Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Considering tightness of presidential race, Comelec chair Andres Bautista sees “big trouble” if SC postpones for after May elections its final decision on Grace Poe’s eligibility to run for President. Filipinos from various walks of life, political pundits, the IBP Board----all are joining in clamor for SC to resolve this issue BEFORE elections, not after, when SC transforms into the Presidential Electoral Tribunal and Poe could possibly already be elected. Now na, SC Justices, resolve MR of Comelec and four private respondents.

Comelec Chair Andres Bautista

When I ran into Comelec Chair Andres Bautista recently at the wake of his uncle-in-law, Aquiles Gaborro, at the Sanctuario de San Antonio, the hacking of the Comelec website hadn’t still broken out in the news. Political pundits readily remarked that this hacking, done by a group called Anonymous Philippines, may be indicative of the loose safeguards for the coming automated elections (ironically, the hackers' message was that security features be installed in the voting machines). To Chair Bautista, quite a personable fellow, the hacking means one more king-sized headache to tackle.

That evening at the repast in the Sanctuario patio, the joke was that he refused to sit beside this blogger, as he must be by now quite allergic to media, following the bugbog-cerrado Comelec has been reaping on various issues. Bautista must also be wary of being misquoted. I can understand how he feels, and I sought to assure him that his presence at Comelec’s helm helps secure a bit of badly-needed credibility for it.


Our friend Tito Lagdameo naughtily asked me as we lined up for the buffet within earshot of Andy Bautista, if I agree with what Comelec has been doing, My quick reply: I agree with some, but not with others. For instance, I fully supported its disqualification (DQ) of Grace Poe---expertly argued before the Supreme Court by Commissioner Arthur Lim;  but I didn’t like it that the voter verification paper audit trail (VVPAT or “voter receipt” for short, mandated now by the SC) won’t be carrying the voter’s name, precinct no., date of the election and other details needed to make this receipt truly credible. 

Bautista replied that had the citizens’ groups, led by former Sen. Dick Gordon, the AES Law’s principal author, clamored for VVPAT last December, there would have been more than ample time to adjust the source code (the command instructions for the vote-counting machines or VCM). But now, to get all those data in, the elections would have to be postponed for two weeks, which can't be allowed to happen, said the poll chief. 

A query in my mind: those voter’s receipts have been provided for in the AES Law, as Dick Gordon has repeatedly stressed. Why was it not carried out in the past two elections? Why do we have to clamor for it before it’s attended to; when there’s no more time to load those details.


I queried the poll chief why he accepted what was from the beginning a frightfully thankless job, and he replied that he felt it was a way to serve, and that if he didn’t accept it he could feel sorry in the years ahead why he passed up this challenge?  I mentioned about the syndicates said to be operating inside the Comelec selling winning posts for a fee, and Bautista gave indication  he was aware of them. He also opined that while vote-shaving is possible here and there, operators cannot just move against candidates perceived as doing well in the surveys. I ventured in return that the general belief is that surveys can be manipulated, and he shot back, “Do you think Mahar Mangahas can be bought?”  I didn’t have a ready answer for that, though I cited surveys in past elections which appear to have been less than credible---especially since the lead survey companies are known to have interlocking directorates.  


Bautista is the son-in-law of my good-looking and ever-glamorous friend Baby Gaborro-Cruz (her pretty daughter Tricia is Andy’s wife). While we were at the buffet table. I raised the point being reported in media, though not officially--- that the SC is mulling leaving the issue of Grace Poe’s qualification to run in the presidential election “unresolved,” as the private lawyers and Comelec's lawyer opposing Poe’s candidacy have worried about in their joint MR---and just tackle this DQ issue AFTER THE ELECTIONS ARE OVER. 

This could mean, in the anticipated tightly-contested elections this May, the POSSIBILITY THAT THE SC, THIS TIME SITTING AS THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTORAL TRIBUNAL (as per the Constitution), COULD DISQUALIFY POE AFTER SHE IS ELECTED PRESIDENT.

 Bautista replied emphatically, “If true, that plan of the SC could be the one that would bring very serious trouble to the country.” He stressed that Poe's possible DQ ought to be resolved now, before the elections. 


Recall that the Comelec en banc had earlier DQed Poe on the twin issues of citizenship and residency and cancelled her certificate of candidacy. But Poe challenged Comelec’s DQ before the SC and after five long hearings the SC threw out the DQ and ordered her COC restored---without an explanation of its decision.  Meaning, the issue of Poe’s eligibility was left unresolved, plus the fact that the 7-5 vote in favor of restoring her COC did not reflect the majority vote in the 15-member Court, as Senior Magistrate Antonio Carpio pointed out in his dissenting opinion. Comelec, represented by Commissioner Arthur Lim, and four private respondents separately filed MRs on this ruling, and the High Court is supposed to be tackling these MRs during its current summer sessions in Baguio.

Then came this unofficial media buzz about the SC’s inclination to just await the results of the May 2016 elections and let the PET decide Poe’s eligibility with finality AFTER THE ELECTIONS. This is troubling due to the possibility in these very tight presidential elections, of her bagging the top post but having to be DQed. Or perhaps, the first question should be, WOULD THE SC JUSTICES HAVE THE GUTS TO DQ AN ELECTED PRESIDENT?  

What could happen by then is something visualized by former law dean Amado Valdez in his prefatory statement on the Poe case:.  "When the smoke of battle cleared, the foundling had received heer 'fair' share to run for President, no matter that in its wake are remnants of a Constitution shattered and the piece of legislation called R.A. 9225 (the Citizen Retention and Reacquisition Act) torn of its essence."


As I said earlier, Comelec Chief Bautista feels that to postpone resolution of the Poe issue to after the May elections, where there’s the possibility that she could win, could spell big trouble---because her being yanked out of office may not be condone kindly by her followers.  I fully agree. There is no reason why the SC cannot NOW resolve the MRs filed by private respondents Manuelito Luna, Estrella Elamparo, Amado Valdez and De La Salle University Prof. Antonio Contreras---all of whom  support the Comelec’s DQ of Poe.

The SC's decisive more on Poe’s eligibility or none is IMPERATIVE, as the very life of our Republic would be in grave danger when justices play around even with the very clear and express wording of the Constitution, as stressed by SC Justice Arturo Brion in his 147-page dissenting opinion.  Dilly-dallying by the SC is not doing us any good and only opens the magistrates to reports, unfair it may be, of BIG BUCKS CHANGING HANDS. 


In fact, various political pundits are nearly one in urging the SC to resolve Poe’s qualification NOW NA, and the historic stand of the 50,000-member strong Integrated Bar of the Philippines has helped forge this unity among the lawyers. Ex-Marinduque Rep. Regina Ongsiako Reyes’ protest about her being recently ousted from her House post owing to her past US citizenship, whereas Grace Poe, until 2012 an American, is allowed to run for President has also impacted on citizens about the SC’s double standard. Reyes was ousted several weeks ago by the House Electoral Tribunal in favor of arch-rival Lord Velasco, son of SC Justice Presbitero Velasco who voted with the Sereno bloc.

 Consider the following excerpt from the March 28, 2016 column of  Manila Times’ Yen Makabenta, titled, “Not Whether the High Court will review its decision, it must.” :

“The May elections should put to the test this total contempt for the electorate. It’s not only the intelligentsia that is now questioning angrily the SC decision to allow Grace Poe to run.

Young people (the millennials) and the proverbial man on the street are now wondering aloud why the nation is going through all these contortions and acrobatics, for an ambitious woman whose identity is unknown, and whose Filipino citizenship is unproven.

“We must deal with Grace Poe because she represents a naked and open challenge to our constitutional system, one that is financed by powerful business interests who believe that they can buy the presidency. If we do not stop this assault, our constitutional order could collapse, and the nation will list until it can find its mooring.

“If Grace Poe succeeds in forcing her way into the balloting in May, the elections could be turned into a mockery as one justice has warned. We are in this rut because the Supreme Court has momentarily lost its way. John F. Kennedy said that “an error does not become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.” Correcting the errors and averting the mistake is, in essence, the central message of the dissenting opinions in the SC decision.”


Philippine Star columnist Federico Pascual, in his  March 29 “Postcript” titled “Why Issue of Poe’s Candidacy Still Lingers,” was just as  emphatic about the need for the SC to resolve Poe’s eligibility. Said Dick:

“TO RESOLVE the above confusing decision, there is now the imperative need for the SC to immediately decide on the pending appeal filed by Rizalito David from a majority decision of the Senate Electoral Tribunal which ruled that Poe, as a foundling, is a natural-born Filipino citizen.
“It is in this case where the citizenship of Poe was directly assailed without regard to whether or not she made any false representation in her COC for senator in the 2013 elections.
“If the SC rules that Poe is a natural-born citizen, then that settles this issue once and for all. If the SC rules that she is not, then the Comelec, on its own or motu propio or even without any petition, could still disqualify her and all votes cast for her will not be counted, if the decision is rendered before the May 9 election since ‘the Comelec will be grossly remiss in its constitutional duty to enforce and administer all laws relating to the conduct of elections if it does not motu propio bar from running for public office those suffering from perpetual special disqualification by virtue of a final judgment.’
“But what if said decision disqualifying Poe is rendered after the election and Poe still gets the highest number of votes and proclaimed as duly elected President by the Congress of the Philippines? That would be another skirmish in the Legal and Political Battle of the Century.”


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Board of Governors of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines is tough to move or act collegially on controversial issues; but now, lo and behold, it's protesting the convoluted view that the SC has taken on Grace Poe’s eligibility to run for president. The SC decision on the core issues of citizenship and residency vs. Poe lacks a clear majority, leaving them unresolved in the minds of both lawyers and ordinary mortals, who now clamor for a re-vote by the SC. Latest to join in the demand is Comelec's lawyer, Commissioner Arthur Lim.

Some justices of the Supreme Court must have expected that the indeterminate and highly controversial manner whereby the Court voted last March 8 to throw out Comelec’s disqualification of presidential candidate Grace Poe would be out-shadowed by her popularity as alleged by various surveys.  It turned out to be a grievous miscalculation of judgment by the SC, as gauged by the way opinion-makers from various publications and institutions are coming out strongly in protest of the way the SC handled the voting on the two core issues of citizenship and residency vs. Poe. The Comelec, whose Commissioner Arthur Lim defended its DQ of Poe, has filed a motion for reconsideration of the SC's "majority decision," following the example of the four private respondents for Poe's DQ. 

The latest to protest the SC "majority decision" is the nine-member Board of Governors of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines---the umbrella organization of over 50,000 lawyers from all over the country, . There is now a clamor for the High Court to re-vote on those two core issues and it's noise that can be ignored only at peril to the SC's reputation and the stability of our legal system.


This blogger has been covering the SC for some time now but never have I seen opinion-makers and commentators in the broadsheets and the internet torn up over results of what was passed up as a majority vote (9-6 ) of the SC on the Poe twin issues. This "majority vote", it appears, turned out to be actually only 7-5-3---no clear majority among the SC justices, so that those twin issues remain unresolved. Various commentators have zeroed in mainly on what they perceive as the “perversion of the Constitution” by the 47-page SC decision that allowed candidate Poe to run for president---thus overturning the Comelec’s en banc DQ of Poe months ago.

I must say that like tens of thousands of other Filipinos I’m terribly saddened by what has happened to the SC---all because of what appears to be a decision based on political inclinations rather than on solid legal grounds.


Various lawyers among the columnists have come out vehemently against the SC decision. I noted earlier how Atty. Jess Sison of Philippine Star as well as Atty. Raul Palabrica of the Inquirer, a newspaper oftentimes accused of bias for a particular candidate, came out with columns attacking the SC decision, ---obviously because they couldn’t bear to see the destruction of the esteemed SC.

The Standard’s Emil P. Jurado stated in his column of Tuesday, March 22 that “As a lawyer and officer of the Court, I am ready to erase my name from the roll of lawyers because my faith and respect for Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno and her cabal of justices has gone to the dogs.”  Strong words. Strong sentiment. 

Another Standard columnist, Victor Avecilla, who used to be part of the legal staff of former SC Chief Justice Enrique Fernando, has also been taking a strong stand vs. the SC. He argued that “to reverse the DQ decision of the Comelec, a majority of the justices of the Supreme Court must categorically rule that Comelec acted with grave abuse of its discretion.”  Avecilla also stressed that “Many Filipinos are already upset that the seven justices based their votes on grounds which find no support in either the letter or the spirit of the Constitution. TO INSIST THAT SEVEN OUT OF 15 IS A MAJORITY IS TO ADD INSULT TO INJURY.” (emphasis BOC’s).

In today's Inquirer, Cristina Montes and Jemy Gatdula, argued in an opinion piece titled "The Court that became Congress," that in both the 1935 and the 1987 Constitution, it was in effect the millions of Filipinos who laid out the qualifications for president. Thus, "only they, in the proper procedure outlined in the Constitution, can change these qualifications. NOT A SMALL GROUP OF UNELECTED LAWYERS, NO MATTER HOW LEARNED THEY MAY BE." (emphasis BOC's). Meaning, "its authors, the Filipino people themselves, directly to amend it by the proper amendatory process," NOT the SC justices.  


But most damning of all---because of the prestige of the organization--- is the position taken by the Board of Governors of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines at its recent annual convention in Zambales. The IBP laments that "the dispositive portion of the alleged majority decision “merely orders the reversal of the decisions of the Commission on Elections (that granted) the petitions to disqualify Poe…and states that she is to be allowed to run for President.” The IBP complained that in ordering the reversal of the Comelec’s DQ, the SC merely qualified Poe to be a candidate, but it ”did not settle the matter of whether Poe is a natural-born citizen and whether she has met the residency requirement under the law.”

Even more disastrous, the IBP complained “that the SC ruling penned by Associate Justice Jose Perez and said to have been approved by a majority of nine justices, held that only the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) can rule on such issues and not the Comelec.” This meant, said the IBP, that as far as the SC is concerned, Poe must first win in the May 9 polls (and) for someone to file a quo warranto petition against her with the SC sitting as the (PET).” This position, as far as the IBP is concerned, goes directly against the Constitution which places under the Comelec's jurisdiction questions pertaining to the conduct of the elections.

This blogger suspects that the SC merely stuck to opposing the Comelec's cancellation of Poe's certificate of candidacy, but avoided spelling out her qualification as a natural-born citizen, out of fear that some time in the future---if Congress should change composition and become more opposition---some of the magistrates could face impeachment over the assertion of Poe's being a natural-born Filipino, as it seems truly indefensible. 


One can appreciate fully this action of the IBP Board in criticizing the recent “majority” decision of the SC when one realizes how very tough it is to get the IBP to even be united in a critical issue involving the SC in the past. The difficulty is understandable when one considers that the IBP is the largest and most prestigious association of lawyers in the country, and each member of the Board of Governors represents a distinct region of the country and is elected for a two-year term. The nine board members elect an Executive Vice President from among themselves who subsequently becomes the IBP President, currently Atty. Rosario Setias Reyes.

Moreover, inasmuch as the SC with its 15 justices is regarded as the ultimate interpreter of the Constitution and the law, few lawyers would really want to pick a fight with the SC justices as it could affect pending cases of their clients. Then too, there's the reality that the candidate to be elected President of the Philippines this May will get to appoint TEN NEW JUSTICES of the Court in the next six years.  Only five of the six P-Noy appointees, led by CJ Ma. Lourdes Sereno, would get to remain---if no impeachment proceeding targets them from an opposition Congress.

Going against the High Magistrates is a prospect few lawyers would want to do, considering what could happen to their clients, but at this critical moment there are those who are casting aside their fears in order to preserve a higher interest---the justice system in the country.


The private respondents----namely, former UE Dean Amado Valdez, Attorneys Manuelito Luna and Estrella Elamparo and the private petitioner, De La Salle University Prof. Antonio Contreras---have filed a joint motion for reconsideration of the “majority” decision and exhort the magistrates to re-open their deliberations on their voting---in order to explain to the people who are very much confused as to what constitutes a “majority decision” and how it is arrived at, and concepts supposedly easy to understand, such as being "natural-born."

As Standard columnist Victor Avecilla put it, “A decision of the Supreme Court which is supported by a majority of the justices is a doctrinal ruling----one which establishes a doctrine, a legal principle that is binding on everybody in the Philippines. Any ruling which is short of the required majority is a MERE PLURALITY RULING, and the same is not doctrinal.” Avecilla continues: “To state the obvious, IT BINDS NOBODY. Therefore, where a decision of the Supreme Court does not establish doctrine, THE SAME CANNOT BE THE VALID BASIS FOR OVERTURNING A DECISION TENDERED BY THE COMELEC.” (emphasis by BOC).

Comelec Commissioner and lawyer Arthur Lim, who defended the poll body’s DQ of Poe before the SC, also filed an MR exhorting the SC justices to deliberate once again as no clear majority had emerged in the previous voting.


The IBP Board of Governors, the private lawyers, the Comelec and Prof. TonTon Contreras---as well as the Filipino nation---are all waiting for the SC which appears to have handed a "majority” decision not supported by sound mathematics (instead of the 9-6 announced earlier, it appeared more like 7-5-3). The High Court will be in Baguio for the next week or two, and it is expected to work on this MR while there. Let us hope that the Lenten penitential spirit overcomes the magistrates and they accept what is defined by the Constitution and the rules of court---now, rather than after the elections.

The alternative to solving the problem of Poe's candidacy is to foment trouble from those waiting in the wings to see whether the High  Court could truly render justice. As columnist Emil Jurado put it:  "With so many unanswered questions on the eligibility of (Grace Poe) to run for president, and the eerie silence of Sereno and her cabal of pro-Poe justices, it would seem the nation is in limbo."

I submit that more than being in limbo, our justice system is on trial here and various sectors of our country are deeply concerned about the triumph of politics over justice. 

Friday, March 18, 2016

Was snap vote on Grace Poe issue last March 8 timed with one-day medical leave of Justice Arturo Brion that day, instead of March 9, as originally scheduled? Who's afraid of Justice Brion? With confusion and maneuverings attending SC decision, law profs are said to be having difficulty straightening new distorted views. Comelec said to be readying its MR while lawyers for private oppositors filed their own MRs March 18, with Dean Valdez filing separate MR on Monday. Their verdict: "47-page SC decision on Poe a perversion of Constitution."

The last Tuesday of January and four Tuesdays of February saw a weekly marathon session, lasting for more than five hours each time, of the Supreme Court on the issue of the Comelec’s unanimous disqualification of independent presidential candidate Grace Poe, which she challenged before the High Court. Poe’s lawyer, Alex Poblador, argued that the Comelec committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction in cancelling the certificate of candidacy of Poe. This stand was defended by Solicitor-General Florin Hilbay who had earlier supported the majority decision of the Senate Electoral Tribunal in allowing Poe to run.

On the other hand, Comelec lawyer and Commissioner Arthur Lim  and the lawyers representing the opposition to Poe, namely, former UE law dean Amado D. Valdez, Manuelito Luna representing former Sen. Kit Tatad,  and independent lawyer Estrella Elamparo, as well as De la Salle Professor of Political Science Antonio Contreras all stood their ground before the High Court.

After five weeks it was time for deliberation by the SC justices and there was enormous speculation as to when the verdict by the court would come down. Pressures were applied on the magistrates by politicians from various  affiliations, for them to come up with their verdict---inasmuch as the deadline for the printing of ballots by the Comelec was approaching. Should Poe be DQed but with her name remaining on the ballot, it could present problems.


Early this month word went around that judgment would be handed down after the en banc session of the SC on Wednesday, March 9. Interestingly, however, the court was hurriedly convened instead on March 8 and a lot of significance was attached to the fact that Associate Justice Arturo Brion, who had prepared the longest individual dissenting opinion (142 pages!) vs. Poe, had gone on medical leave that day--- with the understanding that he’d be back the next day to argue his stand with his colleagues and then the voting.

In a chamber where alignments were already pronounced, the absence of Brion, valedictorian of his class at the Ateneo College of Law and bar top-notcher, is considered one of the most persuasive and respected among his colleagues,. Thus, it's no wonder that CJ Sereno's allies would seek to hijack the voting on Poe when Brion was on one-day medical leave. 

Justice Brion sided completely with the Comelec's DQ of Poe, citing "evidence of falsehood and inconsistent representations" in her 2012 COC that was completely different from her 2015 COC. The unavoidable bottom-line, he said, is that "the petitioner did indeed ACTIVELY, KNOWINGLY AND FALSELY REPRESENT HER CITIZENSHIP AND NATURAL-BORN STATUS WHEN SHE FILED HER COC." (emphasis BOC's).


Those of us who have followed the SC deliberations week after week had anticipated 9-6 or at worst a tight 8-7 against Poe’s running, but lo and behold, that afternoon SC spokesman Theodore Te announced that it was 9-6 in favor of Poe to run. There was a lot of disbelief and disappointment among opposition groups who felt, as UP-trained lawyer Estrella Elamparo put it, that the requirements of the Constitution on qualifications of the presidential candidate were so clear that there could be no room for misinterpretation.

Following disbelief, however, came another spectacle: Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio disclosed in his dissenting opinion that the pro-Poe vote was only 7 and not 9. It was then revealed that on the issue of citizenship of Poe it was 7-5-3:  7 justices held she is a natural-born Filipino; 5 that she is not and 3 justices abstained from voting or had no opinion. On the residency issue, 7 held that she fulfilled the 10-year continuous residency requirement, while 6 justices did not believe so and 2 did not vote or had no opinion on this issue.

As a result of the above, Justice Carpio and one or two others firmly held that there was no clear majority and that under Rule No. 12 of the SC’s Internal Rules, a majority should mean at least 8 justices for Poe---especially since new Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa had already participated in the voting and IT WAS ALREADY A FULL COURT. Lawyer Manuelito Luna of the groups opposed to Poe’s candidacy stoutly maintains that the 9-6 vote was “ineffectual” BECAUSE NO MAJORITY VOTE WAS OBTAINED IN THE TWO CORE ISSUES THAT HAD TO BE URGENTLY RESOLVED. After all, argued Luna rightly so, it's the presidency that's on deck. 

Luna further maintained that the claimed 9-6 vote in Poe’s favor was “misleading because these figures did not really reflect the true thinking and decision of the justices, voting individually.”


Complicating the picture was the fact that of the nine justices counted in the pro-Poe column, two did not say that she is natural-born, while two also did not say that she met the residency requirement. In other words, they did not have any opinion on those two core issues. In fact, during the March 8 voting, new Justice Caguioa felt that that the citizenship issue should not be voted upon at that time, although he concurred with the Poe candidacy. Interestingly, Justice Diosdado Peralta merely announced that he was adopting Caguioa's position.

On the other hand, Associate Justices Lucas Bersamin and Jose Catral Mendoza had no separate concurring opinion on the two core issues, but they just signed.

What made the whole SC voting interesting and awfully controversial was that the vote results  were released  on March 8, but the text of the decision itself, penned by Justice Jose Perez, was not released at the same time, as is the normal practice---it was as if the voting had hung.  Justice Mariano del Castillo’s originally-thought-of majority decision had turned into the dissenting opinion while the ponencia of Justice Perez, who had DQed the mayor of Kauswagan in Lanao from running on the very same grounds that ail Poe, had become the majority decision. 

Justice Perez was also the ponente of the recent decision ousting Marinduque Rep. Gina Ongsiako Reyes from her House seat on the argument that she had remained an American on her election and lacked sufficient residency here. Installed in her place was the son of SC Justice Presbiterio Velasco, who naturally voted for Grace Poe.

To the lawyers opposed to Poe’s candidacy, it seemed that the dispositive portion of the supposed new majority decision was so hurried up that the writer/writers misspelled the word annulled, appearing only with one L. Didn’t they see that the computer went red with the mis-spelling? quipped one lawyer.

The opposition lawyers have banded together and filed today a joint motion for reconsideration of the High Court’s 9-6 ruling, with former law Dean Amado Valdez filing still another separate MR this Monday. Their verdict, to quote lawyer Manny Luna: the 47-page SC ruling on Poe was "a perversion of the Constitution."


The hastily put together SC decision on Poe ran into all kinds of attacks from legal luminaries in and out of media. Philippine Star’s legal columnist Jose C. Sison of “A Law Each Day,” who titled his March 18 column “Inconclusive and questionable,” opined that the justices' ”majority decision” raised more controversies instead of finally resolving (them).”  Atty Sison asserted that “One cannot help but notice that the court has never been as sharply divided on issues of personal rather than national interest, so as to give rise to the perception that there are certain INJUDICIOUS ASPECTS IN SAID RULING TO FAVOR ONE SIDE (emphasis BOC’s).

Atty. Sison also stressed that since only seven and not nine justices have really voted in favor of the ruling on Poe as a natural-born citizen, it cannot be said that the SC has indeed declared her as one. He also noted many inconsistencies in Poe’s certificates of candidacies for various offices she ran for, such as the actual number of years she has resided here since she left for the US in 1991. Sison holds that Poe distinctly lacks the continuous 10 years residency here.

Another lawyer told this blogger many law professors are now having a problem following the SC’s controversial decision on Grace Poe.  For instance, Prof. Ryan Quilala, author of a book on election laws, was quoted as having to revise his book.

This case of Poe has damaged the once venerable institution of the Supreme Court, for in the words of another legal luminary, Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, Dean of the San Beda College Graduate School of Law, “the gods of Padre Faura have been exposed as having feet of clay.”

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

My eulogy for a dear friend, the late Senate President Jovito R. Salonga

The late Senate President Jovito R. Salonga

Sometime in late December 1985, after President Marcos suddenly declared to an American media personality that he would soon call for snap elections, the Filipino people geared up for this dream scenario---finally, elections after 20 years!  Opposition leader Cory Aquino easily became the favorite candidate, but then, a most distinguished lawyer and leader of the opposition movement in the US in the latter part of the Marcos regime, Jovito R. Salonga, also planned to run vs. Marcos. Everyone realized what that would mean: the opposition would be split. Three young people decided to do something.

Former Antique Governor Evelio Javier (later to be slain by goons of a rival leader in broad daylight in the plaza of San Jose, a blood-soaked rosary clasped in his hand), civic leader Lorna Verano Yap, later to run for Congress, and myself, a member of the “mosquito press,” decided to visit Ka Jovy Salonga in his Pasig home.

We pleaded with him, tears welling up in our eyes, not to run and just let Cory be the candidate. He sat listening intently---probably amazed at our youthful audacity to corner a god from Mt. Olympus. Ka Jovy did not say much as we talked but we could read what was going on in his mind---he undoubtedly felt he had as much right as Ninoy Aquino’s widow to run against Marcos and lead his beloved Philippines into a new era. As we left his home, Ka Jovy, ever the gentleman, thanked us for our visit, but a few days later he announced that he was no longer running. 

When Cory Aquino, who was cheated out of victory in the counting (remember the walk-out of the Comelec computer programmers?) was swept into power by the EDSA Revolution, her first appointee was Jovito Salonga to head the PCGG that sought to recover the Marcos billions all over the world. Another brilliant lawyer with unassailable integrity, Ramon Diaz, became his deputy at PCGG, while Sedfrey Ordonez was appointed Solicitor-General.

In March of 1986,  Jovy Salonga left for the US to begin the task of recovering the Marcos properties. A controversy soon enveloped this effort in New York City. The Salonga party, which included his wife Lydia, headed into a Korean restaurant downtown and before they knew it, a con artist scattered some stuff on the floor and called the attention of the Filipino party to it.  Everyone focused on the floor and sure enough, the con man ran away with a valise and Mrs. Salonga’s handbag.  When news about this thievery in NYC reached Manila, Marcos elements tried to portray that original documents on the Marcos properties in NYC and other places were stolen, and what were being bandied around were all fakes. 

Salonga rebutted it with sureness and confidence. It turned out that there was another valise containing the precious documents and these were not stolen. Why not? Because upon reaching the restaurant Ka Jovy dispatched his aide-de-camp to the hotel to make some phone calls and like any dutiful aide, he never let go of that valise. How does this blogger know this? Because that aide was my husband, then a colonel, whom Ka Jovy borrowed from the military for that crucial trip to the US. The two men were also together in London in 1965, when then Vice President Emmanuel Pelaez headed the PH negotiating panel in the North Borneo talks with Malaysia. Salonga was the chief legal adviser and Lt. Cunanan was Pelaez's aide-de-camp.. 

My husband and I kept our friendship with Ka Jovy over the many years, as he ran for the Senate and eventually became Senate President. At some point in those years, the promotion of my husband to the rank of Brig. General came up before the Commission on Appointments, but a prominent senator tried to block it, owing perhaps to some things I had written as columnist then of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Ka Jovy called us to his Senate office to privately warn us about his colleague's blocking intention and then asked my husband if he wanted the Senate President to talk to this unfriendly senator on his behalf. My husband politely declined the favor and I reinforced it. Okay na po, we told Ka Jovy, it's not the end of the world. Ultimately the offended senator backed down and my husband sailed through the CA without a hitch. 

One of the most memorable episodes in the Senate in the latter part of President Cory’s rule was the crucial vote on the RP-US Bases Treaty in September 1991, which involved the fate of the US bases here. Salonga led the group of 12 senators against the US bases. We in media were split as the Filipino people were, and there was intense man-to-man guarding of the senators by both sides, lest one or two cave in. President Cory and Foreign Secretary Raul Manglapus staged a march in the rain to strengthen the pro-bases group  I suspected that Manglapus was really anti-bases at heart, but he had to support his boss lady’s stand.

The anti-bases bloc won, and as if to celebrate it, Mt. Pinatubo erupted, spewing ashes on both Clark and Subic bases, causing their respective  populations to scurry out of danger. For his anti-bases stand Salonga was to pay a steep price---he was ousted as Senate President in December 1991, replaced by Sen. Neptali Gonzalez. 

Ka Jovy was a romantic and a lover of music---he used to have German-trained soprano Andion Fernandez, tenor Nolyn Cabahug and other talents regularly at soirees in his home to render his favorite kundimans.  He met Lydia Busuego on the long ship voyage to the US, where they were both going to study---he to Harvard for his doctoral degree in law and if I’m not mistake, Ka Lydia for her degree  in pharmacy. Soon they were married in a Protestant ceremony on the Harvard campus and became so devoted to each other for the rest of their lives. 

Weekends the Salongas would spend in their Pansol home in Laguna where he would swim in their hot-springs pool for exercise. Ka Jovy was particular about exercise as he was tortured by the Japanese during the war which damaged one eye (replaced with a glass eye), and imprisoned during the martial law years in the very cell Ninoy had occupied before. In  the bombing at Plaza Miranda in 1989---a mystery unresolved until now---he was badly mangled and survival placed at 50%.  

Ka Jovy took me under his wings as a young columnist and would take pains to explain issues especially in the Senate. But he was also a strict taskmaster and would call my attention even to seemingly insignificant details that were inaccurate. But he also could give a generous dose of approval. 

Once, when my Japanese balaes were in Manila and they prepared a traditional Japanese New Year’s Day meal for my family, I described all the mouth-watering details in my column next day. Ka Jovy soon called to say how much he enjoyed the Japanese meal vicariously, which flattered my balaes terribly, and made me feel guilty---as I should have invited the Salongas too.  

When Ka Lydia died, my husband and I visited at her wake in the Cosmopolitan Church along Taft Avenue. It was late at night when we arrived there and we found Ka Jovy alone by her bier. As we hugged him, he murmured that he didn’t know how he could survive without Lydia.  I took his hand gently and held it for a long while and we were enveloped by his grief.

At another time I had to undertake a tough task: in the elections of 1992, Ka Jovy ran for president against former AFP Chief of Staff Fidel Ramos and like many others I was in a bind. The bar topnotcher (1944) and former Senate Chief was running against an authentic EDSA hero backed up by the Kano. Ka Jovy ended up a poor third in that fight.

Over the years he continued to celebrate his birthday yearly and the family put up one big bang for his 90th birthday. In the past five years, however, the brilliant mind was slowly dimmed by Alzheimer’s disease, until death mercifully snatched him from it. Ka Jovy, however, would be forever held in high esteem in the hearts of the people he served so well.   

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

SC’s 9-6 decision to allow Grace Poe to run was a blow against rule of law---violating two constitutional requisites: the natural-born status and 10 years continuous residency. Talk swamps media about big bucks allegedly doled out to SC magistrates, for which they only have themselves to blame. “Gods of Padre Faura shown as men and women with feet of clay”---Fr. Rannie Aquino

The Supreme Court giveth with one hand but taketh away with the other.

It ordered the Comelec to provide the voter verification paper audit trail (VVPAT) for the May elections, in deference to the loud clamor of the citizenry, led by multi-faith leaders and former Sen. Dick Gordon, the AES Law's principal author (who's running for the Senate again). But the SC also stunned the same citizenry by allowing independent candidate Grace Poe to run for the presidency in a 9-6 vote, but still without adequate explanation in a ponencia.  

Yesterday’s sudden decision by the Supreme Court to allow Sen. Poe to run for President--- an issue hotly debated over five tiring long weekly hearings last month--- took the country by storm. It was as though a bomb had fallen on Manila’s intelligentsia. The shock stemmed from the realization of the citizens that the provisions of the laws on eligibility for the presidency are so clear, as lawyer Estrella Elamparo, one of those who filed opposition to Poe in the SC, put it, that one has to be blind not to read it correctly.

Days before, it was floated that only the residency issue would be settled by the High Court, inasmuch as the citizenship issue was more complicated to grapple with. In fact this blogger, who had attended all five interminable hearings on the Poe case,  speculated that in the residency issue she would be DQed. The citizenship issue, however, could be left out by her SC allies perhaps to enable her to campaign for a constitutional amendment in the interim years---to allow those who are not “natural-born” such as foundlings, to run in future elections.


Interestingly, the vote was announced but no details of the ponencia penned by Associate Justice Jose Perez were offered---which seems to indicate the rush with which the voting was done. Earlier, parties who supported the Comelec en banc’s DQ case against Poe were optimistic that the SC justices would disqualify her---based on the SC’s  Feb. 9, 2016 decision to DQ Mayor Rommel Arnado of Kauswagan, Lanao  del Norte, from the post he won in 2013. on the ground that as a “naturalized” Filipino, he had used his US passport four times even when he had already repatriated and sworn allegiance to PH.    

 Poe’s case is so similar: she left the country in 1991 to live and study abroad, and in 2001 she renounced her Filipino citizenship (she “abjured” her native land, as the sternly-worded US oath goes) and became an American citizen. In 2004, when the Dual Citizenship Law was passed here, she  applied and got her PH citizenship but she kept using her US passport many times and even acquired properties in America as late as 2008, even as she sought to establish domicile here too. Finally, in October 2010, she renounced her American citizenship for good and became a Filipino citizen, in order to accept President Aquino’s  offer to head the MTRCB. 

Her husband and family, however, have retained their American citizenship, apparently waiting for a presidential victory before surrendering their US passports forever.

The allegations of Ninez Cacho-Olivares, editor-in-chief of the Daily Tribune, that Grace Poe used the social security number of a man who died in 1951, to buy properties and work in the US, are most serious and deserve separate treatment. Poe’s rebuttal was that the SSN numbers merely corresponded to her ID at Boston College where she went to school. Cacho Olivares responded by publishing all the properties acquired under the 1951 SSN, and there has been no denial from Poe. 


All these considerations must have been rife in the minds of the SC justices so that there was certainty that the DQ by Comelec en banc would be sustained---especially since the pro-Grace justices such as CJ Sereno and Associate Justice Marvic Leonen mainly offered only bleeding-heart arguments for foundlings, which was not the issue in this case; it was whether the provisions of the Constitution were met by Poe.  When Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo was assigned to draft the ponencia prohibiting Poe’s candidacy on the issue of residency, it seemed that the anti-Poe advocates could already break open the champagne bottle.  

 But then, as many media observers insinuated, various factors speedily went to work to stop the anti-Poe drive.

At last Saturday’s birthday party hosted by Star columnist Domini Torrevillas for husband Saeed Daof, some political pundits spoke about a rumored one billion peso fund being floated in the SC on Poe’s behalf by a tycoon. A newspaper also resurrected gambling lord Atong Ang as source of largesse as well as formidable funds for Poe’s campaign.


Yesterday, after news came out about the SC decision, rumors flew fast and thick that the going offer at SC was P50 million each. At various citizens’ gatherings, the speculation that couldn’t be helped---- considering that majority of President Aquino’s six appointees to the SC voted for Poe’s candidacy, with the CJ no less acting as the battering ram for her---is that P-Noy has junked LP candidate Mar Roxas, after his rankings couldn’t be massaged any better, and he is now out and out for Poe who has a better chance to protect him once  outside the presidency. 

From reports, what happened was that instead of the anticipated voting on the residency issue alone, CJ Ma. Lourdes Sereno instead decided to co-mingle the two constitutional issues and ordered voting on the pro-Poe draft ponencia penned by Associate Justice Jose Perez, a Gloria Arroyo appointee in 2008. 

Iironically, it was also Perez who also wrote the ponencia affirming the DQ of Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte, mayor Rommel Arnado last Feb. 9.  As clearly explained by Star columnist Jose Sison, Arnado had won as Kauswagan mayor in 2013, but was DQed last Feb. 9 after repeatedly using a US passport when he had already taken his oath of allegiance to PH. The mayor's case is now being raised in various quarters as evidence of the double standard between him and Sen. Poe who had repeatedly used her US passport even after she had already reacquired her Filipino citizenship. Queried later on wrong entries in her immigration forms, Poe said it was. "an honest mistake."   

With the 9-6 vote on the Perez ponencia in Poe’s favor, the Del Castillo ponencia became the dissenting opinion.


Citizens who indulged in the counting game had placed all the six P-Noy appointees to the SC in the pro-Grace column, but interestingly, of these six, two jurists sided with the anti-Grace justices. These were Bienvenido Reyes, said to be close to P-Noy (he was one of those in the board of the security agency P-Noy put up soon after his mother became President, with registered corporate address at President Cory’s official Arlegui’s residence), and Justice Estela Perlas Bernabe, who seemed to have displayed independent-mindedness during the deliberations on Poe.  Was this siding of the two P-noy appointees part of the game plan?

After the shock and awe of the citizenry yesterday, the groups opposed to Poe’s candidacy declared their intention to file motions for reconsideration in the SC. Former UE law dean Amado Valdez told media he'll file an MR based on betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution. Manuelito Luna, representing former Sen. Kit Tatad’s opposition to Poe, termed yesterday’s SC vote “a dangerous result” and a “recipe for chaos” and that the Constitution was “bastardized.” He vowed to also file an MR as soon as the decision becomes final.

De la Salle Prof. Antonio Contreras, another Poe oppositors in the SC, asserted that “I can only respect the ruling but will not accept it. We did not lose today. It is the rule of law that lost.”  


The passage below was lifted from the reaction posted last night  by Fr. Rannie Callangan Aquino, Dean of the San Beda Graduate School of Law and Manila Standard columnist, in Facebook, titled "Let the Debates Begin"----part of his response to the SC's decision to allow Poe to run. Here's part of Fr. Rannie Aquino’s reaction:

" What has happened today also allows us to demythologize the Supreme Court, which is a good thing. It must be obeyed and, for better or worse, its doctrinal pronouncements must remain binding precedent where they apply. But its magistrates are no longer “the gods of Padre Faura”, but men and women with feet of clay, as malleable as human beings are, never driven solely by love of the law and fidelity to its commands, but susceptible to forces that do not always surface but are nevertheless surely at work. Thus are the ways of humankind. Thus is the way too of our Supreme Court. For now, its judgment will stand, and we shall endeavor to read the Constitution as it bids us too — although I still have to see how we can continue to read the fundamental law as a coherent whole and trust in its letter. The Supreme Court must be obeyed, not because it is necessarily right, but because it is supreme, but only with the supremacy of which fallible mortals are capable — in many ways fortuitous, with the very same fortuity with which kings were supreme because they happened to be sons of kings!"

Thursday, March 3, 2016

SC sources opine that for now it's 10-5 in favor of DQ of Grace Poe, with five P-Noy appointees voting for her, but it could still change to 8-7 should Stella Bernabe and Presbi Velasco have change of heart---a real cliff hanger. En banc vote on Justice Del Castillo's pro-DQ draft decision could come after SC Easter break. Report that magistrates won't touch citizenship issue and concentrate on Poe's lack of residency understandable---they could be leaving door ajar for amending Constitution and Poe running in 2022.

Manila Times reporter Jomar Canlas wrote the other day that the 70-page draft decision on the Grace Poe case pending in the Supreme Court, penned by Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo, is currently circulating among the 14 other justices. From SC inside sources, this blogger has gathered that the High Court appears divided at this point 10-5 in favor of the disqualification (DQ) of Grace Poe. 

The 10 pro-DQ magistrates are led by Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and include the two other justices who voted with Carpio in the minority in the Senate Electoral Tribunal decision that upheld Poe's eligibility to run for president---namely, Justices Arturo Brion and Teresita Leonardo De Castro. On the other hand, the five anti-DQ justices are said to be the appointees of President Aquino, namely Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, Justices Francis Jardeleza, Marvic Leonen, Bienvenido Reyes and newly minted appointee, P-Noy's classmate, Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa. 


Insider reports say that the Del Castillo draft pro-DQ decision was supposed to have been voted at the en banc meeting two days ago, but this was ordered postponed by CJ Sereno again in view of conflicting arguments. In fact there are now reports that actual voting on Poe’s DQ would take place most likely only after the Holy Week break of the magistrates in Baguio. 

The situation vis-à-vis this issue appears to be quite fluid, for while now it's 10-5 in favor of DQ, it could easily shift with a change of heart of, say, another P-Noy appointee, Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe, who until now is said to be maintaining an independent stance on the Poe DQ issue. Another possible shifter could be Justice Presbitero Velasco, whose son was recently declared winner of the Marinduque congressional seat over Rep. Gina Reyes by the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal, chaired by no less than Justice Velasco himself. Curious timing by the HRET, isn't it? 

If these two justices shift positions, the final tally could end up 8-7 in favor of Poe's DQ---a real cliff-hanger. Media reports allege that calls from Malacanang to the court have become more persistent. If the tide turns more radically, the Del Castillo majority decision becomes the minority ponencia. Such are the dynamics in the SC right now.

What will be most interesting will be how the justices would justify their votes.


The Times' Jomar Canlas reports that the magistrates will avoid tackling the citizenship issue and instead concentrate on the 10-year continuous residency requirement of the Constitution, wherein Poe is found wanting by the May 2016 elections. I can believe that, for I followed the five weeks of successive hearings at SC on Poe's DQ by Comelec which she challenged, and I cannot find any justification for her being allowed to run in the coming elections. Tinimbang si Poe nguni't kulang talaga on both counts and it would be a blatant disregard of the Constitution if they allowed her to run this May.

There's talk that Senior Associate Justice Carpio is writing a separate opinion, which would not be surprising as he was perhaps the staunchest against a natural-born status for foundlings. 


But if the SC as a body would leave the citizenship issue untouched, it could be due to several reasons. One, if the magistrates rule that as a foundling Poe is not natural-born and therefore ineligible to run for President, this would also mean that she should not have been allowed to run for the Senate, inasmuch as senators and House members have to also be natural-born, as the Constitution provides. When Poe ran for the Senate in 2013, the Comelec obviously failed to check on her citizenship status---an unfortunate carelessness that's now badly dividing the country.

Doubtless, the SC magistrates also realized that the foundling issue has aroused a lot of sympathy for such children with unknown parents, especially with the bleeding-heart arguments of Justices Sereno, Leonen and Jardeleza. But it could also indicate that Poe's SC defenders also realize that the citizenship issue is a no-win situation for Poe---or for the magistrates---at the moment---as well as a potential landmine for impeachment of some jurists in an unfriendly Congress in the future. 

Thus, by escaping from the citizenship issue for the moment, the magistrates are giving her all the leeway to work out an amendment to Sec. 2, Art. VII of the Constitution that states that only natural-born citizens can run for President---so that in 2022 Poe can run even as a naturalized citizen. Given her popularity and youthful age, she can sit out the next six years and in the meantime, work out such amendment via a constitutional convention, or the 3/4 vote of the entire Congress, or through people's initiative---which will afterwards be submitted to a plebiscite..


But that would also mean that VP Jejomar Binay gains from Poe's being DQed, as her supporters such as Mayor Erap Estrada and the entire National People's Coalition would now fully concentrate on supporting Binay, instead of being badly divided at the moment. Hence, May 2016 could become a three cornered fight between Binay, Duterte and Mar Roxas, with the VP clearly with a huge advantage inasmuch as the masa votes Poe commands would gravitate toward him. 

But this could also mean that President Aquino's candidate, Mar Roxas, whom P-Noy may be depending on to get him out of predictable prosecution in the post-presidency, would all the more remain at the cellar in surveys. Thus, it may encourage P-Noy's loyalist lieutenants to resort to certain automated tricks that would further challenge the credibility of the coming elections. .


In fact, even before the SC decision on Grace Poe is handed down, the battle may also have shifted to the citizens' challenge for Comelec to issue the critical voter's verified paper audit trail (VVPAT), a.k.a., the "voter's paper receipt or recibo" from the Vote Counting Machine (VCM). Comelec has been ordered by the SC to answer posthaste the citizens' clamor for these receipts---a fight led by former SENATOR RICHARD GORDON, the principal author of the AES Law that mandates those receipts. We Filipinos should be all together in this fight for the VVPAT, as this is one issue that could help prevent cheating in the coming elections.

I say COULD as there are many ways for the syndicates operating inside the Comelec to cheat, but the voter's paper receipt would already be a big help in countering this perennial menace of our elections.