BY a close 5-4 vote, the Senate Electoral Tribunal on Tuesday dismissed the disqualification case filed against Senator Grace Poe that sought to oust her from the Senate for not being a natural-born Filipino.
Those who voted to dismiss the case were Senators Vicente Sotto III, Bam Aquino, Pia Cayetano, Cynthia Villar and Loren Legarda.
All three Supreme Court justices sitting in the nine-member SET—Associate Justices Antonio Carpio, Teresita Leonardo de Castro and Arturo Brion—as well as Senator Nancy Binay, daughter of Poe’s rival for the presidency next year, Vice President Jejomar Binay Jr., voted in favor of granting the petition against Poe filed by Rizalito David.
Following the vote, Legarda said that based on the ruling, Poe as a foundling is considered a natural-born Filipino citizen—a requirement for being a senator or the President.
“Yes there was a vote, it was a vote of 5-4, five dismissing the petition of Mr. David and four concurring with the petition of Mr. David. In short, five voted to uphold the natural born citizenship of Senator Grace Poe and four decided against it,” Legarda told reporters after the SET session at Manila Polo Club in Makati City.
Legarda said there was no official announcement yet, as David—a losing senatorial candidate—may still petition the tribunal to reconsider the ruling.
Legarda said there was no lengthy discussion on the issue Tuesday as they had submitted their separate written opinions before the meeting.
She said Carpio, chairman of the SET, merely asked the members to vote on the complaint after lunch.
If David files an appeal, Legarda said, the SET would have to decide on it before the deadline for the printing of ballots, Dec. 10.
Poe welcomed the SET decision, saying it sent a strong message that the Philippines considers itself a part of the global community that respects international law that recognizes a foundling as a citizen of the country where he or she was found.
She also expressed her gratitude to her five colleagues in the Senate who voted against her disqualification.
“I want to thank from the deepest part of my heart those who stood for justice, those who stood for the abandoned children and foundlings. Thank you so much Senator Tito Sotto, Senator Loren Legarda, Senator Cynthia Villar, Senator Bam Aquino and Senator Pia Cayetano. This was not only my personal victory but also the victory of everyone who hopes the country can still be improved,” Poe said.
She also said she was pleased that Aquino, who is a member of the ruling Liberal Party and the campaign manager of its vice presidential candidate Rep. Leni Robredo, voted based on the basis of his beliefs and not party politics.
But Poe acknowledged there was still a tough fight ahead, given the many petitions filed against her with the Commission on Elections.
Poe, who learned of the SET decision on the way to the University of Perpetual Help System in Biñan, Laguna, smiled as she alighted her vehicle to greet students who chanted her name.
“Thank you. I thought I would be missing you,” she also told reporters who joined her for her Laguna events.
Poe then proceeded to the venue where she and her running mate, Senator Francis Escudero, and some senatorial bets held a dialogue with the students.
During the dialogue, Poe told the crowd she would not forget the University of Perpetual Help System because this was the place where she received the good news about the SET decision.
Earlier that day, while in Calamba, Laguna, Poe shed tears when she spoke about her disqualification case.
“This day is a significant one. Today, the SET will decide if they will disqualify me as senator,” she told Calamba residents.
David scored the senator-judges who voted against his petition by recognizing Poe’s rights as an adopted child.
“The question was constitutional. It was of a legal nature, yet they decided along political lines. It was quite obvious that the decision was based on political accommodation because it’s quite hard for fellow senators to kick out their colleagues by that way,” David told The Standard in an interview.
He said the senators were washing their hands of the issue because the Supreme Court would “definitely” disqualify Poe.
David, who filed several petitions before the Senate Electoral Tribunal and the Commission on Elections on the grounds questioning Poe’s natural-born status and residency, said that he already expected an unfavorable result to his petition from the senator-judges.
“I’ve heard that Senator Villar has already expressed her opinion that she will vote for Poe on a political basis. I already anticipated this. It’s really sad, because our senators should have [recognized] the law before anyone else,” David said.
Earlier, Villar told a radio interview she would use fairness as the basis for her vote.
“Not all of us are lawyers. So some of us will vote for what we think is fair,” she said.
On the other hand, David lauded the decision of the three justices of the Supreme Court, who all voted for Poe’s removal from the Senate.
He said this was a positive development, since he plans to appeal the SET decision before the Supreme Court on the basis of the “grave abuse of discretion” on the part of the senator-judges who voted to dismiss his petition.
“We have to follow the Constitution,” David said. “It’s clear that aside from her being a naturalized citizen because she is a foundling, we have to question her residency.”
“I think the Supreme Court will vote to affirm my petition,” he added.
Officials of the ruling Liberal Party and the opposition United Nationalist Alliance said they saw a tightly contested presidential race with frontrunner Poe still the contender to beat.
But they also said Poe still faced many legal hurdles.
“The SET has already decided on the matter. The Vice President [Jejomar Binay] enjoins everyone to respect the decision,” said Rico Quicho, UNA spokesman.
“Poe’s legal battle is far from over as it is expected that a motion for reconsideration would be elevated to the Supreme Court,” said LP spokesman Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone.
“I congratulate presidential contender Senator Grace Poe... This is democracy at work and allows for a more interesting battle for the presidency,” said House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., LP vice chairman and campaign manager of the party’s tandem of Manuel Roxas II and Robredo.
“We all look forward to a healthy presidential campaign based on performance and platforms rather than mudslinging and character assassination of contenders, so that our voters are allowed to make informed and intelligent choices on who best can lead our nation,” Belmonte added.
LP campaign spokesman and Marikina Rep. Miro Quimbo said the SET decision clearly established that the LP was not part of any conspiracy to have Poe disqualified, as some parties have been saying.
“The lone LP member of the SET, Senator Bam Aquino, voted in her favor. It was Senator Bam’s vote that became decisive in her favor. This only underscores LP’s strong belief that Secretary Mar [Roxas] will win next year’s elections not on the weaknesses of his opponents but on the strength of his experience and untainted reputation,” Quimbo said. With Christine F. Herrera and Maricel V. Cruz
Belmonte said while Poe still has to hurdle Commission on Elections cases filed against her, he said he was confident that a fair decision would be reached.
Senator Binay, the only senator who voted against Poe, said she did so on the basis of the Constitution, and not because her father was running against Poe for the presidency next year. – With Christine F. Herrera and Maricel V. Cruz
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