Contrary to what the public has been led to believe, there is no 9 – 6 majority vote in favor of declaring Mrs. Grace Poe Llamanzares a natural-born citizen, and qualified to run for President. This is what we learn from the dissenting opinion of Senior Associate Justice Carpio, who revealed the real vote of seven in favor, five against, and three without an opinion on the issue of citizenship. On the issue of residency, the vote was seven in favor, six against, and two without an opinion. It was only on the issue of grave abuse of discretion that nine voted against the Commission on Elections because they did not believe that any material representations by Mrs. Llamanzares, which are false, were prompted by any “intention to deceive.”
Since the majority failed to rule on the two core issues of citizenship and residency, there is no legal basis for the ponencia written by Associate Justice Jose Perez to declare Mary Grace Natividad Sonora Poe Llamanzares “qualified to be a candidate for President in the National and Local Elections of May 9, 2016.” By rejecting the citizenship and residency requirements of presidential candidates under the Constitution in order to allow a person of unknown biological parentage to run, and by declaring that the Comelec committed grave abuse of discretion when it disqualified Mrs. Llamanzares and cancelled her Certificate of Candidacy, the erring Justices may have culpably violated the Constitution, betrayed public trust, and committed grave abuse of discretion themselves.
We waited for five days to see the basis of the Court spokesman’s announcement last Tuesday that nine Justices had voted that Mrs. Llamanzares “could run,” despite the Comelec’s earlier en banc ruling disqualifying her as a candidate and canceling her COC, for making material representations, which are false, that she is a natural-born citizen and a resident of the country for 10 years and 11 months immediately preceding the election.
7, not 9, votes
On Friday evening, when the texts of the Perez ponencia and the other Justices’ concurring and dissenting opinions finally became available online, Carpio’s dissent clarified the issues. There was no Supreme Court ruling on the core issues. The Court is made up of 15 members. Seven votes do not a majority make. But even if a majority vote were attained, if it trashed the Constitution, instead of upholding it, that majority could not possibly speak for the Court. Some Justices may want to rubbish the Constitution, but never the Court. This is what seems to be happening in the Llamanzares case.
Under the Constitution, no one may be elected President unless he is, among other things, a natural-born citizen and a resident of the country for at least 10 years immediately preceding the day of the election. And by natural-born, the Constitution refers to one who is a citizen from birth, without having to perform any act to acquire or perfect his citizenship. This is what we, private petitioners before the Comelec (now turned respondents before the Supreme Court), the Comelec en banc, some Justices and so many legal and political writers have been patiently trying to point out.
Admission against interest
By her own admission, Mrs. Llamanzares was born a foundling of no known parentage, having been abandoned inside the parish church in Jaro, Iloilo, on Sept. 3, 1968. She was not born a citizen under the 1935 Constitution, which was in force at the time of her birth. From this Constitution, the jus sanguinis (right of blood) doctrine was written into the 1973 and 1987 Constitutions, so it is this, which until now governs Philippine citizenship.
The Perez ponencia adopted Solicitor General Florin Hilbay’s pronouncement during the Oral Arguments that all foundlings are natural-born citizens, not on the basis of what the Constitution or the law or jurisprudence says, but purely on the basis of what he says. All our Constitutions are silent on this, but according to Hilbay, foundlings are natural-born precisely because of this very silence. Rejecting the clear provisions of the Constitution, and insisting, instead, on what is not written there, Hilbay said Mrs. Llamanzares is natural-born because of a disputable presumption based on the statistical probability that her parents were or are Filipinos.
The ponencia adopted as its own HIlbay’s thesis that there exists a nearly 100 percent probability that Mrs. Llamanzares’s unknown parents were (are) Filipinos, and that, therefore, she is natural-born. The ponencia said, quoting the “Tribune” of Mrs. Llamanzares, from 1965 to 1975, the total number of foreigners born in the Philippines was 15,986, while the total number of Filipinos born was 10,558,278. The statistical possibility that any child born in the country in that decade is natural-born was 99.83 percent. In 1960, there were 962,532 Filipinos and 4,734 foreigners in the province (of Iloilo?); 99.62 percent of the population were Filipinos. In 1970, there were 1,162,669 Filipinos and 5,304 foreigners; 99.55 percent of the population were Filipinos.
From probability to certainty
On the basis of this statistical analysis, one could theorize that Mrs. Llamanzares may have been born of Filipino parents. But Hilbay and the ponente use the same premise to arrive at the certain conclusion that she was, in fact, born of Filipino parents and is, therefore, natural-born. This is really scraping the bottom of the barrel.
Among the presidential candidates, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte alone had the courage to say something about the vote of the Justices. He said this was not what he learned in law school, but as a lawyer he would respect anything coming from the Court. That is the standard lawyer’s remark: the Supreme Court is always right, even when it is wrong.
Not being a lawyer, I make a distinction between the Court and its erring Justices. I abide by what The Manila Times editorial said last Friday, that it is not the Supreme Court per se that is supreme, but rather the Constitution that is supreme to the Court and the Justices.
A trier of law
The Supreme Court is a trier of law, not of probabilities; it is not even a trier of facts, even though the law always requires a fact rather than a mere probability. The undisputed facts which the parties stipulated upon before the Comelec ruled in favor of the petitions by Estrella Elamparo, Antonio Contreras, Amado Valdez and Francisco Tatad, are simply not in her favor.
By going up to the Supreme Court on a petition for certiorari and asking the Court for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO), Mrs. Llamanzares was able to freeze the otherwise final and non-reviewable Comelec ruling. She alleged grave abuse of discretion, but there was no attempt on her part to prove this during the Oral Arguments. It was only Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza who theorized during the Orals that the Comelec might have committed grave abuse of discretion when it failed to allow Mrs. Llamanzares to prove that she was natural-born.
To which Commissioner Arthur Lim, speaking for the Comelec, was quick to respond that on the very first line of her first written official submission to the Comelec, Mrs. Llamanzares proclaimed that she was a foundling of no known parentage, making it unnecessary for the petitioners to prove anything anymore. Where then did the Comelec commit grave abuse of discretion amounting to excess or lack of jurisdiction? By simply invoking the Constitution, the law and jurisprudence?
While this case was being heard by the Supreme Court en banc, the Comelec motu proprio disqualified about 130 “presidential candidates” and cancelled their COCs for being “nuisance candidates.” These candidates had all complied with the constitutional requirements: All were natural-born citizens, registered voters, able to read and write, at least 40 years of age on election day, and residents of the country for at least ten years. The only things they did not have were political organisation and money to burn, which are not at all constitutional requirements.
But the Comelec was never faulted for “grave abuse of discretion” for declaring them “nuisance candidates” despite their having complied with all the constitutional requirements. And the Supreme Court was quick to affirm the Comelec decision against any such candidates in a one-paragraph minute resolution. Is not the Court itself guilty of grave abuse of discretion in this instance?
Mrs. Llamanzares’ counsel had argued during the Orals that only the Presidential Electoral Tribunal after the election, and not the Comelec before the election, could pass upon the qualifications or disqualifications of presidential candidates. If this was so, by what authority then does not the Comelec declare “nuisance candidates,” and the High Court confirm Comelec’s action in such cases?
Bastardizing the elections
Carpio has expressed fear—and it is a fear we share—that the non-majority vote could “lead to absurd results and make a mockery of the elections by allowing a presidential candidate with uncertain citizenship status to be potentially elected to the Office of the President, an office expressly reserved by the Constitution exclusively for natural-born Filipino citizens.”
Precisely because of this political vote, we now have a former American citizen, who is married to an American husband and is mother to several American children, who may have been actually programmed to become the next President of the Philippines. We are given to understand that the husband and children would renounce their American citizenship if ever she is elected President. What a way of showing the love for the country she wants to lead!
A president of unknown parentage?
If this is outrageous enough, even more outrageous is the fact that should we ever be so accursed to have her as our president, Filipino children studying history or current events will know the name of their president, but will never be able to find on the internet or anywhere else any information about who her biological father and mother are. What other national indignity, degradation or humiliation do we need?
Only a majority of the Court can declare Mrs. Llamanzares “qualified” to run for President. The vote of seven Justices on the two core issues does not meet this requirement. The Court needs to declare that the previous round of voting has failed, and must sit down all over again, deliberate anew, without the external pressure of partisan politics or money, and cast a vote that could save the Constitution, the Court, the next election, and the nation itself from insanity, treason and chaos.