Reactions to the disqualification

Contrary to the earlier warning aired by Llamanzares’ supporters, there has been no public outrage after the two divisions of the Commission on Elections decided to disqualify presidential candidate Sen. Grace Poe Llamanzares for not being a natural-born Filipino and for failing to meet the constitutional 10-year residency requirement before election day. While some of her supporters toyed with the idea of boycotting the May 9, 2016 elections, we only heard of some previously enthusiastic political funders walking away. That’s life.

Some people have come to me to thank me for taking up the issue, when nobody else wanted to. Not even her rivals had wanted to touch it—they were mortally afraid of the possible “backlash,” because of the alleged popularity of the adopted daughter of Fernando Poe Jr. B.S. Aquino 3rd himself had tried to persuade her to run as Mar Roxas’ teammate, despite the fact that under the Constitution, one who is not eligible to run for President is not eligible to run for vice president, either.

The commissioners deserve our thanks

But if anyone deserves to be thanked for Comelec rulings, it is the commissioners above all who refused to be intimidated by appeals to political issues, in order to uphold the Constitution and the law. This is a critical political setback for Mrs. Llamanzares, and I regret that I have been partly instrumental in bringing it about. I had a particular closeness to her adoptive father Fernando Poe Jr., with whom I ran in 2004, he for President and I for senator, and we suffered the same fate in that election. But if our democracy is to survive, we must be prepared to sacrifice certain things for the common good; we must uphold the Constitution and the rule of law as sacred and supreme at all times.

The Comelec First Division, which voted 2 to 1 to grant my petition, and those of Antonio Contreras and Dean Amado Valdez, has ruled, in support of the arguments lucidly presented by my counsel Manuelito Luna, that Mrs. Llamanzares is not a natural-born Filipino citizen and lacks the 10-year residency requirement and, therefore, not eligible to run for President. I am deeply thankful for the ruling, but I do not at all rejoice in the respondent’s misfortune.

An ambiguous dissent

Mrs. Llamanzares is now free to appeal to the Comelec en banc, but it seems unlikely that the two commissioners who had voted to grant the three petitions in the First Division and the three others who had voted to grant the Estrella Elamparo petition in the Second would still change their positions. In fact, a close reading of Commissioner Robert S. Lim’s 81-page dissenting opinion to Commissioner Rowena Guanzon’s ponencia in the First Division, reveals a certain ambiguity that tends to adopt the main points of our petition.

There is not enough space for everything on page 73 to 81, but this is telling: “Before ending, I feel duty-bound to state that the respondent’s admission of being a foundling makes her claim of being a natural-born Filipino citizen in her certificate of candidacy not only doubtful, but also untenable. The declaration may, therefore, amount to a false representation of a material fact, which can cause the cancellation of her certificate of candidacy. This is because I believe that foundlings may be considered Philippine citizens, but they can never be considered natural-born Filipinos unless the Constitution itself so provides. No amount of legal juggling will make the respondent a natural-born citizen…,” writes Lim.

Will the Supreme Court change things?

Mrs. Llamanzares’s only hope, it seems, is, if majority of the Supreme Court Justices decide to read the Constitution and the facts of the case in the same way her own lawyers have read the same. But this may be a forlorn hope.

In Rizalito David’s quo warranto petition before the Senate Electoral Tribunal, the three Justices who sit on the nine-man body voted, with one other member (Sen. Nancy Binay), to unseat the senator on the basis of the presentation by Atty. Luna, who is also David’s counsel. She was saved only by five of the six senator-members—Tito Sotto, Pia Cayetano, Loren Legarda, Cynthia Villar and Bam Aquino—who are non-lawyers except for Cayetano, and who turned the constitutional controversy into a political question. David has since gone up to the Supreme Court, alleging a grave abuse of discretion.

One shouldn’t be surprised if, in the SET case, the Court gave a closer reading to the dissenting opinions of SET Chair and Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro and Justice Arturo Brion than to the concurring opinions of the five senators. Likewise, it shouldn’t surprise us if in the Comelec cases, when they are finally raised to the Court, it would read the Commissioners’ rulings with the same frame of mind.

Foundlings can’t be natural-born

The constitutional provision is so clear it needs and permits no interpretation. A woman lawyer came to the Kapihan sa Anabel’s (Quezon City) last Saturday to urge the Court to declare that foundlings, like Mrs. Llamanzares, are natural-born citizens, but this is not what the Constitution says, and the duty of the Court is simply to say what the Constitution says, and not to reinvent the Constitution.

Although Mrs. Llamanzares’ suspected principal funder was earlier heard bragging that he had asked a former Chief Justice to sound out the justices on their possible support for Mrs. Llamanzares, and that many of them had reportedly appeared to be “open” to persuasion, this has since assumed a “treasonous” nature, and could invite some kind of a “Duterte solution” to anyone who might succumb. It would be more prudent to let the justices rule on the case, free from any extra-judicial intervention.

Should the Comelec en banc affirm the rulings of the two Divisions, it will now have to strike out Mrs. Llamanzares’ name from the official ballot in the May 9, 2016 elections. She could still be reinstated if and when the High Court finally rules that she is, after all, a natural-born citizen who will have resided in the country not less than 10 years by May 9, 2016.

Can we stand a Duterte?

With Mrs. Llamanzares out, is Mayor Rodrigo Duterte of Davao in?

This appears to be the more important question. There are many issues to be resolved here. First of all, is Duterte a legitimate presidential candidate at this point? He filed his Certificate of Candidacy long after the legal deadline for the filing of CoCs—in substitution for one Martin Diño, who had earlier filed a CoC and had later withdrawn the same. Was this a valid substitution? Before that, was Diño’s CoC a valid document?

Apparently, Diño used the CoC form meant for presidential candidates. But in the space where he was supposed to declare he was running for “President,” he wrote “Mayor of Pasay” instead. This clearly invalidated the CoC. In the past manual elections, when voters still wrote the names of candidates on the ballot, writing the wrong name for the wrong office would have “spoiled” the ballot and prompted the Comelec to discard it.

Is the substitution valid?

This was the exact situation of Diño’s CoC. It was an invalid CoC, so Duterte cannot replace Diño through the same CoC unless he is running for Mayor of Pasay, instead of President. The spoiled CoC should have been discarded, but it wasn’t, and Duterte was allowed to use it, as though it were a valid one. How did this happen? Why was the ‘spoiled CoC” not disposed of?

Chairman Andres Bautista should answer this. My best sources tell me that the Law Department had prepared the appropriate memorandum seeking to disallow the substitution, but the chairman, after initially indicating support for it, eventually directed the Department to allow the substitution. What happened here, Mr. chairman? This cannot remain your exclusive secret—it must be shared with the nation.

Scandalizing the nation

Duterte’s public behavior as “candidate” has since created a storm that threatens to be far more cruel and devastating than the Haiyan/Yolanda super typhoon; much more morally destructive than anything we have seen; or, if you believe what my colleague Mauro Gia Samonte says in his Sunday Times column, more terrible than what Uganda under Idi Amin had seen. He has shocked and scandalized the nation beyond all proportions by bragging about his womanizing and extra-judicial killings, by cursing the Pope just to draw a laugh from his audience, and by proposing to make at least five killings a week, a regular feature of his government, should he become President.

And the bishops

The president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas and former CBCP president and Archbishop Emeritus Oscar V. Cruz, also of Lingayen-Dagupan, have separately slammed Duterte for his vulgar, offensive, unprintable and unprovoked expletives against the Pope, and other statements. He was later photographed on the front page of one newspaper reportedly apologizing to Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles for the papal slur, and offering to pay a fine of one thousand pesos for every profanity or cuss word he would utter next time.

This only aggravated his crime. One offers money to restitute money one had stolen, but for having disgraced his office with dishonorable language and behavior on prime television, one might have to yield to the Samurai’s code of honor, even without the consent of the Japanese nation.

Not a confession but a boast

Duterte was not confessing his crimes or his sins in response to any accusations. Rather, he was bragging about them as though they were heroic feats or virtues deserving the highest award or commendation. And some people in the media and elsewhere were ecstatically cheering him. In one rather shameful (or shameless) operation, Mahal Mang-ahas of the Social Weather Station came out with a rigged survey using a skewed questionnaire, which put Duterte on top of the presidential contenders.

The ever crooked pollsters

This came a few days after Duterte was rumored to have received a big political donation through vice-presidential candidate Alan Peter Cayetano in Hong Kong. Everyone saw through the fraud, and the critics cried foul. But my question is, after such a long disgraceful career of fooling the Filipino people through their rigged surveys, why do we still allow these crooked pollsters to fiddle with public opinion?

A pagan saint?

Even more disgraceful was one particular issue of Philippine Star. It was an undisguised and unadulterated “publicity spin.” Using the biggest font ever, the Star banner headline screamed, “WATCH OUT FOR SANTO RODRIGO.” While the country was reeling under the moral assault from our good mayor, Sen. Koko Pimentel predicted his eventual “sainthood” based on every pagan and perverse thing. The evening before, the older former Sen. Nene Pimentel was on TV doing the same spin. So father and son have become the unseemly postulators of Duterte’s “sainthood.”

The question among those who feel verbally abused and morally offended is, what’s happening to “Digong?” But for me, the real question is, what’s happening to us as a people? We flaunt our vices, our addictions, and our crimes, we’re embarrassed by virtue, and applaud what’s evil and wrong. We need total change. It may not be enough to simply disqualify Digong; we may have to change our entire electorate, ourselves as a people.

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