Sen. Francis Escudero, who is running embryonically as Sen. Grace Poe Llamanzares’s running mate in the 2016 elections, was reported to have voiced an appeal to the Jojo Binay and Mar Roxas camps not to support any moves to disqualify Grace from the presidential race for not being a natural-born Filipino and for lacking the 10-year residency required of all presidential candidates. The appeal is rather presumptuous and offensive, based on the specious presumption that the two presidential candidates —Vice President Jejomar Binay and former DILG Secretary Mar Roxas—are involved in the petitions before the Commission on Elections (Comelec). Indeed, both may be praying that the constitutional nuisance called Mrs. Llamanzares should be instantly removed from the race, but to say that they are involved in any of the petitions is certainly derogatory and contemptuous.
Three petitions are now before the Comelec. Two are for the cancellation of Mrs. Llamanzares’s certificate of candidacy on the ground of lack of citizenship and residence; one for her permanent disqualification from public office. The two were filed separately by former Government Service Insurance System chief legal counsel Estrella Elamparo and by political science professor Antonio Contreras from the De La Salle University; the disqualification suit by myself. There may be more coming in the next few days.
Both Binay and Roxas were asked by the press about my petition. Both expressed sympathy for my action, but maintained respectful distance from it. This was but consistent with their position on the issue. Not only was I the first one to publicly raise the issue of Mrs. Llamanzares’s constitutional eligibility to run for President or sit in the Senate; I have also written the most extensive discussion of this issue in this space. For a while I was the only one who seemed to be interested in this constitutional issue, which to me involves a question of sovereignty.
At first, Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco, speaking for Binay and UNA, tried to say something about Mrs. Llamanzares’s lack of the required 10-year residency immediately preceding the election. By our count, she would have resided in the country for only a few years by May 9, 2016, if we computed her stay from the time she lost her American citizenship and theoretically became a Filipino on February 3, 2012. Nowhere near 10 years.
Tiangco’s quote landed on the front page of some newspapers, but the very next day, he apologized to Mrs. Llamanzares and her family for raising doubts about her constitutional eligibility to run for President or to remain in the Senate. This was because Binay, who campaigned for Fernando Poe Jr. in 2004, did not want to be seen as wanting to inflict any personal injury on FPJ’s adopted daughter, Mrs. Llamanzares.
On Roxas’s part, he said he respected my right to pursue a course of action that I thought was right. But Roxas was never known to have publicly inveighed against Mrs. Llamanzares’s constitutional ineligibility to seek the highest office. In fact, until he settled on Rep. Leni Robredo as his running mate, he tried everything to convince Mrs. Llamanzares to run as his vice president. This meant that he did not consider her constitutionally impaired from running for president. Under the Constitution, a candidate for vice president has the same qualifications as a candidate for president.
When I last spoke to Roxas about Mrs. Llamanzares at Mount Carmel church during the wake of the departed Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Neal Cruz, he showed no clear position on her constitutional status. I cited her obvious disability, and he said he would have it studied. But not since has Roxas said anything about it. Escudero therefore was speaking out of turn when he said Binay and Roxas should desist from supporting any of the moves at the Comelec against Mrs. Llamanzares.
Apparently the cases against Mrs. Llamanzares have acquired a life of their own. My petition, and presumably the two other petitions, were reported to have been raffled off to the Second Division of the Comelec; which means the Comelec should be able to rule on them before they begin printing the official ballots on Dec. 10.
But in addition to that, the Comelec has decided to conduct a preliminary investigation on the criminal case filed by petitioner Rizalito David against Mrs. Llamanzares for violation of Sec. 74 in relation to Sec. 262 of the Omnibus Election Code, having to do with misrepresentations in her 2013 COC that she was a natural-born Filipino.
This charge could open a new Pandora’s box. More criminal charges could be forthcoming. Some quarters are reportedly preparing to file graft and corruption charges against Mrs. Llamanzares, for having accepted an obviously illegal appointment and collected a salary and other emoluments as Chairman of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board in 2010, while she was still an American citizen, and therefore prohibited from accepting a position in the Philippine government.
One real problem is the negative impact of all these developments on Mrs. Llamanzares’s financial contributors. A number of business tycoons who had earlier decided to bankroll her campaign were reported to have begged off, leaving just two top executives of a conglomerate to support her campaign until the Comelec decides on her disqualification. This could have a crippling effect on her operations, including her ability to mount a legal defense on her disqualification and other cases.
This could replicate what happened to FPJ’s campaign in 2004. FPJ had accepted the draft to lead the challenge to then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on the basis of strong commitments by a financial group to fund his campaign. After the first few weeks at the hustings, the campaign began to show early signs of failing to sustain itself because of the failure of the standard bearer to adopt an offensive posture. A well-known bloc-voting institution, which had committed to support FPJ, asked for an extended session with the candidate to “help him” develop the necessary speaking lines that would put GMA on the defensive, and his campaign ahead.
This failed to change the situation in our favor. As a leading senatorial candidate, I was delivering the only sharp lines against the administration —all my colleagues on the ticket were either clowning or saying absolutely nothing. But for reasons that became clear to me only after my silent colleagues handily won and I was robbed even of my “historic vote,” I lost live media coverage every time I spoke, despite the fact that such media coverage was legitimately paid for by our party organizers. I then asked FPJ if he could use my lines, so that they could at least reach a wider audience. He cheerfully declined the suggestion saying, “Pare, hindi pa naman puno ang salop” (Friend, the rice container is not full).
Mrs. Llamanzares’s problem is of a different nature altogether. Should a perverse miracle happen, and she is judged to be qualified to run for president, after all, we would be compelled to raise other issues about her moral character. There is no need to talk about these now. But the first basic issue will have to be this: can we afford to have a President and Commander-in-Chief who sleeps with an American husband and would be at the mercy of her American children? We might as well adopt the late Congressman Bartolome Cabangbang’s proposed US Statehood status for the Philippines.