By Perry Diaz
Recently, the Philippine presidential campaign has degenerated into name-calling with each candidate accusing the others of skullduggery, thievery, thuggery, and, worst… lying. But strangely, nobody seems to mind if the candidate were a trickster, a thief or a thug. Perhaps it’s so common that it has become the norm rather than the exception to be one. But to accuse a candidate of lying? Holy goat! That’s outside the box, pal! You can accuse anybody of corruption, election cheating or violence, but you can’t accuse anyone of lying simply because nobody would admit to lying, which is a disgraceful act – a sin — in our pious culture! The fact that Filipinos keep on electing corrupt politicians is a testimony to voters’ nonchalance towards the candidates’ lack of integrity. Yes, you can get away with murder but not lying.
And “lying” is the gist of the disqualification case against Sen. Grace Poe-Llamanzares whose certificate of candidacy (COC) for president is in the midst of a controversy challenging the accuracy of the information she provided to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to qualify her to run for president, which begs the question: Did she lie? And to be more specific: Did she lie when she claimed in her COC that she was a natural-born Filipino citizen?
With two Comelec decisions that disqualified Grace from running for president in 2016 due to questions about her American citizenship and Philippine residency shorter than the ten-year constitutional requirement, Poe petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the Comelec decisions; thus, allowing her to run in the May 2016 elections. Poe also asked the Supreme Court to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the Comelec’s cancellation of he COC, which means that her name will be printed on the ballot regardless of the high court’s decision.
In another move, Poe submitted a motion that Justices Antonio Carpio, Arturo Brion, and Teresita Leonardo-De Castro recuse themselves in hearing Poe’s petition. But recusal is a voluntary act and it doesn’t seem that the three justices would inhibit themselves since they had no part in the Comelec decisions. However, they were part of SET when it ruled in favor of Poe in the David vs. Poe disqualification case. Although Poe won in the SET decision, the three justices voted for her disqualification. But Poe is seemingly confident that she can convince eight of the 15 magistrates to vote in her favor when the Supreme Court meets en banc on January 12, 2016.
After getting the high court’s TRO, Poe reportedly slammed the Comelec for “supposedly insinuating that she was a liar,” saying: “Pinaka ayoko sa lahat ‘yung sinasabing sinungaling ako.” (What I don’t like most is calling me a liar.) She claimed that the “Comelec did not even take a look at the evidence that her camp presented.” But what “evidence” was she talking about? Did she have any proof that she is a natural-born citizen?
Two birth certificates
The only evidence that had been made public thus far was the documents Poe herself submitted with her COC when she ran for senator in 2013. Rizalito David presented these documents as evidence before the SET hearing. According to David’s counsel, Poe submitted two birth certificates: One was issued on November 27, 1968 specifically showing that she is a “foundling.” The other one was a Certificate of Live Birth date May 4, 2006 showing that she is a Filipino and the first-born in the family. She claimed that Jesusa Sonora Poe (Susan Roces) is Grace’s biological mother and Ronald Allan Kelley Poe (Fernando Poe Jr.) is her biological father. Now, how could that be when it is a fact that Susan Roces and Fernando Poe Jr. adopted Grace? Something doesn’t compute here. Is this why Grace believed that Comelec had “insinuated” that she was a liar? But whether Grace lied or not, one of the Comelec commissioners, Rowena Guanzon, said that Grace “intended and attempted to mislead the electorate.”
Guanzon also said, “The respondent [Poe] knew that she was adopted and not natural-born and yet, being a legislator, a lawmaker, she is expected to know the law and to follow it. In residency, the resolution states that she could not have started her domicile in the Philippines in May 2005 because at the time, she was just a foreign visitor temporarily staying in the country.”
Meanwhile, the latest presidential preference surveys show that Poe’s numbers don’t look too good compared to Vice President Jejomar Binay who seems to have gained some support from the Poe fallout. The recent Pulse Asia survey showed Binay on top with 33% followed by Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte (23%), Poe (21%), Mar Roxas (17%), and Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago (4%).
The Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey showed Binay and Poe locked in a dead heat (26% each) followed by Roxas (22%), Duterte (20%), and Santiago (4%).
Make or break
With the presidential elections only four months away, there is a great deal of anticipation on the fate of Poe. Would the Supreme Court rule in her favor? With the three justices who voted against her in the SET ruling expected to vote against her in the Supreme Court case, it would only take one or two justices who could swing either way.
But like in past political cases, it’s not unusual for the high court to rule in favor of the respondent. They could give Poe some leniency and leave her fate to the voters. Or they could interpret the law – or the lack thereof — on what constitute a natural-born Filipino citizen? Is a “foundling” under certain circumstances – or consideration — be deemed a “natural born” citizen?
Article VII Section 2 of the Philippine Constitution says: “No person may be elected President unless he is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, a registered voter, able to read and write, at least forty years of age on the day of the election, and a resident of the Philippines for at least ten years immediately preceding such election.” It’s pretty cut and dry, isn’t?
Therefore, if I, a layman, predicate my opinion on what the Constitution says, then that wouldn’t give me any leeway to interpret it differently. On the other hand, the high court can find a “middle ground” within the purview of the Constitution to deal with the issue. Some call it “judicial fiat.” Others call it “political.”
At the end of the day, the justices would have to decide if they must adhere to what the Constitution demands of someone who is running for president. Unfortunately, lying does not disqualify someone from running. As someone once said: “A lie is a lie no matter how small.” But when is a lie a lie?