POSTSCRIPT / July 10, 2007 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Can anybody remember the party color of Villar?

LESSON LEARNED: As an offshoot of the Supreme Court’s declaring would-be SC justice Gregory S. Ong not a natural-born citizen, the Judicial and Bar Council now requires applicants to the High Court to submit documentary proof of their citizenship.

President Gloria Arroyo had been misled into appointing Ong to fill a vacancy in the tribunal. Malacañang has been quiet on what it would do to correct the embarrassing error.

The legal brushfire is threatening to spread into a judicial conflagration. The JBC realized (at last!) that natural-born citizenship is required for appointees not only to the Supreme Court and all appellate courts but also for regional trial judges!

Under Section 15 of Batas Pambansa 129, “no person shall be appointed regional trial judge unless he is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines….”

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COMPLICATIONS: The non-compliance with the citizenship requirement complicates the case of Ong, whose status nobody seems to know until he himself backs out or somebody challenges in court his appointment and tenure.

It would be too much for Ong to insist on sitting as justice in the venerable Supreme Court. But can he stay/go back to the Sandiganbayan where is/was a justice?

The Constitution itself (Sec. 7, Art. VIII) requires natural-born citizenship not only for SC justices but also for any lower collegiate court like the Sandiganbayan.

Not only that. Under PD 1498, all members of the Sandiganbayan should be natural-born Filipinos. Ong is not, according to the Supreme Court. He is a naturalized Filipino.

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IMPLICATIONS: There is no way Ong can cure that defect, because a natural-born citizen is one who does not have to do anything to acquire or perfect his citizenship.

The problem does not begin and end with Ong’s tenure in the Sandiganbayan. Before his appointment to the anti-graft court by President Joseph “Erap” Estrada, he was a regional trial court judge in Pasig.

Thus, even his first appointment to the judiciary is flawed since natural-born citizenship is also required of RTC judges.

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NIGHTMARE: What happens now to Ong’s decisions in the RTC and in the Sandiganbayan? Suppose losing litigants go back to court and claim there was a mistrial or an actual miscarriage of justice?

Surely, there are many more Ongs lurking in our courts. What if losers pick up the same issue and sue?

Of course the system will not allow a wholesale reversal of rulings or the reopening of cases, but the paperwork and the heated arguments all around will be a nightmare for the judiciary.

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NO LOYALTY: I thought Sen. Manuel Villar abandoned the administration in the last elections to run with the Genuine Opposition. I thought that the poll results clearly showed that the people want an oppositionist Senate in the coming 14th Congress.

Why is Villar, who had cast his lot with the GO, now playing footsie with the administration minority in the chamber? So he could hold on to his Senate perch that he believes would help catapult him to the presidency in 2010?

That is just the trouble with Villar. He changes political color too often that no one remembers where he is or what he stands for — except for the unchanging fact that he wants badly to become President of the Republic.

But can anyone trust a man without firm loyalties?

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TRIO BLAMED: As Villar tries sealing secret deals with the administration minority to stay as Senate president, his boys are busy heaping the blame on senators Mar Roxas, Ping Lacson and Loren Legarda for the numerically bigger opposition being fragmented.

On this, Roxas has remarked: “Whoever wins the Senate presidency by courting the administration senators is clearly the real purveyor of division within the opposition ranks.”

“Whatever the outcome of the SP race, the LP senators except for Sen. Kiko Pangilinan will remain within the minority bloc,” Roxas added. “The people’s mandate in the last election is clear: an independent, fiscalizing Senate under the leadership and control of the opposition. I follow that mandate.”

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ERAP STABBED: Villar’s boys try rationalizing their boss’ inconstancy by recalling the words of a dead statesman who commented that his loyalty to his party ends where his loyalty to his country begins, or something like that.

They look pathetic trying to paint a picture of Villar as capable of party loyalty, even if only momentary. They sound ridiculous equating the senator’s loyalty to his consuming ambitions to loyalty to the country.

Many were surprised when former President Estrada, already insulated in his Tanay retreat, still allowed Villar — he who stabbed him as House Speaker reading into the record the impeachment charges against Erap — to join the GO ticket.

That was just two months ago. Now Villar is under the table talking to administration senators. One can guess what he is selling them.

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MANNY TALK: Villar’s boys may soon get around to quoting another dead politician — also a Senate president in his time — who had said that politics is addition.

To a grizzled businessman used to plot and move by profit-motivation, that may be so. But in public service, there is such a thing as an overriding public interest. There is also such a thing as a mandate — which in the case of the incoming Senate is to stand guard against excesses of the administration.

It is easier in the transactional House to become Speaker if one is touted as one of the world’s billionaires. We hope it is somewhat different when somebody tries buying the Senate presidency from 12 of 22 senators, each of whom is virtually an independent Senate.

But still, watch them when Manny talks.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 10, 2007)

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