Decades after the Marcos regime, the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu were left to fend for themselves as to how to get back North Borneo, their ancestral land. North Borneo was theirs all right, because Malaysia continues to pay them annual rental for it. If Malaysia owned North Borneo, why should it pay rent to the heirs?
By the time Ninoy’s son, President Benigno Aquino III, was in office, the heirs had had enough of government antipathy to their cause and so they launched an incursion into North Borneo to take back what’s lawfully theirs in the first place. Without any support from President Aquino, the Filipinos were overpowered by Malaysian troops. A crackdown against Filipinos in North Borneo followed, and many Filipinos were injured in the process.
Adding insult to injury, President Aquino threatened to file criminal charges against the Filipinos who went to North Borneo to help the heirs recover their land from the Malaysians. When the Palace learned that the charges cannot prosper because the supposed crime took place in North Borneo and, therefore, “outside” Philippine territory, Aquino’s minions let the issue die away.
Imagine that! A Filipino president taking the side of the Malaysians against his own people! Aquino’s behavior during that unfortunate incident in recent Philippine history made people suspect that when Aquino tried to get Congress (through his minions, Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.) to railroad the enactment of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, Aquino was working for the Malaysians. The Mamasapano Massacre and Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. put an end to that legislative nightmare.
Anyway, many Filipinos were furious at Aquino’s attitude regarding the North Borneo incident. Soon, the petition of the public interest advocate was filed in the Supreme Court to compel the Department of Foreign Affairs to press, once and for all, the Philippine claim to North Borneo in the appropriate international arbitration or adjudication tribunals of the United Nations. This way, the integrity of the national territory of the Republic of the Philippines as defined in the Constitution will be realized.
Like the earlier petition involving political dynasties, the petition regarding North Borneo was summarily dismissed by the Supreme Court on the ground that the North Borneo issue concerns international relations which are best left to the executive department of the government, the DFA in particular.
In dismissing the petition, the Supreme Court did not seem to give importance to the duty of the President of the Philippines to support and defend the Constitution, which is embodied in his oath of office. Likewise, the Court did not recognize any primacy in the provision of the Constitution which vests in the President full control over all executive departments, which obviously includes the DFA. Why these provisions of the Constitution did not merit the attention of the Court is a mystery.
Parenthetically, a fairly recent decision of the Supreme Court stressed that the Philippines has not abandoned its claim to North Borneo.
Anyway, when is a liberal interpretation of the Constitution warranted, and when is it unjustified? A non-lawyer will readily say that a liberal interpretation is warranted when it will result in the protection of the greater good or interests of our people as a whole, and a liberal interpretation is unjustified when it will benefit only an individual personal interest or the interests of a few.
To state the obvious, the need to put an end to political dynasties, and the need to uphold the Philippine claim to North Borneo, cannot be denied or ignored. These are matters of transcendental public interest involving the nation as a whole. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court did not see these matters in that perspective and chose instead a strict approach to the interpretation of the Constitution in both cases.
On the other hand, Poe’s case does not involve a need to put an end to a continuing curse to Philippine elections (like political dynasties), or a need to get back what is legally Philippine territory unlawfully taken from the sovereign Filipino people (like North Borneo). The Poe case involves only one person’s political ambition to be president, and nothing more. Worse, that person once upon a time turned her back on the Philippines, renounced her sacred Philippine citizenship, and sought greener pastures in America. Now that she is able to tell a great political opportunity when she sees one, that person is back in the country, with her alien husband and children in tow.
Why then did the Supreme Court allow a liberal interpretation of the Constitution when only a solitary private interest—Poe’s desire to run for president—is at stake?
Furthermore, to cloud the issue and confuse the people (and the judiciary as well), Poe’s supporters conveniently labeled her disqualification cases as discriminatory attacks against foundlings. That, of course, is not true. Poe’s case is solely about whether or not she is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, which is a requirement of the Constitution imposed on everyone seeking the presidency. Moreover, enforcing the Constitution is not synonymous to discrimination against foundlings. Judging from how the Supreme Court ruled, however, it looks like Poe’s supporters succeeded in appealing to popular emotions rather than logic and reason.
Fortunately, Poe’s opponents will be seeking a reconsideration of the decision of the Supreme Court. A reconsideration is not a far-fetched idea right now because recent juriprudence indicate that the Court has changed its mind in many of its decisions, sometimes even more than once. Two cases, one involving the status of certain municipalities, and another concerning Philippine Air Lines employees, immediately come to mind.
While the public waits anew for further developments, attention is invited to some interesting remarks on the social media. One site asks—Why should Grace Poe be allowed to run for president when her own husband and her children cannot even vote for her? That’s a very interesting question.
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