A dangerous path towards the elections

(The Philippine Star) - December 12, 2015 - 9:00am

The recent developments in the political sphere are bringing a chill to many Filipinos and spawning conspiracy theories that machinations are underway to “eliminate” all other strong contenders for the presidential race in 2016.

An early target was Vice President Jojo Binay who made the “tactical error” of declaring his intention as far back as June 2014 – something that the vice president also acknowledged – as he now finds himself facing multiple cases of graft, malversation and plunder. The Anti-Money Laundering Council has also moved to freeze his bank accounts and forfeit his assets, but legal experts say this is a violation of Section 2 of Republic Act 1379 that says forfeiture cases cannot be filed within a year prior to a general election, and that neither can any judgment be rendered six months before the general elections – most likely to prevent the law from being used for political persecution, the legal experts assert. While the Veep’s ratings has suffered in the wake of these “relentless attacks,” his following from the masses and senior citizens (who hope to have the same benefits given to elderly Makati residents) remains solid, a seasoned pollster said. Binay strategists are confident they will prevail in 2016.

Another popular presidential candidate is Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte who was shown topping a Pulse Asia survey among residents of Metro Manila and another Social Weather Stations survey showing him as the preferred candidate – but that was before his controversial expletive against the Pope. But while Duterte has suffered a backlash especially from devout Catholics who were outraged at the mayor’s “vulgarity” and flouting of moral convention by flaunting his mistresses, a big number of Filipinos are attracted to his no-nonsense approach when it comes to peace and order, promising to restore the death penalty if he becomes president.

A big question however is if his certificate of candidacy will not be invalidated, or if his name will be included in the ballot since he is facing a disqualification case due to a “technical error” made by PDP-Laban’s Martin Diño when he filed his Certificate of Candidacy (COC). Diño is the candidate for whom Mayor Duterte is substituting. The mayor’s supporters also expressed suspicion that wheels are turning to take their candidate out of the race following a statement by the Commission on Human Rights urging the Department of Justice to investigate the mayor for having allegedly “killed” criminals, saying the mayor’s supposed admission warrants “legal action.”

But the most disturbing for many people however is the seeming intensity by which the disqualification cases against Grace Poe has been decided by two Comelec divisions. The Second Division cancelled the COC of Senator Poe last Dec. 1 saying she failed to satisfy residency requirements. Last Wednesday, Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon admitted that the Commission en banc had not reached a decision regarding the issues against Duterte and Poe. Guanzon said they were still looking into the other three disqualification cases filed against Poe and that the decision could be released Tuesday at the latest – which is why people and naturally the Poe camp were surprised when the First Division – which had Guanzon – issued a ruling on Friday disqualifying Poe.

Poe, who had been a frontrunner in many surveys from the time she declared her candidacy for the top position (after a long introspection during which time she also found herself being “courted” by the Liberal Party and the United Nationalist Alliance to become the running mate of Mar Roxas and Vice President Binay, the respective standard bearers of these political parties), admitted that the news about the second disqualification was disheartening. However, the beleaguered candidate has no intention to give up the fight knowing that a lot of Filipinos are counting on her – recalling that over 20 million voted her into office and that many more, especially the marginalized and those in the fringes of society, are holding on to her promise of “inclusive governance,” a Poe insider told us.

While there are still several candidates that Filipino voters can choose from – among them Senator Miriam Santiago who is topping online polls including the one conducted by Facebook and is also perceived as the candidate of choice among Millennials (although the feisty senator is facing health issues), and Liberal Party candidate Mar Roxas who is popular among the well-heeled, the upper crust of society and believers of President Aquino who has endorsed Mar (although he has been consistently lagging in surveys) – people are outraged at finding their choices narrowed down by technicalities or what they perceive as politically motivated cases – a dangerous path to tread as history has shown us.

Poe, Binay and Duterte said they are prepared to fight all the way to the Supreme Court – which is just as well because the SC is the institution imbued with authority to interpret the law, with the 15 magistrates having the power to influence the future of this country.

But while the Supreme Court may be the final authority in interpreting any question of law, we are also reminded that the very first principle enshrined in the 1987 Constitution, as provided for in Article II, Section 1, is that “sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.” This was the same guiding principle that then Chief Justice Reynato Puno referred to when they ruled in the disqualification case filed against the late Fernando Poe Jr. Puno, in his separate concurring opinion said: “…let the people decide who will be the next President.  For on political questions, this Court may err but the sovereign people will not.”

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