provide that a foundling is automatically a citizen at birth of the country in which it is found. The child must acquire its nationality by naturalization under the normal operations of law. Out of 64 states that have acceded to the Convention, only 13 provide for the automatic and unconditional acquisition of nationality by foundlings, Carpio notes.
It is hornbook law, says Carpio, that there is no international treaty to which the Philippines is a contracting party, which provides expressly or impliedly that a foundling is deemed a natural-born citizen of the country in which the foundling is found. The provision that says a foundling has the right to the nationality of the State where it is born merely says no power on earth could compel that same child to acquire any other nationality.
In voting to disqualify Mrs. Llamanzares from the Senate for not being a natural-born Filipino, Carpio warned that hers is not a closed case. If in the future she could find a DNA match to a Filipino parent or any other credible and convincing evidence showing her Filipino parentage, then she could still be declared a natural-born Filipino.
De Castro’s dissent
Justice Leonardo de Castro states her position with equal vigor and clarity. She rejects the respondent’s reasoning that “the official acts of the Philippine government recognizing her status as a natural-born Filipino,” and her election as senator in 2013 should prevail over the petitioner’s challenge to her constitutional eligibility. This “cannot override constitutional and statutory provisions on the qualifications and disqualifications of elected officials nor can it be ‘used as a magic formula to bypass eligibility requirements’,” she writes.
Not only is Mrs. Llamanzares not natural-born, says De Castro. She has also failed to have herself officially declared as a foundling, which is a legal requirement before a foundling can claim the rights of a Filipino citizen, de Castro points out.
Like Carpio and de Castro, Brion reviews the various international conventions and treaties upon which Mrs. Llamanzares seeks to anchor her claim of being natural-born. But he is more exhaustive; and he concludes by saying that none of the documents cited in her defense proves her claim. Mrs. Llamanzares is not a natural-born citizen under the 1935 Constitution, which was in force at the time of her birth on Sept. 3, 1968, nor is she such a citizen under international law.
As she did not acquire Philippine citizenship through the means enumerated in the 1935 Constitution, her passport and birth certificate (which both indicate she is a Filipino) cannot be given weight as evidence of her citizenship, Brion writes. Neither can her “Petition for Reacquisition of Philippine Citizenship” be given weight “as it was based on a misrepresentation (that she was a former natural-born Filipino, born to Ronald Allan Poe and Jesusa Sonora Poe, her adoptive parents),” which the Bureau of Immigration failed to check. The dual citizenship law “is not a medium for the acquisition of Philippine citizenship by those who were never Philippine citizens before,” Brion adds.
SET ruling could reverse
It cannot be discounted that, once they read the three justices, and not wanting to go down in history as ignorant of the Constitution and the law, some, if not all, of the five senators might wish to reconsider their position on Mrs. Llamanzares, aware that the other SC justices might reason with their three colleagues, should the case ever reach the highest court. The same thing could happen at the Commission on Elections where counsel Manuelito Luna presented “clarificatory arguments” on my behalf last week, and petitioners Dean Amado Valdez and Prof. Antonio Contreras presented their own arguments for Mrs. Llamanzares’ disqualification as a presidential candidate.
No one has the right or the duty, even in the name of self-interest, to misread the Constitution; our common duty is to follow it.