Are we wrong, after all?
IT took the oral arguments of Mrs. Grace Poe Llamanzares’ counsel and his answers to questions from several Supreme Court justices on her disqualification and the cancellation of her Certificate of Candidacy as a presidential candidate, by the Commission on Elections, for me to begin to wonder whether I had not, in fact, erred grievously as a citizen, former lawmaker, and petitioner, in believing that we must strictly construe the Constitution in deciding whether or not she could run for president.
Article VII, Section 2 of the 1987 Constitution provides:
“No person may be elected President unless he is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, a registered voter, able to read and write, at least forty years of age on the day of the election, and a resident of the Philippines for at least ten years immediately preceding such election.”
Article IV, Sec. 1 of the same Constitution provides:
“The following are citizens of the Philippines:
“(1) Those who are citizens of the Philippines at the time of the adoption of this Constitution;
“(2) Those whose fathers or mothers are citizens of the Philippines;
“(3)Those born before January 17, 1973, of Filipino mothers, who elect Philippine citizenship upon reaching the age of majority; and
“(4) Those who are naturalized in accordance with law.”
Sec. 2 of the same Article provides:
“Natural-born citizens are those who are citizens of the Philippines from birth without having to perform any act to acquire or perfect their citizenship. Those who elect Philippine citizenship in accordance with paragraph (3), Section I hereof shall be deemed natural-born citizens.”
On the other hand, Article IV, Sec. 1 of the 1935 Constitution, which was in effect when the foundling Mary Grace Natividad was found in the premises of the Jaro Catholic Church in Iloilo on Sept. 3, 1968, provides:
“The following are citizens of the Philippines:
“(1) Those who are citizens of the Philippine Islands at the time of the adoption of the Constitution;
“(2) Those born in the Philippine Islands of foreign parents who, before the adoption of this Constitution, had been elected to public office in the Philippine Islands;
“(3) Those whose fathers are citizens of the Philippines;
“(4) Those whose mothers are citizens of the Philippines, and, upon reaching the age of majority, elect Philippine citizenship;
“(5) Those who are naturalized in accordance with law.”
The price of a meal
The meaning of these provisions seemed so clear and incontrovertible that I was willing to wager the price of a decent meal that no two rational individuals with the same understanding of the words used therein could have two different understanding of the same. But this feeling of absolute certainty was mercilessly undone last Tuesday at the Oral Arguments on Mrs. Llamanzares’ petition for Certiorari against the Comelec rulings on the four petitions filed by Estrella Elamparo, Antonio Contreras, Amado Valdez and myself.
As Mrs. Llamanzares’ counsel Alexander Poblador assailed my petition and the Comelec’s ruling, I began to wonder whether I had not been transported to a world where words–and words of the Constitution and the law at that–had lost all their meaning, and an epigone of Humpty Dumpty in black barrister’s robe was telling us that the Constitution and the law meant just what he wanted them to mean.
Or had I failed to understand that certain words and ideas have to be deconstructed to fit certain exigencies? In this particular instance, certain forces appear to have decided that Mrs. Llamanzares should become the next president, and her lack of citizenship and residency should not be allowed to interfere with their decision.
Not having Poblador’s legal credentials, I was inclined to assume I was the one who had misread the Constitution, the laws and jurisprudence. But as I listened intently to the interpellations by Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, Justices Mariano del Castillo, Estela Perlas-Bernabe, Teresita Leonardo de Castro, Jose Perez, Diosdado M. Peralta, and Marvic Leonen, I began to see even more clearly what made sense and what did not.
I felt violated by the counsel’s assertion that the Comelec–which had, motu proprio, already declared over a hundred presidential candidates as “nuisance candidates,” just because they did not have Mrs. Llamanzares’ apparently bottomless war chest, even though they were fully compliant with the requirements of Article VII, Sec. 2 of the Constitution–did not have the authority to act upon my petition and declare that someone who is not a natural-born Filipino and lacks the 10-year residency requirement is not eligible to run for President.
The proper course of action, according to the learned counsel, was for me to allow Mrs. Llamanzares to run undisturbed, despite her inherent and indisputable constitutional ineligibility, and ask the Presidential Electoral Tribunal later to oust her on a quo warranto petition, should she ever get elected. It would be like telling the board of a company to hire a CEO who does not meet the published requirements for the job, on the condition that they could fire him as soon as he is hired.
The only complaint the Comelec could act upon, the counsel suggested, would be an allegation of serious material misrepresentation. But could any misrepresentation be more serious than claiming to be a natural-born citizen and therefore qualified to run for President when one is not?
It’s a con game, pure and simple. Already, they have raised the bogus flag of “vox populi, vox Dei,” by suggesting that “the people,” not the Comelec, nor the High Court, should decide whether she has the legal right to run or not. On my way to court on Tuesday afternoon my car was blocked by the rented crowd on Padre Faura, talking about “vox populi” on cue, while some poor marchers were heard to complain about marching on empty stomachs.
The vox populi fraud
Can you imagine how much stronger this “vox populi, vox Dei” cry would be, if she was allowed to run despite her known ineligibility, and the automated voting machine performed the same service it did for her when she ran, under false claims of being a natural-born citizen, and PNoy’s sponsorship, as a senator in 2013? Do you think the PET would have the courage to declare an “elected” president not eligible for the office just because she was from the very start not eligible for the office?
Without anyone knowing who Mrs. Llamanzares’ parents are or were, Poblador argued that they must be presumed to be Filipino for she was “born” (‘found’ is the more accurate term) in the Philippines. He quoted an international convention to which the Philippines is not a party, and which has no application here. That’s not the only problem. The Philippines follows the jus sanguinis (right of blood) doctrine–in which citizenship is determined by the nationality of the parents rather than by the place (under the jus soli principle) where the person is born.
Citizen by presumption
Poblador insisted that her client was born a Filipino “by presumption.” Justice De Castro pointed out that a legal presumption must be based on fact, otherwise it cannot stand. She hit it right on the head when she said we might as well let all the nuisance candidates run, if Mrs. Llamanzares were allowed to run. But there is no real parity between the “nuisance candidates” and Mrs. Llamanzares. The only crime of the “nuisance candidates,” if that be a crime, is that they do not have the hundreds of millions of pesos that the non-candidate is able to burn on her premature campaigning ads. But they have not violated the Constitution and the truth, in the same way that she has, by claiming to be natural-born when she is clearly not. In that sense, they are less of a nuisance than the non-candidate.
Through her counsel Mrs. Llamanzares tried to persuade the Court that, contrary to the letter and spirit of the Constitution, which excludes foundlings from its enumeration of citizens, they are in fact natural-born and did not have to be mentioned as citizens anymore because the fact was evident enough. Presented were excerpts from the proceedings of the 1934 Constitutional Convention in which Manuel Roxas, the future president and grandfather to the present LP presidential candidate Mar Roxas, Nicolas Rafols, and Ruperto Montinola exchanged their views on foundlings being natural-born according to international law, which was factually erroneous.
If there was any international law declaring foundlings as natural-born at the time–there is none until now–it could not have had any effect on the Philippines, a colony of the US which regained its independence only in 1946, and was in no position to accede or be a contracting party to any international treaty before then. Were there such a treaty, it would have been quickly overridden by the 1935 Constitution, which excludes foundlings from its enumeration of citizens. In any conflict between the Constitution and a treaty, the Constitution prevails.
A rejected thesis
In any case, in trying to impress upon the Court that the 1934 Convention had “intended” foundlings to be treated as natural-born, Poblador walked into a deadend. With an economy of words, Justice Carpio exposed the legerdemain by telling Poblador that “you missed the most important part” of the transcript. “Here,” said Carpio, pointing to Poblador’s power-point presentation, “the president of the Convention says, ‘Does the gentleman from Cebu (Rafols) insist on his amendment?’ ( Rafols says yes.) “Let’s submit it to a vote… the amendment is rejected.”
Clinging tenaciously to his discredited theory, Poblador said what was important was “the intention,” not the vote. The last time we checked, the road to hell was still paved with good intentions.
Reductio ad absurdum
To Poblador’s insistence that foundlings are natural-born citizens, and that the Comelec has no authority to prevent any such candidates from running, Justice Perez confronted Poblador with a formidable reductio ad absurdum. What happens if a rich Chinese, claiming to be natural-born, decides to run for President, would the Comelec have the power to stop him?
This would be obvious enough, said Poblador. But as the cook at the nearest Chinese restaurant in Ermita knows, what’s sauce for the gander is also sauce for the goose. There cannot be one rule for the rich Chinese and another rule for Mrs. Llamanzares, both of them claiming to be natural-born but not really. The Comelec has the right and the duty to rule and has ruled, and if the Supreme Court does not find any “grave abuse of discretion” on the part of the Comelec, its ruling must be made permanent and executory on Mrs. Llamanzares.
Why not go to Ilocos?
But this need not be the end. As Justice Peralta helpfully suggested, Mrs. Llamanzares could expand her search for her unknown parents by expanding the coverage of her search for a DNA match, knowing that DNA is 99.99 percent accurate. Instead of limiting her grave-digging to certain places in Guimaras, Peralta, who is an Ilocano, suggested she should cover all of Iloilo and even Ilocos.
(Erratum: In my Wednesday column, written before I went to court on Tuesday, I wrote that Commissioner Arthur Lim spoke for the Comelec at the hearing, and Atty. Manuelito Luna spoke on my behalf. That was a complete miscalculation. Atty. Poblador took the entire session and Justice Marvic Leonen was not quite done with him when the session was suspended until next Tuesday. We hope to hear Commissioners Lim and Rowena Guanzon and Atty. Luna together with petitioners Estrella Elamparo, Antonio Contreras and Amado Valdez argue on Tuesday.)