|Justice Antonio Carpio|
Last Tuesday, Feb. 16, was replete with frustrations for many citizens who wish to uphold the Constitution and ensure clean and honest elections. We saw how two institutions so vital in our nation’s political life are undergoing such severe strain, owing to too much politics and politicking.
First, let’s talk about the 5th oral arguments at the Supreme Court on Comelec’s disqualification of presidential candidate Grace Poe, that was estopped by the SC with two TROs during the Christmas season. Perhaps because it was the 5th day of hearings and pressures were being exerted on the court to finish it, thus not only were biases too naked to be hidden, but nerves were already terribly frayed---both among the justices and the lawyers. I have been attending hearings at the SC for years now in connection with my work, but frankly I have never seen the court this disputative and “conflicted,” to borrow Justice Francis Jardeleza’s term.
Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno ordinarily should set the tone but last Tuesday she was quite shrill and emotional as she tangled with Comelec Commissioner and lawyer Arthur Lim on the issue of “domicile.” Lim held that Sen. Poe was “quite ambivalent” about moving domicile from the US, and at this CJ Sereno flared up, arguing that after the candidate sold her US home for 28,000 pounds (didn’t CJ mean dollars?), “uprooting” her children from schools there, shipping their stuff in four 40-foot containers, including the chandeliers, how could lawyer Lim term all that as “ambivalent?”
On the other hand, Solicitor-General Florin Hilbay, who defended the Senate Electoral Tribunal’s majority position to allow Poe to run for president, locked horns with Senior Justices Antonio Carpio and Teresita de Castro over statistics from the Census Board that claimed, he said, that in 99.99% of cases, foundlings here are bound to be Filipino. It was De Castro’s turn to flare up, as she demanded from Hilbay more solid proof in terms of legal documents rather than "mere statistics," asserting that “you are asking us to amend the Constitution in this aspect;” meantime, Carpio came crushing down on him with general principles of international law. Sol-Gen Hilbay, who bears the lofty title of “Tribune of the People,” seemed stung to the quick at some point--- daring to point out that perhaps those stats on foundlings could even be more credible than the birth certificates of the SC justices!
Lawyer Estrella Elamparo, the earliest to challenge Poe’s candidacy, did not give the candidate any quarter about not knowing what she was claiming in her COCs for the Senate and the presidency. On the other hand, former UE Law Dean and President Emeritus of the Philippine Association of Law Schools Amado D. Valdez took the philosophical bend as he quoted from the collection of aphorisms and statesmanlike reflections of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-80), titled “Meditations:”
“When a branch is cut from its neighboring branch, it is necessarily cut away from the whole tree. In the same way, a citizen who severs her ties from her country has severed herself from the wider society of fellow citizens. The branch which stays with the tree from the beginning of its growth and shares its transpiration is not the same as the branch which is cut off and then re-grafted, whatever the gardeners say.”
Dean Valdez explained that Justice Marvic Leonen echoed Marcus Aurelius when he said, “Justice means giving everyone his due.” Valdez read Leonen's assertion to mean that what is due to the branch that stays with the tree is different from what is due to the branch which is cut-off. Valdez asserted that Senator Poe, the “cut-off branch,” could no longer be considered a natural-born Filipino citizen, even assuming she was one, after she renounced her Filipino citizenship and acquired American citizenship (and then reacquired her Filipino citizenship in 2010).
In fact, Valdez as well as Comelec Com. Arthur Lim maintained that after renouncing her US citizenship in October 2010, to enable her to accept the post of MTRCB Chief from President Aquino, Grace Poe became a naturalized Filipino---which makes her ineligible to run for President as that post calls only for “natural-born Filipinos.”
The Supreme Court is torn apart by the issue of Grace Poe as a foundling, and beyond, whether as such she should have what De La Salle Political Science professor Antonio Contreras (who also made a manifestation vs. Poe before the SC), termed her “audacity to demand” Filipino citizenship back in such a grand manner---after giving it up in the US. Contreras argued that “Petitioner (Poe) has to be told that she is not special and above the law.” On the other hand, lawyer Manuelito Luna, representing former Sen. Francisco Tatad, argued that it is “absurd” for Poe to insist that the Comelec did not have jurisdiction to cancel her COC---stressing that Sec. 78 of the Omnibus Election Code gives it this authority.
And so the country lurches on with this controversy that, after having dug into proceedings of the various constitutional conventions, still remains “unresolved,” as Justice Jose Perez put it. There’s also rife speculation that President Aquino has junked Mar Roxas for Grace Poe, hence the developments at the High Court.
What worries this blogger, more, however, are the distortions which the Constitution could suffer as a result of the prolonged, emotionally-charged and politically driven deliberations within the SC. I worry how this document that an overwhelming majority of Filipinos ratified in February 1987 could be reduced to a meaningless scrap of paper because of political distortions being orchestrated on behalf of an ambitious politician. I worry about its demoralizing effects on those who have sworn to follow that scrap of paper to the end, e.g., the military and the civil service.
Last Tuesday the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee (JCOC), co-chaired by Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III and Rep. Oscar Rodriguez conducted a hearing on the new vote-counting machine (VCM) that will replace the much-derided PCOS machines in the past two elections. Not surprisingly, Sen. Pimentel was quoted in media yesterday as bannered, “Comelec taking us for a ride---Pimentel.” Apparently Koko Pimentel, after much patience during JCOC hearings in the past, is now reaching the limit of his patience---with justification.
The JCOC hearing was attended by top Comelec officials led by chair Juan Andres Bautista, two officials of Smartmatic which supplies the VCM, and a large representation of IT experts, including the chief of UNA party’s computer system, Atty. Ivan Uy. The hearing centered mainly on the clamor of citizens for the VCMs to provide the voter’s verification paper audit trail (VVPAT)--- which is the receipt issued by the VCM that would inform the voter that it received the name of his candidate.
Interestingly, a few weeks back the Comelec was advocating that instead of the paper receipt, voters can do the “silip-the-screen,” i.e., check out their candidate’s name appearing on a small screen on the surface of the VCM. But at yesterday’s hearing, Comelec Chief Bautista emphasized that in a vote of 7-0, the poll body rejected the voters’ receipts, despite collective agitation of IT experts, various faith leaders and other stakeholders. This came after former Biliran Rep. Glenn Chong, a lawyer/CPA, made his presentation, complete with diagram, before the JCOC--- showing the flow of voting in the precinct up to the time voter gets the receipt and DEPOSITS IT IN A METAL BOX INSIDE THE PRECINCT, under supervision by the BEI.
During actual demo using a ballot facsimile, Glenn Chong timed the procedure from vote-finish to issuance of receipt at 10 seconds, but Bautista still feared that it would still clog up the precincts and entail more personnel, paper and ink, etc., etc. He also expressed fear that voters might sell their VVPAT to unscrupulous parties, even though Glenn explained that the poll body could mandate that these receipts be dropped into a box in the precinct, supervised by poll watchers. Interestingly, Comelec officials also said that the “silip-the-screen” proposal is being dropped too.
What this means is that the major security features of the VCM ARE BEING ABANDONED, as what happened in the two previous elections---this is sad and ALARMING. As Glenn Chong put it in his presentation, the VVPAT, the more preferable of the two security options, would definitely enhance the credibility of the 2016 elections. This is because citizens are used to receiving receipts for ATM withdrawals, store purchases, etc., but why, in this most crucial citizens’ activity, is the VVPAT being withdrawn. Why?
Sen. Pimentel opines that “Comelec is taking us for a ride,” but he doesn’t have to agree to the poll body’s decision. As IT expert Nelson Celis pointed out to this blogger, under Sec. 33 of R.A. 9369, the Automated Election Law, the JCOC is endowed with regulatory powers that it can compel Comelec to issue the VVPAT, as mandated by that same law. For the sake of the credibility and honesty of the 2016 elections, Sen. Pimentel and Rep. Rodriguez must override the Comelec’s objections and order VVPAT receipts issued.
|Sen. Richard Gordon|
Another great news: former Sen. Richard Gordon, one of the principal authors of the AES Law (now running for the Senate again), says non-issuance of voter’s receipt is against that law. He plans to raise this issue in the Supreme Court. We citizens must support Dick Gordon as otherwise cheating will again prevail.