Outgoing Manila Vice Mayor and former film actor Isko Moreno is annoyed with the four disqualification cases filed against Senator Grace Poe before the Commission on Elections. The cases seek to disqualify Poe from running for president in 2016 mainly because she is not a natural-born citizen of the Philippines —a requirement imposed by the Constitution.
Because he is on his last term as Manila vice mayor, and considering that the incumbent city mayor, Joseph Estrada, will get reelected easily, Moreno is running for senator under Poe’s ticket. In a clumsy attempt to defend Poe, Moreno declared that somebody whom he refuses to identify is behind the filing of the disqualification cases against Poe, and that this mystery person will certainly benefit from Poe’s disqualification.
Moreno also decried the timing of the cases, since nobody questioned Poe’s citizenship when she ran for senator in 2013. Belittling the citizenship issue, Moreno insisted that voters should be the ones to decide whether or not Poe should be president.
The petitioners who filed separate disqualification cases against Poe in the Comelec —an ex-public prosecutor; a former senator who supported Poe’s father in the 2004 presidential campaign; a professor of Political Science; and a law school dean—acted within their rights as registered voters when they filed their respective cases. They are also competent to pursue their cases on their own accord.
By branding them as fronts for an unidentified individual with partisan political interests, Moreno assailed the reputation of the four petitioners. Since being branded as a dummy (as that is what Moreno is virtually calling the petitioners) is defamatory, Moreno had better substantiate his accusation. Since Moreno has taken up courses in Law, he knows he cannot make unfounded defamatory remarks against registered voters who exercised their right to question the qualifications of a candidate for the highest office in the land.
A presidential election is a long, partisan political fight between and among candidates often fueled by vested interest groups. Thus put, even assuming that one or all of Poe’s adversaries is or are behind the four disqualification cases against her, what is new about this? By golly, since the four petitioners are obviously not supporters of Poe, and they favor some other candidate for president, the four petitioners also qualify as Poe’s adversaries. Whether Moreno likes it or not, Poe’s adversaries stand to benefit if Poe is disqualified by the Comelec.
Perhaps Moreno was referring to any of the vice presidential candidates who, if elected vice president, will be constitutionally mandated to succeed Poe as president—if the latter wins in the elections but is disqualified after the polls. Moreno may be treading on thin ice because Poe’s political partner, Senator Chiz Escudero, is himself a vice presidential candidate like the others.
Likewise, Moreno argued that the disqualification cases against Poe in the Comelec are ill-timed because nobody questioned Poe’s citizenship when she ran for senator in 2013. The argument is specious.
Under the Omnibus Election Code, disqualification cases against a candidate for president shall be filed after, and not before, the candidate files his or her certificate of candidacy. All four disqualification cases against Poe were filed within the period allowed by law.
The fact that nobody questioned Poe’s citizenship when she ran for the Senate in 2013 does not warrant the conclusion that the disqualification cases against her in the Comelec are ill-timed. For one, the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) allows a registered voter to file a disqualification case involving citizenship issues against an incumbent senator at any time during his or her incumbency. The disqualification case currently pending against Poe in the SET complies with the rules of the tribunal.
Although President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo got herself reelected in 2004, many voters doubted the validity of her victory against Grace Poe’s father, box office king Fernando Poe Jr. (FPJ). That doubt in the minds of the voters lingered all the way to 2013 when Grace Poe, who had no experience in elective office, won first place in the senatorial race. FPJ supporters were obviously concerned with vindicating FPJ through his daughter’s election, and not about ascertaining if FPJ’s daughter is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines. Truth to tell, Poe was simply fortunate that nobody questioned her citizenship when she ran for the Senate in 2013.
Somebody should tell Moreno that Poe is disqualified from running for president because she is not a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, and that she does not automatically become a natural-born citizen of the country simply because nobody questioned her citizenship when she ran for senator three years earlier.
Like the rest of Poe’s supporters, Moreno insists that the people should decide whether or not Poe should be president. That proposition is legally untenable. While sovereignty resides in the people, popular sovereignty must co-exist with constitutionalism —the supremacy of the Constitution. The late Supreme Court Justice Cecilia Muñoz-Palma once pointed out that the Constitution binds both the government and the people so much so that when the Constitution mandates a restriction, that mandate binds both the government and the people in whom sovereignty resides. Accordingly, since the Constitution mandates that the president must be a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, neither the government nor the people can disobey that mandate.
Moreno’s shallow remarks are nothing new. During the incumbency of Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, Vice Mayor Moreno presided over the city council which enacted an ordinance allowing the controversial oil depot in Pandacan to remain there despite its manifest threat to public safety. When the Supreme Court declared Moreno’s ordinance unconstitutional in 2014, Moreno claimed that the city council had already enacted a “new ordinance,” this time calling for the removal of the oil depot. Critics revealed, however, that Moreno’s “new ordinance” was illegal because it was never published, and that it came out only after the Supreme Court announced its ruling.