I had to leave the highly enriching 51st International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu on Tuesday to be at the less enriching resumption of the Oral Arguments before the Supreme Court on the disqualification of Sen. Grace Poe Llamanzares as presidential candidate, and did not have to sit all of three hours to realize I should have stayed in Cebu.
The Commission on Elections has disqualified Mrs. Llamanzares and cancelled her Certificate of Candidacy as a presidential candidate, on the basis of four petitions filed by Estrella Elamparo, Antonio Contreras, Amado Valdez, and myself. But the Court temporarily restrained the implementation of the Comelec rulings, and decided to hear her petition for certiorari, alleging grave abuse of discretion, amounting to excess or lack of jurisdiction, on the part of the Comelec.
In these proceedings, the Comelec and the four petitioners are the respondents. Last Tuesday, the court concluded its interpellations of the petitioner’s counsel Alexander Poblador, and adjourned till next Tuesday to listen to the respondents.
In Tuesday’s hearing, Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno had the benefit of proposing the final questions. But instead of simply asking questions, she ended giving a lecture, to the obvious delight of the petitioner’s counsel, and to the obvious unease of everybody else. The lecture was not on what the Constitution says on the citizenship and residency requirements for the presidency, but what she believes the Constitution should say on the status of foundlings.
The Constitution does not mention foundlings at all in its enumeration of citizens, so it is an ambitious pole vault into the world of theory to suggest that a foundling of no known parents is not only a citizen but above all a natural-born citizen. It is understandable for the foundling’s counsel to clutch at this straw, but quite surprising to hear it from one of the court’s worthies.
For a while, I was completely distracted and thought I was listening to a lower court proceeding in an adoption case.
The issue before the High Court is simple enough. It is accessible to the merest layman. Four petitioners have questioned before the Comelec Mrs. Llamanzares’ eligibility to run for president on the ground of her not being a natural-born citizen and her not having the 10-year residency (immediately preceding the day of the election) required by the Constitution. This is pursuant to Section 2, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution, which 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 at the time of the election, and a resident of the Philippines for at least ten years immediately preceding such election.”
Bill of disqualifications
Because it is written in the negative, the provision may in fact be read as a statement of disqualifications rather than of qualifications. It enumerates those who are excluded from those who may be elected President. This means that everybody else is eligible to run for President, except those who are not natural-born citizens, not registered voters, unable to read and write, less than forty years of age on election day, and have not resided in the Philippines for at least ten years prior to the election.
The First and Second Divisions of the Comelec both granted the petitions, and the Comelec en banc affirmed the rulings of the two Divisions. Mrs. Llamanzares asked the High Court to temporarily restrain the implementation of the Comelec rulings–which was granted–and filed a petition for certiorari, alleging grave abuse of discretion, amounting to excess or lack of jurisdiction.
Although the Comelec is the sole constitutional body in charge of electoral questions, its decisions are subject to judicial review, in case there is an allegation of grave abuse of discretion. She made such an allegation. This must be proved by evidence. Has she offered anything to prove her allegation? This is what we are waiting for in the hearings.
“Right” to run
Counsel Poblador insists that despite the clear provisions of the 1935, 1973 and 1987 Constitutions, which exclude foundlings from the enumeration of citizens, she is supposed to be a natural-born citizen, allegedly on the basis of international law, which either does not exist or has no binding effect on the Philippines. Poblador’s plea is on behalf of all foundlings, who must not be deprived of their “right” to run for president, as though running for president were a “right” even among non-foundlings.
Even if the Court were allowed to amend the Constitution to permit individuals with no known parentage to run for president, not every foundling could still run for president. The foundling has to be backed by big money and powerful individuals, like Mrs. Llamanzares. This has become very clear in the course of the interpellations. Indeed, even if one meets all the requirements under Section 2, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution, and nobody objects to his running for President, if he does not have the money to burn or the political organization to support his bid, he is likely to be barred summarily as a “nuisance candidate.”
This is what happened to most of the 135 individuals who filed their respective COCs for President.
To the best of our knowledge, none of them were declared “nuisance candidates” because they are not natural-born Filipinos; or because they are not registered voters; or because they cannot read nor write; or because they are not quite forty years of age; or because they have not lived in the country for at least ten years. They were declared “nuisance candidates” because, like Rizalito David, the broadcaster and former senatorial candidate who filed the quo warranto suit against Mrs. Llamanzares before the Senate Electoral Tribunal, they did not have the money or political organization to sustain a presidential campaign.
That is not a constitutional requirement, but it has been allowed to effectively amend and override the Constitution. Strangely enough, Mrs. Llamanzares insists through Poblador that the Comelec has no authority to act upon our petition questioning her constitutional eligibility; she argues that this should be left to the presidential Electoral Tribunal, where we should file our petition for her disqualification only after the election, should she win the election. But she grants the Comelec the right to summarily dismiss as “nuisance candidates” those who meet all the constitutional requirements, but fail to show proof that they have the money or political organization.
The law abhors absurdity, and this is as absurd as anything. But Mrs. Llamanzares seems prepared to die for it. This is because, as counsel Poblador says, the intention of the “nuisance candidates” is simply to “confuse the voters” while his client’s intention is noble and pure– “to continue what her late adoptive father had begun,” which nobody though is able to identify, since his first and last crack at public office was his failed 2004 presidential run, which also cost me my senatorial bid.
Between Rizalito David and Mrs. Llamanzares, the penurious and quixotic broadcaster is definitely more constitutionally compliant, just as Augusto Syjuco Jr., the former TESDA head, Camilo Sabio, the former PCGG chief, and others like them, are definitely more constitutionally compliant than the self-confessed foundling. Justice Marvic Leonen raised this issue in his interpellation on Tuesday, and Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro raised it the previous Tuesday.
But no one has found it necessary to suggest that instead of quoting non-existent or inapplicable international law, Poblador should probably be more forthright, and argue that this particular foundling should be declared natural-born, and be allowed to run, regardless of the undisputed facts of the case and what the Constitution commands, because she has what the constitutionally eligible “nuisance candidates” do not have— money and political organization. It is about time.
This is a case of paramount importance to the sovereignty of this nation. As we prepare for what could be the final hearing next Tuesday, we have the duty to see without any blinders that what Mrs. Llamanzares is fighting for in this case is not the “right” of foundlings to run for President, but rather the “right” of one particularly moneyed foundling to rise above the constitutional status of non-foundlings who have neither her money nor political organization. Her real enemy is the Constitution.