UP FOR decision in the Supreme Court are the two cases for disqualification of Grace Poe from running for President in this year’s national elections in May. The two issues in question are on her being a natural born citizen and her residency. Much has been said so far on both sides of the legal arguments. We shall not dwell on those. What we are curious about at this point are the implications of the High Court’s decision, and in those scenarios it involves the result of the decision and the timing of its being handed down.
First of all, an adverse decision stating that Poe is not a natural born citizen will not only affect her candidacy but will set a dangerous legal precedent affecting all foundlings in the land. Such a decision would affirm that foundlings in the Philippines – these are children who are declared as such by the state with no official registered parents prior to their adoption – are “stateless” and have no rights as natural born citizens. I’ve written before against that position because it discriminatory that through no faults of its own a child is stripped from the start of its life is stripped of potential and opportunities.
Since that writing the view has been echoed by Antonio La Viña, lawyer, columnist and up to recently Dean of the Ateneo School of Government, who wrote:
What is at stake in one of the main issues in the Poe disqualification cases is the status of millions of other Filipinos who were born with parents unknown and those foundlings who will be born in the future. Since natural-born citizenship is a requirement for many offices—not just the president, but nearly 100 elective and appointive positions are exclusive to natural born citizens— a ruling that foundlings are not natural-born citizens will result in depriving these foundlings an opportunity to serve in those offices. Congress can even expand this list to other officials if it so desires although that could be questioned for being unconstitutional…
A ruling that foundlings are stateless has very serious consequences. This is not just about running for political office or being appointed to a high position in government, but of the basic human rights which require citizenship for them to be bestowed and exercised. A stateless person has only the barest of human rights; many civil and political rights are denied such person.
In their full page ads in the Philippine Daily Inquirer and Philippine Star as well as in subsequent statements reputable and non-partisan groups including Kaisahang Buhay Foundation, Parenting Foundation of the Philippines, Child Justice League, House of Refuge Foundation Inc., Association of Child Caring Agencies of the Philippines, Ateneo Human Rights Center of the Ateneo School of Law, Norfil Foundation and Cribs Foundation warned about the impact of a Poe ruling on millions of Filipinos. They pointed out that such a decision would violate the rights of foundlings under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international agreement we have ratified. Such a decision would also violate the constitutional right of foundlings to equal protection:
God forbid the current doctors, lawyers, accountants and architects, who happen to be foundlings at birth be stripped of their licenses, because of the short sightedness of a narrow-minded few.
This danger for foundlings is highlighted by the fact that the Supreme Court is not a tribunal which decides on specific cases but the final interpreter of laws. The decisions it makes are to become the sole basis and clearest interpretation of the law for everyone forever.
Second, the timing of an adverse SC decision will have major consequences for both the conduct of elections and the political stability of the nation. The question of Poe’s disqualification currently hanging like Damocles’ sword over her head has her campaign on edge as it is. The basic requirements for victory such as funding, supporter supplied logistics and endorsement by local and national political leadership has been elusive and coming in trickles. Yet despite this she shines in the surveys.
An early decision, meaning before the ballot forms are printed by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), would ease some tension for the conduct of elections, but not for the key die hard supporters for Poe. There are many who believe that the disqualification issues are the manipulations of the Mar Roxas campaign, especially since the lead instigator is this lawyer Estrella Elamparo who has been identified as with the legal circles with Roxas, PNoy and the ruling Liberal Party, as well as the Jejomar Binay campaign since they have had that position to start with and with instigators their political allies Francisco Tatad – a former Senator and Marcos’ Martial Law information minister – and Rizalito David who recently was declared by COMELEC as a nuisance candidate along with Eli “Spike Boy” Pamatong.
Some so-called media created political analysts have said that the Poe votes will simply shift to either Binay or Rody Duterte (who is also facing disqualification cases, btw) but, sadly (for him) not to Roxas. But out of that generally 25% pro Poe respondents in the surveys there are those die hards that will not accept just switching lanes. Will they be massive enough to create problems for the peaceful and orderly conduct of the elections? Not just in numbers, but in quality. How many of these are in certain areas of influence? Armed groups like the military?
While the SC is known to act quickly on certain time-bound decisions it is never known to act in haste because of the long term ramifications of its decisions. That’s why, unlike regular courts, the effect of its Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) is practically limitless. Thus, if the SC ruling does not come out by the time the COMELEC has to print the ballot then Poe’s name should be printed on it and, even further, she will remain a candidate if the SC still does not come out with a decision by the time election day comes.
One can just imagine the build up of tension by the Poe supporters, by that time have campaigned for her and voted for her, all the while building up the hope that their choice would become the next president. The view that the disqualification of Poe is the result of the manipulation of the Roxas-PNoy-LP camp, the Binay camp, or collectively what is perceived as the “corrupt socio-economic-political oligarchy” will be strengthened and even have a snowball effect, gaining mass, speed and momentum as it careens downhill.
The worse case scenario is if Poe wins in the elections and the adverse SC decision comes after. By this time the snowball should be so massive and dense. Will this lead to turmoil? If the Poe victory is one of a clear majority – meaning more than 50% of voters – it could. But if it is a plurality – meaning she just gets higher votes against and the rest of the candidates, then maybe not. That is, if we are to go by history with Joseph “Erap” Estrada’s ouster from office. Despite his huge popularity and mass-based support it was not enough to keep him in office.
But even with this after election scenario there will be many challenges. If the adverse decision versus an elected Poe comes before the June proclamation, will the next ranked elected presidential candidate (we assume Binay) step in? What about the vice presidential candidate, before or after proclamation?
If the LP legal luminaries and top brass and in any way forward thinkers they would have thought of the various outcomes and possibilities. If I were them I would throw massive resources behind Leni Robredo’s vice presidential bid given Roxas’ dismal survey performance. That way, if Robredo wins and Poe is booted out of office they have their man – or woman – in Malacañang who may also be generally acceptable enough to ease major political tension.
The other thing LP should do is ensure that Roxas gets to at least the number two position in the elections, which is massively easier to do than having him win – credibly, that is. The Roxas candidacy will always have this cloud of doubt with the underhanded tactics employed by this administration and its cohorts.
Ultimately, the outcome of the elections will not be as important as the challenge it poses for whoever sits in the Office of the President. A key learning in past presidencies, especially in the case of PNoy’s administration, is rallying the people behind government. It is said that elections are so polarizing that the first order of business is to get the divided citizenry together to a common goal after the elections. PNoy failed in this aspect since he never moved away from the exclusivity of his yellow-ribbon agenda. Thus while his goodwill was very high in the start, it was rapidly eroded over his term.
A president placed in office under dubious or questionable circumstances, even in terms of perception, will have a difficult time in rallying the citizenry behind him, though not impossible. The challenge will be of overcoming apathy or even obstructionists to your programs, sure monkey wrenches to national productivity. That dark cloud overhead called despair will just feed on that defeatist thinking. How do you deal with major issues like China’s incursion into our territory with that kind of support from the citizenry?
A Grace Poe win is not a magic pill for our national woes, but admittedly some ray of hope of the possibilities of what can be achieved. Duterte has some same possibilities, but his set ways that he has manifested thus far may be a hindrance. The rest are marred with corruption and competence issues that are just too difficult to accept in a new presidency. All that can be said to this is: we get what we vote for.