What kind of senators do we have, who disrespect the Constitution?

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What kind of a country have we become now that our senators ignore the Constitution, that document which binds us as a nation?

The disqualification case against Sen. Grace Poe-Llamanzares that was brought before them as members of the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) involved the definition of ‘natural-born Filipino’ according to the Philippine Constitution – a very basic principle, as it determines who constitute the Republic and who can rule it.

The three Supreme Court justices who also sit as SET members – Antonio Carpio, Arturo Brion and Teresita Leonardo-De Castro – wrote very detailed opinions that left no stone unturned, and provided no iota of doubt that Llamanzares is not a natural-born citizen, according to the Constitution. She, therefore, can’t be a senator.

Five of the senators in the SET – Vicente Sotto, Loren Legarda, Bam Aquino, Cynthia Villar and Pia Cayetano – simply closed their eyes to the issue and voted in Llamanzares’ favor. Senator Nancy Binay bowed to the legal wisdom of the justices on what is entirely a constitutional question of the justices on what is entirely a constitutional question.

As a foundling, Llamanzares had to undertake a legal process to become a naturalized citizen–one who has all the rights and duties of a natural-born citizen, the justices explained. However, whether we like it or not, the Constitution categorically specifies that only natural-born and not naturalized citizens can be a senator (or a congressman, vice president, or president).

Llamanzares practically lied through her teeth when she claimed that based on customary international law and treaties, she a natural–born Filipino. It turns out that traditional international law merely exhorts nations to allow foundlings to gain citizenship in the country where he or she was found. However, it cannot order sovereign nations to confer on them the status of being natural-born. In the first place, the Philippines has not even ratified the treaties she cited, and even if the country did, these cannot be superior to our own Constitution.

The Supreme Court justices, in fact, wrote lengthy rebuttals that none of the five international agreements Llamanzares invoked could make her a natural-born citizen. Yet astonishingly, four senators still invoked international agreements to justify their votes, apparently believing every argument Llamanzares presented.

Senator Villar’s dismissive one-paged opinion on the Llamanzares case
Senator Villar’s dismissive one-paged opinion on the Llamanzares case

The three Court justices wrote dissenting opinions of 10,000 to 26,000 words each, or more than ten times the length of this column.

In contrast, the explanation on the votes of the four senators each took just about 500 words, or just half the length of this column. The four wouldn’t even ask their stable of lawyers whom we, taxpayers, pay for, to write at length to justify their support of Llamanzares.

Senator Pia Cayetano didn’t even bother to explain her vote.

One- page opinions
I don’t know how much more they could insult the Constitution when they wrote such half-page opinions that simply ignored its provisions, which I suspect could have just been written by their junior staff.

The writers of Aquino and Sotto may have even consulted each other, as the opinions of the two senators very idiotically appealed to former President Ramon Magsaysay’s adage, “those who have less in life should have more in law.” That is an emotional pitch that really goes against the very essence of the rule of law – which is, that it is served equally to all.

Don’t they realize how important it is for the senators of the Republic to express complete and total respect for the Constitution?

The five senators’ vote is another indication that our Senate, which, once upon a time lived up to its name’s etymology (senatus) as a body of wise “old” sages, , has accepted its depraved and damaged status.

That’s what it had become after President Aquino successfully bribed 20 of them with hundreds of millions of pesos in pork barrel and DAP money to remove Chief Justice Renato Corona from office in 2012 for a charge that wasn’t in the eight counts of impeachment, and for a violation of a law that merely required him to amend his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth.

After all, the three senators who disregarded the Constitution and voted in favor of Llamanzares on the issue of her citizenship are the same senators who also disrespected the Supreme Court in 2012 when they voted to take Corona out: Cayetano, Legarda and Sotto. So nothing’s new with them. The two others who blocked Llamanzares’ disqualification as senator were: Cynthia Villar, the wife of that Villar who was viciously vilified by Aquino in the 2010 elections, yet still voted against Corona in 2012; and “Bam,” nephew of the President who assaulted the Supreme Court.

I found it shocking that a senator of the Republic, Legarda, reduced the significance of the Constitutional issue that was being debated on into something as follows: “Lawyers can argue ad infinitum on the legalisms. But legalism – however exalted – can always be contradicted by other legalisms.” That kind of statement reveals her utter ignorance of the meaning of the rule of law, developed over centuries by various civilizations.

She should have listened to Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who lectured her colleagues during the impeachment case to say: “The rule of law is a body of legal principles which ignorant people think as legalisms. “

Vox populi?
It is also astonishing for the senators to dismiss the case as moot since Llamanzares, as Villar put it, “has been overwhelmingly elected to her position.” Thinking herself profound, Legarda again ignorantly wrote: “Verily in our democracy, the ultimate maxim is Vox Populi Vox Dei.”

While often quoted by demagogues, that phrase has its meaning better explained by its origins. It originated from an 8th century scholar, Alcuin, in his letter advising Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor: “Those people should not be listened to, who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness.”

In the case of Llamanzares, indeed the issue is whether we comply with the Constitution, or simply accede to her electoral victory as senator, which after all, was undertaken through subterfuge, since the issue of her being unqualified for the Senate was not raised at that time.

There is no iota of a doubt, if you read the justices’ opinions (posted on the SET website), that she will be disqualified as a presidential candidate for not being a natural-born citizen when the case is brought to the Supreme Court. It would even be one of the few unanimous decisions of the Court: Carpio on the one hand, and Brion and Leonardo de Castro on the other, very often are on different sides in terms of Court decisions. In Llamanzares’ case, there isn’t any point they disagree upon.

It’s really game over for Llamanzares in terms of her presidential ambitions. Too bad for her financially, as campaign contributors realize at this early stage that because of the three justices’ opinions on the SET case, the Court will disqualify her candidacy for the presidency.

What’s bad, though, is that the Constitution has again been debased by senators in a crucial case.

The Supreme Court justices share part of the blame why senators ignore their views and the Constitution. In 2011 and 2012, the Court ruled that Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. violated the Constitution’s limits on foreign ownership, as the Indonesian tycoon Anthoni Salim, together with the Japanese NTT group, controlled 49 percent of its capital.

Yet, through what Legarda might call “legalisms,” PLDT, and even Globe Telecom, which is owned 47 percent by Singapore Telecom, have practically ignored the Court’s decisions and the Constitution’s clear provisions. A stockholder, Jose Roy 3rd, filed a petition in 2013 calling the Court’s attention to the fact that its decision has been ignored. Nearly two years later, the Court still remained utterly silent on the petition. Have Carpio, who wrote the strongly worded decisions against PLDT, and the Supreme Court, become afraid of an Indonesian billionaire?

We are a country whose Constitution isn’t respected, whose Supreme Court justices are ignored. How can we claim we observe the rule of law? What can we expect this country to become?