Brillantes and Poe

TO THE QUICK - Jerry Tundag - The Freeman

If former Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. is to be believed, neither the Comelec nor the Supreme Court has the authority to determine whether or not Grace Poe is qualified to run for president. According to Brillantes, only the Presidential Electoral Tribunal can make that determination. And only after the election shall have been held.

It is good that Brillantes is no longer with the Comelec, or he could have plunged this country into chaos. Can you imagine what would happen if Poe is allowed to run and she goes on to win the presidency, only to be determined later as unqualified by the Presidential Electoral Tribunal and stripped of her victory? There will be anarchy in the streets.

The qualification of all candidates is a matter for the Comelec to decide and Brillantes cannot pretend that it is not because that is precisely what the poll body has been doing. Having retired only earlier this year, Brillantes certainly could not have forgotten that among the first duties of the Comelec in the run-up to any presidential election is to weed out the nuisance candidates from the serious ones.

Weeding out nuisance candidates is part of determining qualifications and not even Brillantes can say it is not. And determining qualifications, whether for a president or for a sales clerk, always happens in the beginning, before a person gets elected or hired, and never afterward. There is a logical reason for that and one does not have to be a brilliant lawyer to see why.

It is even more difficult to see where Brillantes is coming from when he tries to leave the Supreme Court out of the picture. The Supreme Court is the final arbiter of the laws of the land. The qualifications of candidates for president are clearly spelled out in plain language by the Constitution, the fundamental law of the land. How can Brillantes then say the Supreme Court has nothing to do with constitutional demands on presidential candidates?

The Comelec can qualify or disqualify candidates as in fact that is what it has been doing, even during the time when Brillantes himself was its chairman. The Supreme Court can settle issues on the qualification of candidates as in fact it must be the final settler of such issues based on what the Constitution provides. The PET comes in only to settle disputes that arise from the conduct of elections.

But of course, this being a free country, Brillantes can say whatever occurs to him. It would be interesting to find out, though, if his theories get borne out by events as they eventually unfold. Right now, he can enjoy himself in retirement like he has never enjoyed himself going around the speaking circuits, especially when doing interviews with media outfits that have clearly a bent for Poe.

It is a great waste, though, for a brilliant lawyer and former head of a constitutional body like the Comelec, to be so quite at ease giving due course to what is clearly a legally untenable position of Poe's. Poe has not presented any legal argument of substance to buttress her position, preferring instead to win her battles playing to the emotions of people, emphasizing her being just a foundling or claiming that her enemies are ganging up on her.

But the issues against Poe are very real and cannot be waved away by pleas for sympathy. In fact, by being obstinate, Poe has gone from merely having issues with her citizenship qualification to issues about her capacity to lead the nation. The presidency that she longs for so desperately, more than citizenship, requires her to uphold and defend the Constitution, so help her God. But help her God, she only believes in the Constitution if it allows her to run, and not when it doesn't.

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