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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

In Pairness to Priend and Poe

December 1, 2015
by Charles Englund
I have read many comments on social media and the Philippine press regarding the issue of Grace Poe.  The more I read, the more I am convinced that this is an emotional topic, delving as it does on issues of nationalism, leadership, politics and citizenship, and there is no one rational correct answer that will satisfy everybody–as we all feel differently and have different interpretations on the underlying questions.
Photo credit: Hataw
Photo credit: Hataw
However, almost all the opinions I have read are anti-Poe, and full of vitriol and hate.  I do think there is, I will call them–a “silent block”, out there who support Poe, or at least support the idea that she should not be disqualified from the Philippine presidential race in 2016.  Otherwise, where do all those poll numbers come from?  Is their support justified if Poe is indeed violating the constitution with her candidacy?
So what could this silent block be thinking? I think the silent block recognizes, even subconsciously, that there are moral, and not only legal aspects, to the question of whether Poe should be allowed to run.  The moral aspect involves two basic principles: 1) an individual’s right to run for public office; and 2) the right of the people to not have the candidate of their choice be disqualified.
Let us look at the first principle i.e. the citizen’s right to run for public office. The constitutional requirements for eligibility to run for president are easy to satisfy and fairly simple for a reason–because the democratic ideal is an intentionally low bar where almost anyone can run and subject themselves to the vote.  In fact if you look at the eligibility requirements of other democratic countries, you will understand that the common theme is to enshrine and protect the right of a citizen to run for public office.  
There are seldom any minimum educational requirements. You don’t have to have studied political science or be a lawyer.  The law in the Philippines says you only have to be able to read and write.  Why?  Because even a person who has only finished elementary school should be able to run and subject himself or herself to the vote, as is their right as a citizen. Is Poe a citizen? Undoubtedly, yes. So disqualifying her would strip her of her legitimate right to run for public office.
Now as to the questions of being natural born and residency requirements, these are matters for legal interpretation.  The lawyers have submitted their case and it is up to the proper forums to decide.  Deep down, however, the silent block understands in their gut the basic privilege of Poe to be able to seek public office; this is likely what Senators Legarda, Sotto, Villar, Aquino and Cayetano realized themselves, and the reason the SET gave a favorable decision.  Far from being a “political decision”, the senators saw the issue clearly, being themselves given the privilege to run for public office.  It is a right you cannot in good conscience deny to your colleague. If it were just a political decision, Aquino and Cayetano, especially would have voted to disqualify, like Nancy Binay did, to further the cause of their political allies.
In fact the SET judgement was the only morally just decision possible given the realities of  the being Filipino nowadays–the Philippine diaspora, the OFW phenomenon and globalization.  The number of Filipinos who have lived and studied abroad, acquired PR, changed citizenship, married foreigners, given birth abroad etc. will only increase as the years pass. People make oaths and allegiances all the time as a matter of routine in modern life; what should matter is the last one you have taken and the sincerity behind that oath.  Like a wedding vow, even if you were married to somebody else before, the reality is that people get divorced (in all other countries except the Philippines where we insist on annulment) all the time. They also remarry, and the second marriage is not lesser than the first in any way.
In politics as in romance, it is not for any one individual or group to tell you that your heart lies elsewhere, least of all on the basis of the passport that you hold, or used to hold.  If a person says he or she is Filipino at heart, and wants to serve, ideally in a perfect world that should be enough, and we should allow that without prejudice. To do otherwise would be discriminatory and parochial.
Her family being dual citizens should also be a non-issue (if indeed they are. I heard the husband is in process of giving up his US citizenship, while only one child is dual due to being born in the US). Again, I realize this is an emotional issue for many, and inevitably the phrase, “the highest office in the land” gets thrown around a lot.  But we should remember we are not granting a prize, crowning a ceremonial king or queen, and a royal family, but rather, a public servant. Poe and her family are not poor, and they are not politicos in the way the Arroyos were.  Poe can continue to live comfortably without the salary of the president of the Philippines or the use of Malacanang as her residence.
Some say that the rule of law will not be upheld if Poe is not disqualified. They say just look at the SET decision where all the judges voted contrary to the Senators. Doesn’t that prove the Senators were wrong? Well, consider this. The absence of the rule of law in the Philippines is not because no laws exist, but because the law is applied unevenly, and perverted to the purposes of the power elites. The law has always been a useful tool and weapon wielded by the powerful to cement their advantage.
It is ironic that in a nation that often thinks more with its “puso” than its head, one area shows a lack of heart, and overcompensates in conservatism.   That trait extends to our judicial system. We all know our judicial system is far from perfect and prone to corruption. The weakness with our lawyers and judges is often not in the technical aspects but in a weak grasp of big picture philosophy.  A poor liberal arts background, and typical third world, half-baked appreciation of history and context. It is this shallow practice and understanding of context that perverts and marginalizes the poor and oppressed the most because it hold the law as inflexible and rigid. In Philippine courts, the focus is always on the semantics and letter of the law, with no mind to the spirit of the law. It is the same as believing the creation story in the Bible because that is what the text says, denying the evidence of evolution. A legalistic and textualist approach oftentimes all but neglects the human element of the law. Typhoon relief goods will not be released until the forms and bureaucracy are satisfied and the proper palms are crossed with gold and political points have been lodged in the proper corner. Never mind what common sense says, that is the law (shrug).
In other words, even at its best, we aren’t exactly talking greatness here, as in Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.-type of judicial luminary mind. Same sex marriage would never have been passed here. It is this limitation that usually confines Filipino judges to being mere glorified administrators and clerks that make sure the T’s are crossed and the I’s are dotted, and prevents them from reaching for greatness in advancing the human condition which is the ultimate role of the law.
Further legal challenges will probably be thrown up to the Supreme Court. We should all hope against hope that the Supreme Court will pay at least some heed to the spirit of the law, which as I have said, boils down to two basic principles:  a citizen’s right to run for office, and the people’s right to be able to vote for their chosen candidate. How can one of the leading candidates be disqualified without crossing the bounds of democracy?
With Poe’s leading position in the polls, it has become a matter of Vox Populi, Vox Dei.  The latin phrase means the voice of the people is the voice of God i.e. the people’s voice is supreme and paramount.  It overrides anything and everything else, including, yes, the Constitution.  Yes, because when you think about it, again going to basic principles, the constitution is meant to serve and protect the people.  Not the other way around.  Those who are sticklers for the constitution forget that it is a legal document that can be amended, should the people want it amended.  In fact, constitutions are far from being static documents, but are living and breathing documents that are amended by countries all the time as seen fit.  It is ironic that many who argue about “violating the constitution” nevertheless are fervent believers and argue in favor of People Power, the parliament of the streets, and the extra-constitutional measures that we used to install Cory, and another one to oust Erap.
So again, this is probably one of the most contentious and controversial topics in the Philippines today. It strains relationships with friends and family. If you find yourself questioning all the hate, feel free to forward this little essay of mine (Anonymously even. Just print it and leave it on their desk). I do understand people who are very angry with Poe, but as the popular Pinoy idiom goes — in fairness , however you may feel as I have explained above, she should be allowed to run. Let the voters decide.

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