Episode 35: Qualifications

As promised: a blog post on the Supreme Court decisions finding grave abuse of discretion by COMELEC in cancelling Grace Llamanzares’ certificate of candidacy (CoC) on the basis of “material misrepresentation.”

Nutshell: The Supreme Court found that COMELEC committed grave abuse of discretion in cancelling Llamanzares’ CoC. They found that the COMELEC has no authority to make “conclusions of law” as to Llamanzares’ citizenship; similarly, the Court found that COMELEC gravely abused its discretion in “disregarding” Llamanzares’ evidence establishing her residency. Ergo, the COMELEC had no basis to say Llamanzares made a material misrepresentation in her CoCs.

Or at least that’s the best way I can make sense of the majority opinion.

Honestly, it would have been much better if this was the limit to the main opinion. Even if it is contentious (see Justice Brion’s dissent for a full summary of both sides of the decision, but keep in mind that it is a dissent, so yeah), I could get behind it. A petition for certiorari finding “grave abuse” should be limited to that.

Problem: the Supreme Court majority went further and made factual findings as to Llamanzares’ citizenship and residency.

I’m a bit torn on the matter of citizenship. Although I am of the opinion that the 1935 Constitution Commission clearly leaves the matter of natural-born status of foundlings to Congress, and rather clearly omits them from the enumeration of natural-born Filipinos, I can understand why the Supreme Court would go out of its way to protect a vulnerable class of citizens. It just so happens that in doing so, the Court also wound up protecting someone who, given her stature and social class, didn’t really need that much protecting.

Was it judicial legislation? I honestly can’t sayt. Many rights we take for granted are not expressly granted by the Constitution, but can nevertheless be inferred from its provisions. In ruling that foundlings are, by definition, natural-born Filipinos, it may (and has) been argued that such natural-born status may be inferred from the provisions of the Constitution itself.

Again, I disagree with this, but I can get behind it – not for Llamanzares’ sake, but for everyone else who may be foundlings but are in a far more disadvantaged situation than she is.

To be clear: Grace Llamanzares is NOT the poster child for foundlings. She isn’t even their greatest crusader; that honor belongs to Senator Lito Lapid, who filed Senate Bill 2844 granting natural-born status to foundlings, in fulfillment of the 1935 Constitution Commission discussions to leave such determination to Congress.

(Aside: IIRC Sen. Llamanzares sponsored Sen. Lapid’s bill. But if she believes and argues, as she did before the Supreme Court, that foundlings are natural-born by Constitutional fiat, then why did she sponsor an otherwise superfluous law? 😉 )

Now, on to residency.

Here, the COMELEC relied on two grounds: Supreme Court decisions laying down the rule that residency begins once citizenship has been reestablished (Google up “Japzon v. COMELEC,” for starters), and the fact that Llamanzares provided conflicting periods between her 2012 CoC for Senator and her 2015 CoC for President.

The Supreme Court, relying on the rule laid down in Romualdez-Marcos v. COMELEC, where residence must be determined through the evidence. I agree. The problem is that the Supreme Court proceeded to take the same evidence the COMELEC deliberated on and reversed the factual finding of the COMELEC – the same factual finding that the Japzon ruling said was binding on the Supreme Court (specifically, the paragraph where Footnote 22 appears, for those who think I’m blowing hot air).

The Supreme Court states that the decisions relied upon by the COMELEC are inapplicable, as the facts are not on all fours. With due respect, this is a bit strained. No two cases will ever be on all fours with one another. No two cases have the exact same fact patterns. But given certain situations, such as a former citizen seeking repatriation and thereafter seeking public office, such decisions contain rules, a ratio by which such cases can be decided. That is exactly what the COMELEC did here.

In fact, the ruling in  Romualdez-Marcos v. COMELEC is arguably less applicable than Japzon; in that case, Imelda Marcos never lost citizenship, and IIRC never even acquired green card holder status, and thus never lost Philippine residency. This is contrast to Llamanzares who renounced her Philippine citizenship, and in doing so abandoned her domicile here.

Again, with due respect, we cannot argue that the ratios of similar cases are inapplicable, while the ratios of dissimilar cases are applicable.

And now, the honest mistake.

It would appear that the leading case for the honest mistake doctrine is Romualdez-Marcos v. COMELEC. (Notice a pattern here? j/k ) But in that case, Imelda Marcos’ “honest mistake” could actually be shown and argued. In the case of Llamanzares, it was merely argued, but never shown. No one knows how Llamanzares could’ve made such an “honest mistake,” nor reveal why it took her three years to realize the “honest mistake.”

To be fair to Imelda Marcos, she immediately corrected her “mistake” the moment someone pointed it out.

Or maybe that’s the threshold? Someone has to point the mistake out before it becomes “honest” and correctable? Who knows?

In any case, with a vote of 9-6, it is unlikely the Supreme Court will reverse its ruling based on the pending Motions for Reconsideration. Faura has spoken, and (so far) the debate is over.

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