The Constitution and the SC are dead, thanks to Sereno and company

The news from Baguio
IF the news reports from Baguio are correct, then the Constitution and the Supreme Court have just died in the hands of our Justices. Lawlessness now runs the law. Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and her colleagues may wish to celebrate their “victory” with Sen. Grace Poe Llamanzares and her powerful financiers and patrons, but not many are cheering the nation’s descent into a new Dark Age.

Baguio, with its temperate climate, is where the Court now presides over its summer sessions. On its first en banc session on Tuesday, it tackled the Motions for Reconsideration of the Commission on Elections and private respondents Estrella Elamparo, Francisco Tatad, Antonio Contreras and Amado Valdez on the High Court’s March 8, ruling voiding the Comelec’s disqualification of Sen. Grace Poe Llamanzares as a presidential candidate.

Nine Justices had ruled, in a ponencia written by Justice Jose Perez, that the Comelec committed a grave abuse of discretion when it decided that Mrs. Llamanzares, a foundling of no known parentage, and a former American citizen to boot, made false material representations when she claimed in her Certificate of Candidacy that she is a natural-born Filipino, and a resident of the Philippines for 10 years and 11 months immediately preceding the May 9 election.

There was, however, no majority vote in support of her alleged citizenship and residency status, so many expected the Justices to reverse themselves. This did not happen, despite the patent errors of the ponencia and reports of stormy exchanges during the closed door session.

Details of the Baguio ruling, including the vote, have been withheld until tomorrow, despite the press leak about the magistrates throwing out the MRs. This is a sharp departure from the Court practice of announcing the results of its voting on important cases without releasing the necessary text, apparently to get the public to accept the ruling even before anyone has read it. This happened in the highly divisive Reproductive Health Law, in the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the US, and in the ponencia on the present case.

Flawed ponencia
Nobody took kindly to the announcement by instalment of the decision in the present case, especially after it became known that there was no majority vote on the two core issues, which should have formed the basis of the nine to six votes of the Justices. On Mrs. Llamanzares’s claim that she is a natural-born citizen, seven supported, and five opposed, while three others did not vote. On her claim that she is a resident of the country for 10 years and 11 months immediately prior to May 9, seven supported, and six opposed, while two others did not vote.

Since abstention is not a recusal but also a vote, the vote, in the view of some, should have been read as seven in favor, and eight against, on both issues. There would have been no basis for the nine to six vote on the final document, since three Justices—-Francis Jardeleza, Benjamin Caguioa and Diosdado Peralta—-did not share the position of the six others that the Comelec has no authority to pass upon Mrs. Llamanzares’s qualifications as a presidential candidate. At least eight votes are needed to make a majority ruling, as Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio has pointed out, and former Justice Dante Tinga echoes in a letter appearing in another newspaper.

The lawyers are against
This has prompted the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and the Philippine Bar Association, which habitually support every decision of the High Court, to issue strong statements on the ponencia in this case. Not since the Court decision on the ratification of the 1973 Constitution during martial law, in Javellana v. the Executive Secretary, has the nation’s organization of lawyers criticized a ruling of the highest Court. Aside from one rabidly pro-Llamanzares former magistrate and one dean of a university school of government, no legal luminary or scholar of note has said anything in support of the widely assailed ponencia. Most of the commentaries in the press have been critical and adverse.

Apparently chastened by the strong negative reaction, but unprepared to correct their most egregious mistake, the magistrates refrained from announcing their final vote. Thus, at this writing, we have no legal text to parse or dissect. But as the offending Justices have reportedly thrown out all the MRs, one conclusion remains: they have killed the Constitution and the Supreme Court. In my column on Wednesday, I asked: “Will you die for the Constitution, if it’s the least that’s needed?” Clearly, they would rather kill the Constitution than bleed for it.

A prayerful Court
These are men and women whose first oath is to the Constitution, after God. Thus, before every proceeding, they recite this ecumenical prayer: “Almighty God, we stand in Your Holy Presence as our Supreme Judge. We humbly beseech You to bless and inspire us so that what we think, say and do will be in accordance with Your will. Enlighten our minds, strengthen our spirit and fill our hearts with fraternal love, wisdom and understanding so that we can become effective channels of truth, justice and peace. In our proceedings today, guide us in the path of righteousness for the fulfilment of Your greater glory. Amen.”

But not all of them seem prepared to pay any price for it. This is the exact opposite of a fictional episode in, say, “London has Fallen,” a recent American thriller, in which the Constitution is raised to the heights. In this film, Benjamin Asher, the fictional President of the United States, is captured by the Pakistani terrorist Aamir Barkawi during a terrorist attack on the world’s most important leaders while attending the funeral of the assassinated British prime minister James Wilson.

The Canadian prime minister and his wife are blown off by a car bomb near Trafalgar Square; the Japanese prime minister drowns in the River Thames after the Chelsea bridge collapses and his car falls; the French president perishes after his yacht explodes also in the Thames; the Italian prime minister and his wife are crushed after one of the towers of Westminster Abbey crumbles; the German Chancellor is murdered by terrorists disguised as the Queen’s Guardsmen at Buckingham Palace. And after a long chase, Asher is captured, and tied to a chair at the terrorist’s underground hideout, to be executed before a live Internet audience of one billion people.

Dying for the Constitution
As the machete-wielding executioner prepares to cut off Asher’s head before the cameras, he asks his victim to say his last words to the American people and the rest of the world. And very calmly he starts reciting these words: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of the President of the United States, and to the best of my ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.” But at the precise moment, deus ex machina intervenes, his secret service aide Mike Banning bursts in, and terminates the executioner and his thugs.

I found this scene so edifying and electrifying that I hoped and prayed the Justices would have a chance to watch it before they voted on the MRs. They didn’t. And they did not have the chance to consult deeply with their consciences, it seems. So they decided to amend the Constitution as though they had the power to do so, just to satisfy the ambition of Mrs. Llamanzares to run for President.

Amending the Constitution
Under the 1935 Constitution, which was in force when she was found, with no known parents, inside the parish church in Jaro, Iloilo on Sept. 3, 1968, Filipino citizens are those whose fathers are Filipinos. The enumeration has now been amended by the offending Justices to include “foundlings of no known parentage.”

They argue that someone had intended to include foundlings in the enumeration of citizens in the 1935 Constitution, so although that was voted down, and there is no mention of foundlings in the Constitution, Mrs. Llamanzares is now a Filipino citizen by disputable presumption.

Under the 1987 Constitution, “No person may be elected President unless he is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines,” etc. And “natural-born citizens are those who are citizens of the `Philippines from birth without having to perform any act to acquire or perfect their Philippine citizenship.”

The offending Justices have now amended these two provisions by inserting a foundling of no known parentage, and a former American citizen to boot, as someone eligible to run for President, and by ignoring altogether the legal processes which she had gone through to “acquire or perfect” her citizenship as the very processes that cancel her claim to “natural-born” status.

Worse than the Japanese militarists
Thus, the offending Justices have now imposed an alien upon the conduct of our politics, like a foreign occupying force. But not even the Japanese occupation army did that to us during the last Pacific war. Though they were conquerors, they had the sensitivity to install a true Filipino, Jose P. Laurel, as President of the Japanese puppet republic.

Not the offending Justices. Mrs. Llamanzares is a former American who has an American husband and American children, whom she encourages to actively campaign for her, together with other young American citizens who have joined her campaign, in gross disrespect and violation of Philippine laws.

What should we do?
So after the Justices have destroyed the Constitution, what is there left for ordinary citizens to respect? The magistrates have implanted a gross evil into the heart of the Constitution; have they not made it our duty to extract it? How then do we go through a general election, if the Constitution and the rule of law no longer exist?

We should know know by now what Court majority supports Mrs. Llamanzares’s persistence to run and her powerful patrons’ demand that she be allowed to run. But this is not just a game of numbers.

Majorities not always right
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in the exercise of a universally recognized teaching authority that antedates all the Supreme Courts of the world by hundreds of years, has long pointed out that there are certain things that are always wrong and which no majority can make right; things which are always right and which every majority must respect.

In trying to understand the Gospel or the Constitution or the plainest speech, we are not to interpret what needs no interpretation but must simply understand its clear language; nor are we to expunge what is written and replace it with its opposite. Whenever this rule is perverted, it matters not what kind of majority is behind it.

As the scholar Cormac Burke points out, it is not majorities that make the law valid; it is justice. A just law must be obeyed whether it is enacted by many or by one; an unjust law must be resisted, even if supported by a landslide. A just law binds in an authoritarian society as much as it does in a democracy; an unjust law binds in neither.

The people’s revolt
This is the problem we face now. What will our people do in the face of a Court ruling which they in their honest judgment believe is fundamentally wrong? Benedict XVI has warned that “people will revolt against the law, whenever it is perceived, no longer as the expression of a justice that is at the service of all, but rather as a product of despotism, of an arrogance that is clothed in the garments of law by those who have he power to do so.”

Do we sense any sign of popular revolt building up? Maybe not. But Alexis de Tocqueville reminds us that on the eve of the French Revolution, there were not 10 people in all of France who could start an association. And yet they soon stormed the Bastille./


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