When did our people elect you, Madame Chief Justice, to amend the Constitution?
It says simply and clearly in Sec. 2, Article VII of the Constitution : “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.”
The article is written in negative form.
Even students in elementary and secondary school can understand what the words mean. Yet, inexplicably, the Chief Justice of our Supreme Court, CJ Maria Lourdes Sereno, cannot.
Impersonating a profound magistrate
In her interpellation yesterday at the close of the oral arguments on the Comelec disqualification cases against Sen. Grace Poe-Llamanzares, Chief Justice Sereno laid before the nation her astonishing opinion:
Requiring a person to prove that he or she is a natural-born citizen is “ an impossible condition” that is particularly injurious or unjust to generations of Filipino foundlings who stand to suffer from such a requirement.
She expended 20 minutes of the court’s and the nation’s time to engage in friendly banter with Alexander Poblador, the counsel of Ms. Poe.
Doing her best impersonation of a profound magistrate, Sereno underscored the magnitude of any decision the high court would make on Poe’s disqualification cases. She parroted the argument of Poe’s legal team that it is the petitioners for Ms. Poe’s disqualification, and not the candidate herself, who bears the burden of proof in the disqualification case.
Sereno declared that compelling a foundling to prove his or her unknown parentage would betray the presumption in Philippine adoption laws that a foundling is a Filipino.
She acknowledged that nowhere in the 1935 and 1987 constitutions is there any mention of foundlings. But no matter. She opined to the joy of Poblador: “We have to be careful that we’re not held by a rigid reading of what we consider as a failure to enumerate foundlings. We are going to create unintended consequences, the difficulties of which are going to be visited on so many foundlings in this country.”
She feared that an adverse SC ruling on Ms. Poe’s case would serve as a disincentive for prospective foster parents in adopting a foundling.
No matter its provenance, is this a sensible argument to adopt in voting on Ms. Poe’s eligibility for the presidency?
I think not, and I will keep saying so until the Supreme Court rules with finality that she is ineligible to run for president in the May elections.
Justice Leonen and the awa strategy
Based on an analysis of the sounds emitted by the justices who took part in the oral arguments, I believe Grace Poe will probably get at most two votes when the high court rules on her disqualification cases.
These votes are those of Chief Justice Sereno and Justice Marvic Leonen.
Where Justice Sereno essayed her novel “impossible condition” argument, Justice Leonen laid out before the court the essence of Ms. Poe’s awa strategy (pity strategy), as my wife and many women have described her entire battle plan.
Leonen’s approach was to prick the conscience and heartstrings of his fellow justices. He argued that they, the members of the SC, were “justices” and not merely “legalists” who are fixated on legal technicalities.
Leonen argued that it is not Poe’s fault that her birth parents abandoned her. “She did not have moral volition; it was the decision of the parents.” Then he drowned himself in a tub of self-pity. He said he knows how it feels to have missing parents.
He related: “I grew up without a father. It was difficult. I knew who my father was but yet, it was difficult. But I think of those people who don’t know their fathers but grew up with their mother also have a difficult time.”
The essence of constitutionalism
Legal experts who have studied Senator Poe‘s eligibility problem aver that none of the strategies and tactics of her legal team are working. They have failed to substantiate her eligibility to run for president before the Supreme Court (SC) and to debunk her disqualification by the Commission on Elections.
Among these experts who have issued telling comments on the case are San Beda Graduate School of Law’s Dean Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, election lawyer Edgardo Carlo Vistan II, and former Integrated Bar of the Philippines national president Vicente Joyas. To a man, they are unconvinced by the arguments raised by Poe’s lawyers before the high tribunal.
Aquino said that despite the arguments presented by Poe’s camp during the oral arguments, the case boils down to whether a foundling like the senator is allowed by law to occupy the highest office in the land.
Aquino asks rhetorically: “Does the Constitution of the Republic so ordain that no foundling shall ever be president of the land? No, under the Constitution they can become president,” if it can be shown that one of their parents is a Filipino.
He added that some might dismiss this as “unconscionable cruelty” toward foundlings, but the “plain” fact remains that this is the state of the law in the Philippines.
He stressed: “Abiding by the law is exactly what a rule-based society is all about. It is the very essence of constitutionalism.”
He contended that the Philippines had several opportunities in the past to craft policies that would be favorable to foundlings. But the Philippines never did that.
“So all this sniffling about the unfairness and the cruelty to foundlings is really misplaced. It has always been within our sovereign power to better their lot, and we chose not to do anything,” he concluded.
The only way to make the 1987 Constitution more accommodating to foundlings like Poe is to amend the Charter. “Unless that is done, Ms. Poe cannot run for president.”
This is many times more convincing than the laments of Sereno and Leonen about impossible conditions and technicalities.
The Constitution is not a mere enumeration of conditions and technicalities. It is the living law of our land. If these justices cannot live with their duty, there is always the door.