February 19, 2016
By Perry Diaz
By the looks of it, the May 9, 2016 presidential election could turn out to be a hellishly contentious battle royale. With five major presidential candidates, the outcome of the elections is predictably unpredictable. Indeed, recent presidential preference surveys showed see-sawing and criss-crossing ratings among four of the five major candidates, to wit: Vice President Jejomar Binay, Sen. Grace Poe, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, and former DILG Secretary Mar Roxas.
Trailing far behind them is Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, whose anemic – if not pathetic – ratings, would, under normal circumstances, classify her as a “spoiler.” But the forthcoming presidential election would by no means be under normal circumstances. There are just too many variables. Some are known variables, some are unknown, and a few are unknown “unknown,” foremost of which is how the Supreme Court is going to treat Poe’s status as a “foundling” – that is, a person whose parents were unknown.
There is nothing wrong with being a foundling except when you want to be president of the Philippines. However, a foundling under normal circumstances could do anything a natural-born Filipino could do. But under the Philippine Constitution, a person who is not a natural-born Filipino citizen is not qualified to run for the office of president, vice president, senator or representative. Is that discriminatory? Some people – including a few Supreme Court (SC) justices – say it is so. And that is why the high court is hearing oral arguments to no end, which makes one wonder: Why can’t these supposedly defenders of the Constitution interpret such simple provisions of the law. Instead, some of them seem to be threading into the realm of “judicial voodooism.” And after four oral arguments, their number has increased to five justices – known as the Sereno bloc, most of whom are appointees of President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III -- who are now reportedly inclined to cut Poe some slack on her status as a “foundling.” All they need now is to convince three more justices into agreeing to their “voodoo” interpretation of the Constitution.
But several justices led by Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio are of the opinion that because Poe is a foundling, she is not a natural-born Filipino citizen but may be considered naturalized Filipino citizen. He said that the Constitution only allows natural-born Filipino citizens to run for president. And this is the gist of Poe’s disqualification case.
Lots of questions, no answers
With the ballots – with Poe included as a presidential candidate – ready to be printed, what do you think would happen if the SC disqualified her after the ballots were already printed? This would give the voters enough reasons to demand reprinting the ballot without her name on it. But what if the Commission on Elections (Comelec) rejected their demands and proceeded with the election? With Poe leading the pack with the highest approval rating, do you think the four other candidates would take it sitting down? And what do you think would their supporters do? Indeed, there are lots of questions but no answers, which makes one wonder: Is this the perfect recipe for another EDSA uprising?
It’s for this very reason that Chief Justice Sereno should – nay, must! – expedite the disqualification case against Poe. Failure to do so would be tantamount to grave abuse of power. And to think that she’ll be the country’s top magistrate until 2030 makes one wonder where is the country heading?
Now, here is the stinger. Ready? Eleven of the Supreme Court justices will be retiring during the term of the next president, possible Poe. That would give her or whoever is elected the power to appoint their replacements. That would give the next president virtual control over the three branches of government. But one can argue that regardless of who is elected president, he or she would appoint 11 Supreme Court justices. And this is where character, integrity, honesty, and competence are what voters should be basing their choice for president on May 9.
Given all the issues raised against the five major candidates, it is going to be hard deciding who among them is the best man – or woman – for the job? But here is the problem with this question: The candidates are hard to qualify as to who is the “best” because none of them had been a president before. However, their character, integrity, honesty, and competence can be weighed by quantifying their “excess baggage.” In other words, it is presumed that they all have excess baggage. Is it then fair to presume that they are “evil” in varying degrees? If so, then let me reframe my original question: Who among the candidates is the least evil?
So, who do you think is the least evil? I’ll leave it to my readers to decide that. But to highlight some of the excess baggage that the candidates carry, here are some for your discrimination: Jejomar Binay is corrupt to the core (kurakot kuno). Grace Poe lacks the experience (and therefore “incompetent”), and she is not natural-born Filipino (kano kuno) and she lied about her citizenship and residency. In regard to Duterte, the people are divided between those who call him a gangster and those who revere him as a gang-buster or “The Punisher,” and some liken him to the late disciplinarian Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore. Roxas is honest but some people think he is incompetent (walang alam kuno) and some call him Mr. Palenke, a derogatory moniker. And while Miriam Defensor Santiago is reputedly incorruptible, her detractors called her “Brenda” (“brain damage” kuno) when she ran for president in 1992.
So there you go. You can now select who you believe is the “least evil” among the five candidates. Do you prefer an allegedly corrupt politician to someone who allegedly lied about her citizenship and residency? How about between an allegedly incompetent person and one who is allegedly mentally unstable? And how about between an allegedly corrupt politician and an honest but allegedly incompetent politician? And so on.
Birds of a feather
Now if you take a look at a different perspective, the danger of electing the most evil of the candidates takes a quantum leap. Take for instance if the one elected is corrupt to the core: Do you think that he or she would have the character to appoint honest and incorruptible jurists to the Supreme Court? Could it be that the character of the president would somehow be reflected in the character of the person he or she appoints to the high court? Does the mantra “Birds of a feather…” apply – perhaps subconsciously -- in the selection process? Look at former prez Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who is now detained pending plunder charges against her. Her appointee as Ombudsman resigned to avoid impeachment. Her appointee as Chief Justice was impeached and removed from office. Her appointee as Secretary of National Defense and subsequently Secretary of Energy – a retired four-star general – committed suicide after being accused of corruption while he was the AFP of Staff.
In regard to Arroyo’s 16 appointees during her two presidential terms, there were at one time 14 of them serving during Aquino’s early years in office, of which – not surprisingly -- about 10 of them voted as a bloc in ruling against most of Aquino’s executive orders.
Suffice it to say, the next president will be in a position to exercise such immense power that would transform the Supreme Court into a body that would reflect the philosophy – and character – of the appointing president. Given the chance of choosing among Binay, Poe, Duterte, Roxas, and Santiago, the Philippine electorate has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to chart the direction of the Supreme Court by electing the least evil of the presidential candidates.
While some say that corruption is the number one issue against presidential candidates, it hasn’t really stopped a corrupt politician from getting elected. Take for instance Binay who has several plunder charges filed against him. Yet his approval ratings have remained high. However, one can argue that they’re all corrupt!
In the case of Poe, she is accused of misrepresenting – some call it lying – her citizenship status and meeting the 10-year residency. And that smacks right into the issue of character, which begs the question: Does she deserve to be the leader of more than 100 million Filipino citizens when her own citizenship is mired in controversy?
At the end of the day, it comes down to the question: Should the people vote for Grace or anybody but Grace (ABG)?