FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - December 25, 2015 - 9:00am

Dura lex, sed lex.

The law is harsh; but it is the law. This is the maxim of all polities that decided to come under the rule of law.

It is the maxim invoked by the Comelec when the constitutional body ruled in favor of the four petitions seeking to disqualify Grace Poe. This leaves the senator no other recourse but the court of last resort – which could, at the very least, issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) to prevent Poe’s name from disappearing from the ballot.

There are many conspiracy theories revolving around the disqualification of the erstwhile survey leader. In the end, however, no conspiracy prospers without being grounded on the rules of the game. The lawyers I have discussed with, to a man, say the law in clear in this case --- and it is on the side of the Comelec decision.

One lawyer (who, I suspect, might have voted for Poe if she were qualified) argued adamantly that the Supreme Court does not even have the jurisprudence to hang on to issue a TRO. Besides, although they have inhibited themselves, the well argued opinion of the three magistrates who sit at the Senate Electoral Tribunal hangs heavily over the thinking of the other members of the High Court.

We will see what happens on Monday, the day the Poe lawyers must file an urgent petition at the Supreme Court seeking relief from the consequences of the Comelec ruling.

In the wake of the Comelec ruling, what is clear is the Poe candidacy is seriously in trouble. Her popularity notwithstanding, it is a candidacy declared to be in conflict with the law.

Also to be noted: in the immediate wake of the Comelec’s en banc ruling, there was no palpable outrage anywhere. I attended several caucuses posing as reunions in the hours and days after the ruling and not a single person seemed ready to take to the streets.

I suspect, in the light of her high survey ratings, Poe was liked but not loved. Her instant constituency for the presidency did not know her enough to form a passionate political bond with her.

Those among my friends who were enthused by a Poe candidacy took note of the Comelec ruling and began thinking about other options. Those who suspected an LP hand behind the disqualification were angry but not sufficiently rebellious. They simply vowed to shift their vote to the most viable opposition candidate to ensure defeat for the LP bet.

These are the people captured in the Laylo polling study. In the recent Laylo poll, Jejomar Binay enjoys a 10-point windfall in public support if Poe’s name is removed from the menu.

Then, too, there are those who are confident the Supreme Court will set things right and the Poe candidacy will proceed as intended.

But even with that sort of judicial relief, the candidacy cannot proceed as envisioned. Funders will be hesitant. Organizational work will be stymied. Potential political allies will hold back. This is a candidacy impaired.

One can only feel for Grace Poe. She stumbled into this predicament.

In 2013, she had to be goaded to run for senator. She ended up topping the race, riding on the crest of her late father’s immense popularity.

At the Senate, she did her work as conscientiously as the others. By happenchance, she headed committees that would deal with high-profile problems, such as the breakdown of our commuter trains and the massacre of SAF troopers. She adopted causes that people held dear, such as the Freedom of Information Bill.

In the very short period as a politician, she registered well in the public consciousness. In the chamber of the most jaded political players, she was a fresh addition. She seemed sincere and attuned to the people’s concerns.

Still, she was a novice. Her political circle was small. Her grasp of the political game appears superficial. When handy, she invoked her father’s name, often inappropriately.

At one point, she said she would continue her father’s crusade. Her father had none. He was a well-loved movie actor who played roles the masses identified with. Off-camera, he was immune to the issues that swept across the public square. Until he was cajoled to run for president, he had very few civic concerns.

Still, the Poe name was a priceless asset. Grace, the novice, rated high in the polls – very likely because our people could find only a few to trust.

Soon the LP was knocking on her doors again, seeing her as a strong boost for the ruling party’s lackluster standard-bearer. By the time the LP got around to formally courting Poe to run as vice president, her popularity ratings hugely overshadowed the ruling party’s hard-sell bet.

The offer to run as second fiddle to a candidate the masses could not love was demeaning. Grace correctly refused to be used as adornment to a candidate unable to interest the voters. It would have amounted to something akin to political prostitution.

The most pragmatic politicians argue it was a mistake for her to refuse an easy way to acquire higher office. She might easily win even if Mar Roxas loses. But these pragmatic politicians so easily surrender their dignities when convenient.

Grace was an inflection on the political terrain. That inflection could be leveled on a technicality. The law is indeed harsh. 

Maybe she could still pull it off against the odds and weave an even grander narrative: the foundling who became president. At the moment, however, that is a narrative woven against all odds.


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