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Misuse of ‘vox populi’ doctrine

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Misuse of ‘vox populi’ doctrine

/ 12:04 AM January 19, 2016

THE CONTROVERSY over Sen. Grace Poe’s citizenship and residency in the Philippines has become fodder for discussion among lawyers, political analysts and media commentators.

If Poe were not a foundling, the issue of whether or not she is a natural-born Filipino can be easily resolved. The citizenship of her biological parents will be the determining factor.

But her immigration to the United States and acquisition of American citizenship, and later renunciation of that status and return to the Philippines, have raised questions about her compliance with the 10-year residency requirement for the presidency.

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When did she perform the acts that show her intent to stay for good in the Philippines? Did she do anything after renouncing American citizenship that may have negated the legal effects of that act?

The citizenship issue is purely legal. It involves an interpretation of the constitutional provision on citizenship. Should it be strictly construed for nationalistic reasons? Or should it be liberally interpreted considering that dual citizenship is allowed under Philippine law?

The question on residency, on the other hand, is factual. It will have to be resolved based on the testimony of witnesses and written records of Poe’s activities after her return to the Philippines.

Earlier, the Commission on Elections ruled that Poe does not meet the requirements on citizenship and residency. These rulings are now pending at the Supreme Court for resolution.

Ahead of the high court’s action, some quarters have called for letting the people directly decide on Poe’s eligibility to hold the highest political position in the land.

If she wins, the argument goes, she should be allowed to assume office; if she does not, she shall return to the Senate. The suggestion is premised on the theocracy-based expression “vox populi vox Dei,” or the voice of the people is the voice of God.

The idea is, if it is God’s will—which is supposed to be expressed through the people’s votes—to make Poe the country’s next president, that will should be done regardless of her compliance or noncompliance with the citizenship and residency requirements.

This is the first time in the Philippines’ political history that a proposal of this nature was ever made. What’s more, it was made by people who are supposed to be learned in the law and have sworn to defend the Constitution.

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The proposition is fraught with serious implications and unhealthy for our democracy.

The qualifications on citizenship and residency are meant to apply to all Filipinos regardless of their social, political, or economic status. These requirements are aimed at ensuring that only Filipinos with original (and unmistakable) roots in the country and have directly interacted with and shared the life of our people for at least 10 years are given the opportunity to lead the nation.

The Constitution is not an ordinary piece of legislation. It is the fundamental law of the land that governs the lives of 104 million Filipinos through thick or thin, in war and in peace. It is not something that is obeyed if it suits the interests of the person invoking it, and disregarded if it is not beneficial or advantageous to that person.

If, as suggested, the Constitution should be disregarded to suit Poe’s case, what’s to stop the Constitution from getting similar treatment in the future using “vox populi” as justification for the action? Bad precedents have an uncanny way of repeating themselves.

Besides, what’s so special about Poe or what services has she performed for the country to merit the suspension of certain constitutional provisions so her political ambition can be accommodated with ease?

Just because she is getting good ratings in the surveys does not mean the people (supposedly the voice of God) have already chosen her to succeed President Aquino and so all obstacles, both legal and moral, including the Constitution, should be pushed aside to speed up her entry to Malacañang.

The campaign period has not even started, so it’s premature, if not foolhardy, to assume that Poe will continue to lead in the poll surveys and eventually win the election.

Sad, but true, “vox populi” is also invoked by rogue politicians to justify the acceptance of the results of an election marred by the use of guns, goons and gold.

The Constitution is not perfect. Some of its provisions are outdated or no longer in keeping with the times. But until it is amended or revised, it should be accorded the honor and respect it rightfully deserves.

It is the same premise that underlies decisions of the Supreme Court. We are obliged to follow them, regardless of our wishes, because the alternative is chaos.

A similar, if not stronger, attitude should be applied to the Constitution, the bedrock of our democratic institutions. There is no room for ifs, ands or buts in complying with it.

Let’s leave the questions on Poe’s qualification to run for president with the high court. No Filipino is too important or prominent to be considered above the Constitution.

Raul J. Palabrica (rpalabrica@inquirer.com.ph) writes a weekly column in the Business section of the Inquirer.

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TAGS: case, Citizenship, Commentary, disqualification, Grace Poe, opinion, residency, vox populi
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