GENERAL Santos City – It’s not yet official though from the horse’s mouth has come, “The die is cast. I have crossed the Rubicon”, immortal words of great Roman conqueror Julius Caesar meaning “No turning back”. Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte is running for president.
His party, PDP-Laban (Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan) is nominating him as its substitute candidate for Martin Diño, who had withdrawn his candidacy. The party has already signed his certificate of nomination (Inquirer.net, November 23, 2015) and Duterte has until December 10 to file his candidacy – if he doesn’t change his mind again.
Duterte will meet party president, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III on Thursday to formalize his candidacy (ABS-CBN News, November 23, 2015). He sees no problem with the Commission on Elections; but in anticipation of any disqualification case against him before the Comelec, he vowed to fight up to the Supreme Court (Philippine Daily Inquirer, November 23, 2015: Duterte: I’ll fight DQ case).
Duterte had disappointed his supporters. After holding them in suspense – asking for time to decide – he filed his candidacy for reelection instead of the presidency. He stuck to his decision not to run when asked several times to reconsider. What made him change his mind – crossing his Rubicon and casting his die?
He was forthright: “The Senate tribunal decision thumbing down the disqualification case against Senator Grace Poe’s presidential bid.” (Rappler.com, November 21, updated November 22, 2015: Rodrigo Duterte: I am running for president)
“Duterte believes that Poe, being a foundling, is not a natural born citizen and is thus not qualified to seek the highest post in the land.
“The decision of the tribunal, he said, ‘cheapens the Constitution, the only thing that holds the country together’.”
Two reports of Philippine Daily Inquirer, dated November 21 when Duterte “threw his die” in a speech in Dasmariñas, Cavite as birthday party guest of his lawyer-classmate, did not only quote Duterte’s “misgivings about the SET ruling on Poe’s citizenship” but also his belief that Poe being “not a natural-born Filipino… will be presumptive president whose citizenship is based on presumption”.
He stressed, “The highest position is reserved for a true-blue Filipino. I cannot accept an American president.”
Duterte, while not as sober, was of the same mind as Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, chair of the Senate Electoral Tribunal, who together with the two other justices-members of the SET opposed the majority ruling. In his dissenting opinion Carpio said that granting Sen. Grace Poe a natural-born citizen status, as the SET did, violates the Constitution (The Philippine Star, November 23, 2015: Carpio cites flaws in SET ruling on Poe disqualification case).
Carpio said, rebutting the majority opinion that Poe should be considered a natural-born Filipino despite being a foundling: “The citizenship requirement under the Constitution to qualify as a member of the Senate must be complied with strictly. To rule otherwise amounts to a patent violation of the Constitution. Being sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution, the members of this tribunal have no other choice but to apply the clear letter and intent of the Constitution.”
Duterte must have been fuming on reading the SET decision. He is a lawyer and was a prosecutor for eleven years. Even to a non-lawyer, it is apparent that in the 32-page decision the repeated conclusions of the vital issues that Poe is a natural-born Filipino citizen do not logically follow their respective premises. The decision may be summed up in this syllogism: “Poe is presumed a natural-born Filipino citizen; therefore, she is a natural-born Filipino citizen. The disqualification case against her is dismissed.”
Has Duterte not acted rashly? The decision is not yet final. Petitioner Rizalito David can ask the SET to reconsider the decision. The 5-4 voting may be reversed. If denied, he can elevate the case to the Supreme Court. Why not trust the legal process and accept the eventual outcome?
No, no, no! Not Duterte, it appears – he’s challenging a theory advanced by the senator-members of the SET. This is propounded in the SET decision and in the concurring opinions of the majority senator-members: “III. SET decision should consider judgment of Filipino voters.”
They argued: The electorate should be taken into consideration in Poe’s case, especially since “the composition of the SET is predominantly political, with six senators in the tribunal outnumbering the three justices.” They imply that “the Philippine Constitution did not demand a strictly legal viewpoint in deciding disqualification cases against senators….”
They concluded: “The fact that six Senators, elected by the whole country, form part of the Senate Electoral Tribunal would suggest that the judgment of the whole Filipino nation must be taken into consideration also.” (Rappler.com, November 23, 2015: Why did SC justices vote to disqualify Grace Poe?) This must apply to Poe’s case.
President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III supports the theory. He told journalists in Kuala Lumpur that if he had his way, he would allow Sen. Grace Poe to run for president and let the people decide her fate. He would not want Poe to be disqualified from the presidential race in May 2016, whether on the basis of her questionable citizenship or of her residency issue. “At the end of the day, sovereignty resides in the people. Let the people decide,” he said. (The Philippine Star (November 24, 2015: We should let Grace run – Noy)
Should the SET decision be upheld by the Supreme Court, no presidential candidate will raise the issue of citizenship against Poe. Duterte will make sure that Grace Poe is the issue – her questionable citizenship as well as residency.
Is this the only issue against Poe? Duterte twitted Poe to read up more on federalism when she said in Butuan City last October 2 that she would not support federalism being advocated by Duterte because it would perpetuate political dynasties. (Rappler.com, October 5, 2015: Grace Poe’s mind ‘still dwelling in feudal state Duterte.)
Poe obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree in Political studies from Boston College in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A. in 1991. Did she not study federalism, the form of the United States government since 1776? Duterte was questioning not only what she knows about federalism but also her political preparedness to be President.
What if Poe is disqualified? She will no longer be an issue. Will Duterte withdraw?
Rodrigo Duterte will be the issue. He is more controversial than Grace Poe.