POSTSCRIPT / March 4, 2004 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Everybody must bow to SC decision on Poe

S.C. HAS SPOKEN: The Supreme Court decision yesterday upholding the candidacy of actor Fernando Poe Jr., whom it declared by a vote of 8-5 to be a natural-born Filipino, should end all debates on his citizenship and contribute to restoring calm among the populace.

The court drew substantially from the “friends of the court” who argued in open court that under the 1935 Constitution that covered Poe, a child followed the citizenship of the father.

That the child was born out of wedlock is immaterial, they said, since blood relationship (jus sanguinis) does not distinguish between a so-called illegitimate and a legitimate child.

All political parties and their followers must now bow to the SC ruling and accept Poe as a worthy opponent.

On the record, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has said from the beginning that she considers Poe a Filipino who is eligible to run for president.

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DELAY SEEN: Earlier, we got the sense that the Supreme Court was inclined to remand the Poe case to the Commission on Elections or assign it to a lower court for a more detailed hearing.

We first got a hint of a possible remanding when Poe’s lawyer, Estelito Mendoza, announced his finding documents that he said would buttress his client’s claim of being a natural-born citizen:

  1. A military form wherein the actor’s Filipino father allegedly acknowledged his son Ronnie (later to be known in the cinema world as Fernando Poe Jr.). The son could claim the father’s citizenship only if he were truly the father.
  2. A document allegedly showing that Poe’s mother was not an American but a Filipino. If Poe were to follow his mother’s citizenship, as his detractors insisted, he would still be Filipino since birth if his mother were Filipino.

Mendoza also did something intriguing: he balked at accepting Poe’s birth certificate and his parents’ marriage contract that he himself had submitted to the Comelec.

Of course there are other excuses available in case the Supreme Court majority (eight justices) wants to dump the case on the lap of a lower hearing body.

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LAYING THE BASIS: Why would Mendoza, who knows all the rules (and tricks) of the trade, introduce late in the day these documents that had not figured in past deliberations in any court or quasi-judicial body?

We sensed that he was not really trying to strengthen Poe’s case, because new evidence could not be accepted in this final stage before the high court.

We concluded that he was helping lay the basis for the tribunal’s possibly tossing the case to the Comelec or a lower court.

But to follow that hypothetical line, friends of Mendoza in the Court would need a plausible excuse — such as the new-found documents (assuming he submitted them to the court).

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DILATORY TACTIC: With the full-blown oral arguments and the voluminous memoranda already filed, the case as-is could be resolved any day by the Supreme Court if it wanted to.

Poe’s case has no perfectly congruent precedent, so the court can break new ground. It can resolve the question either way and be able to justify its action with ample legal arguments.

But there are two contending parties, one of which will have to lose. Any party sensing an adverse decision coming might resort to the time-tested ploy of delaying a final decision.

Remanding the case is one such dilatory tactic. It can be resorted to with the cooperation or accidental acquiescence of a court majority.

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WHO GAINS FROM IT?: Who would want to delay resolving the case?

The Arroyo camp could work for a protracted hearing if it thinks keeping Poe’s eligibility hanging would scare away his potential contributors. Why would a supporter bet millions on a candidate who may end up being disqualified?

Even now, Poe insiders tell us that contributions have not been flowing in the amounts and at the rate projected. They blame this on the pending disqualification case.

This being a money-driven country, being low on funds could prove disastrous to the nationwide campaign of a presidential candidate.

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HOLDING ACTION: On the other hand, if Poe’s lawyers see his disqualification imminent, they can be expected to do everything to delay the ruling till after the elections, especially if they see the actor’s popularity buoying him to victory.

If an adverse decision comes only after Poe apparently wins the election, the losers would have to mount a protest amid confusion.

Such a situation may give rise to the Supreme Court convening en banc as a Presidential Electoral Tribunal. This could embroil the justices in a controversy that they themselves are supposed to resolve.

The losers could protest all they want, but meantime Da King sits, albeit uneasily, in his throne by the Pasig.

(This reminds us of the similar ploy of delaying the plunder trial of former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada till that time when a new and sympathetic president, possibly his bosom buddy Ronnie Poe, is installed.)

* * *

WORRY-FREE PCGG: The Presidential Commission on Good Government can laugh off the threatened contempt action of the US district court in Hawaii over the transfer to the Philippine government of $683 million in recovered Marcos loot.

But the Philippine National Bank that held in escrow the dirty money may not be as worry-free. The PNB has assets in the US that Hawaii Judge Manuel Real may freeze or seize in a fit of judicial anger.

With Olympian presumptuousness, the Hawaii judge had issued a worldwide (!) hold on the escrow fund. Later he challenged a ruling of the Philippine Supreme Court transferring the Marcos assets from the depository banks to the national treasury.

The PCGG, an agency of a sovereign government, is not in a similar predicament as the PNB. It can be more relaxed in its reactions.

No wonder, PCGG chairman Heidi Yorac sounded nonchalant about it: “It’s up to the PNB… I don’t know what they are planning to do.”

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SELECTIVE COMPLIANCE: One item puzzling us is the decision of the administration to allot a portion of the Marcos loot to pay torture victims of the dictator.

Will the payment be in compliance with the order of the Hawaii judge to compensate them?

How can the Philippine government be selective in its compliance? It has refused to recognize some orders of Real, but it now seems inclined to follow in principle the Hawaii court’s award of damages to the victims.

The government could abandon Real’s scheme (we think it should) and go ahead to compensate torture victims from the Marcos fund. It could do this by amending the law earmarking all recovered illegal wealth for agrarian reform.

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WHO OWNS ACMs?: Based on their pronouncements, Comelec officials seem bent on using the automatic counting machines (ACM) that a non-bidder, Mega Pacific consortium, tried selling to the poll body under an illegal contract.

The officials said that Mega Pacific has agreed to lend Comelec the Korean-made equipment for the partial computerization of the counting of the ballots in the May 10 elections.

Before they plunge into this deal, we ask the Comelec: Who now owns the almost 2,000 ballot-counting machines delivered by Mega Pacific? The answer is one of two possibilities:

  1. They are owned by the Comelec because it has accepted delivery, paid for them and had used some of them. (But if Comelec now owns the ACMs, why is it borrowing them from Mega Pacific?)
  2. They are still owned by Mega Pacific since the contract is void from the start. (But if Mega Pacific owns them, what is holding the Comelec from returning the merchandise and demanding refund of the P850 million it had paid for them?)

Maybe the Comelec has found a place between the two possibilities?

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 4, 2004)

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