POSTSCRIPT / July 8, 2007 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Pope exhorts faithful to combat corruption

LAY MISSION: Pope Benedict XVI exhorted Christians in a message last Thursday to fight political and economic corruption in their communities.

The Holy Father condemned the “subtle and widespread blight of corruption” in remarks made when he received the bishops of the Dominican Republic in Rome for their five-yearly visit. His message reverberated throughout Christendom.

The Pope explained that the mission of the laity is “the establishment of the temporal order, and to act in a direct and concrete way, guided by the light of the Gospel and by the Church’s teaching, and inspired by Christian love.”

For this reason, he said, “it is necessary to ensure that lay people receive adequate religious formation, so as to enable them to face the numerous challenges of modern society.”

“It is their task to promote human and Christian values that illuminate the political, economic and cultural life of the country, with the aim of instituting a more just and more equitable social order, in accordance with the social doctrine of the Church,” he said.

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BLIGHT: Benedict XVI said the laity must provide “an example of honesty and transparency in the management of public affairs, in the face of the unseen and widespread blight of corruption, which at times touches areas of political and economic power, as well as other spheres of public and social life.”

In their daily lives, he added, “they must witness how the Christian faith is the only fully valid response to the problems and expectations facing every person in every society.”

He warned of the danger of Catholics living two parallel lives — “on one hand the so-called spiritual life, with its values and its needs; on the other hand, the so-called worldly life, which is family life, work, social relationships, political and cultural commitment.”

On the contrary, he said, “they must work so that their lives and their faith become an eloquent witness of the truth of the Christian message.”

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ONG CITIZENSHIP: In an earlier Postscript, I denounced the irregular nomination and appointment to the Supreme Court of Sandiganbayan Justice Gregory Ong. He does not deserve to sit in the highest court of the land, because he is not a natural-born citizen.

Subsequently, Kilosbayan and Bantay Katarungan, represented by former Senate President Jovito R. Salonga, challenged his credentials as member of the High Court.

In a speedy decision promulgated July 3, the Supreme Court ruled that Ong was not a natural-born citizen and was thus enjoined from accepting his appointment by President Gloria Arroyo.

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ALIEN AT BIRTH: Written by Justice Adolfo Azcuna, the judgment said the birth certificate submitted by Ong himself to the Court showed that both his father and mother were Chinese at the time of his birth. Therefore, Ong was not a Filipino UPON HIS BIRTH.

The subsequent naturalization of his father that extended him the same status of a naturalized citizen is not enough to qualify him for the Supreme Court. The Constitution requires that an appointee be a citizen at birth.

In short, naturalized Filipinos, like Ong and his father, are not qualified to be SC justices. It is as simple as that.

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MARQUEZ CLAIM: Well and good. I thought that the decision vindicated my position.

But I was taken aback later when Midas Marquez, supposed Supreme Court spokesman, claimed that Ong could still keep his Sandiganbayan seat.

He was quoted by several dailies, the PhilSTAR included, saying that even if Ong was not a natural-born citizen he could continue discharging his duties in the anti-graft court, because there is no petition contesting his status there.

So I secured a copy of the SC decision signed unanimously by the justices. Nowhere is there a sentence or a word saying that Ong can continue sitting in the Sandiganbayan, as Marquez claimed.

Imagine, the Court interpreted the law and a minor factotum still interpreted the Court’s interpretation! Isn’t that ridiculous?

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QUIT NOW: The Constitution itself (Sec. 7, Art. VIII) states that natural-born citizenship is required not only for SC justices but also for any lower collegiate court (like the Sandiganbayan).

Furthermore, under PD 1498, all members of the Sandiganbayan should be natural-born Filipino citizens.

Being a justice of a respected court, Ong should now voluntarily desist from performing his function in the anti-graft court and leave the Sandiganbayan before he is challenged (and embarrassed) by civic-spirited citizens.

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NO SPOKESMAN: Marquez should be more careful in his official pronouncements. To prevent confusion, he should not make extended statements that are not in the decisions of the Court.

In fact, he should not style himself as the Court’s spokesman.

I remember former SC Public Information chief Ismael Khan always emphasizing that the SC had no spokespersons. He said the tribunal spoke only through its collegial decisions and resolutions.

His job was merely to point out relevant parts of the written decisions for easy comprehension by non-lawyers.

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ERAP CASE: It is discomfiting to see judges having to explain their rulings in the marketplace, so to speak, or to go to media to defend their decisions.

Court decisions speak for themselves. They better contain whatever pertinent points the judge had wanted to say on the matter, even to the extent of virtually delivering a sermon in an obiter dictum.

In this regard, watch for the coming decision of the Sandiganbayan on the plunder case against former President Joseph Erap Estrada et al. Will the ruling be so air-tight that it will not have to be explained or defended outside the court?

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 8, 2007)

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