“Free institutions are not the property of any majority. They do not confer upon majorities unlimited powers. The rights of the majority are limited rights. They are limited not only by the constitutional guarantees but by the moral principle implied in those guarantees. The principle is that men may not use the facilities of liberty to impair them. No man may invoke a right in order to destroy it.”
As surely as the life lessons of our 495-year history, the cautionary case of Grace Poe is reminding us Filipinos of the core principles and elemental truths that underpin our national existence.
Her case has recalled to us the imperishable truth that it is the Constitution that is supreme, not the Supreme Court.
The Court is not the property of a passing majority of justices who constitute it. No majority may use the facilities of freedom and power in order to impair the institution.
No cabal of businessmen and politicians is at liberty to buy the highest office of the land.
Last and not least, Grace Poe may not invoke the right to be elected to office in order to destroy our constitutional system.
Legal schooling and civic literacy
It is concededly presumptuous for a layman to make suggestions on how the Supreme Court might correct the errors in its decision on Poe vs. Comelec. But this is a presumption that is less overweening than the multiple presumptions that the High Court granted to Grace Poe in order to certify her eligibility to run for President of the republic.
Some lawyers would arrogate to themselves sole competence in explaining the Constitution, statutes, and how they regulate our lives and our public life.
Such a policy of exclusion forgets a basic principle in democratic society, that ordinary citizens should aspire to attain a good level of civic literacy, in order to understand how their government works and the rights and duties of citizenship.
Civic literacy, simply put, means the ability to understand the principles by which government and its courts operate. In studying the SC decision on Poe vs. Comelec, I have tried to the best of my ability – and my training in politics and journalism – to raise my civic literacy enough to understand the decision, the various concurring and dissenting opinions, the flawed and cogent arguments, and the resulting dilemma posed to the nation.
Members of the bar and bench should not forget that the great tracts of legal philosophy were written as much by laymen as by practitioners of law.
Still no Court majority
No one doubts now that Justice Antonio Carpio is correct when he contends that no Court majority declared that Grace Poe is a natural-born citizen with 10-year residency in the country, and therefore constitutionally eligible to seek election to the presidency. The announced 9-6 majority is only a figment of CJ Sereno’s imagination.
The Court did not settle the citizenship and residency issues that infect Poe’s candidacy. But it is a fact that nine justices signed the ponencia written by justice Jose Perez, although expressed rservations to some of its parts.
To the credit of justice Perez’s ponencia, he tried to faithfully reflect the evident opinions and thinking of the justices who signed it.
Every pet advocacy and argument of the concurring justices found a place in the opinion, along with their fallacious arguments and faulty premises.
Thus, CJ Sereno’s argument that adopted children have a right to natural-born citizenship finds its place there.
Justice Leonen’s outsized solicitude for the plight of all foundlings got a nook to settle in.
Justice Jardelaza’s thesis about equal protection under the law for foundlings found its way into the ponencia.
Without being a member of the Court, the solicitor general’s creative theory of statistical probabilities was given credence in the opinion.
The nine concurring justices sang in chorus that Poe is a natural-born citizen by reason of international law.
And then they ganged up on the Comelec in declaring that the poll body did not have jurisdiction, and was guilty of grave abuse of discretion.
Since all the flawed arguments were bunched up together in the ponencia, this had the effect of making all concurring justices responsible for the ponencia, for all its errors and fallacies.
The dissenting six justices did not have the same uniformity of judgment. But they were in broad agreement on the major errors of the majority opinion.
Each dissenting opinion made a specific point and argued accordingly. Justice Brion in his 144-page opinion did the Court and the public the inestimable service of providing a comprehensive review of the case, of the issues and the arguments, and then proceeded to destroy point by point what he perceived as the egregious claims of the majority opinion.
Eight errors of majority opinion
The original petitioners, in their urgent motion for reconsideration, described the majority opinion as “a 47-page perversion of the Constitution” which could result in the election of a nuisance candidate, the disenfranchisement of millions of voters, and taint the Court’s legacy.
The petitioners laid out eight arguments that form a persuasive basis for review of the Perez ponencia.
The arguments are:
1.The Court erred in declaring that Grace Poe is a qualified candidate.
2. The Court erred in declaring that the Comelec did not have jurisdiction.
3.The Court erred in declaring that Grace Poe is a natural-born citizen by statistical probability, by presumption, and as a measure of equal protection of l aw and social justice.
4. The Court erred in ruling that foundlings are natural-born citizens under the 1935 Constitution.
5. The Court erred in ruling that foundlings are natural-born citizens under international law.
6. The Court erred in declaring that the re-acquisition of citizenship under RA 9225 vested natural-born status on Grace Poe.
7. The Court erred in holding that Grace Poe complied with the 10- year residency requirement.
8. The Court erred in declaring that there was no intent to mislead by Grace Poe on her natural-born status and residency in her claim to citizenship.
If the reader is daunted by the prospect of slogging through 585 pages of legal opinions in the Poe vs. Comelec case, and can spare but little time to study it, I advise that he/she read the Brion dissenting opinion.
In this one opinion, what must have taken place within chambers in the deliberations on this case comes to life. It gives us a glimpse of the mysteries and politics of court decision-making.
Brion provides cogent support and response to the litany of errors cited by the original petitioners, complete with notes and citations.
This piece of legal argumentation reminds me of what a woman philosopher once said: “The only interesting answer is that which destroys the question.”
Brion‘s opinion in my view destroys the Perez ponencia.
I looked in vain for comparable conviction and erudition in the ponencia and concurring opinions.
To return then to the title of this piece, who turned the Supreme court into a chamber of errors?
I will not venture an answer. But the 15 justices of the Court surely know who did? They only have to ask themselves.
The dvision of the court into two groups, one concurring and one dissenting, had the effect of seemingly creating two sports teams competing to win.
The axiom first articulated by John Adams at the dawn of American independence —that American government is “a government of laws and not of men”—meant that much of public conduct is regulated, by principels of law that by general agreement ought to be enforced. Adams and the other founding fathers rejected the view attributed to Louis XIV, “I am the state.”(l’etat c’est moi.)
Their view echoed Aristotole’s view that “law should govern.”
These rivers of thought have combined to shape modern thinking about the rule of law.