VOTING 9-6, the Supreme Court on Tuesday declared Senator Grace Poe as a qualified candidate for president in the May 9 elections, reversing the decision of the Commission on Elections to cancel her Certificate of Candidacy over questions about her citizenship and residency.
The Court’s decision to uphold Poe’s status as a natural-born citizen and to affirm that she satisfied the 10-year residency requirement to run for president frees the senator to concentrate on her campaign with 60 days until the elections.
“The Court, voting 9-6, granted the consolidated petitions for certiorari [of Senator Poe], finding that the Comelec gravely abused its discretion in rendering its assailed resolutions,” Court spokesman Theodore Te said in a press conference.
The nine justices who voted to grant Poe’s petitions against the Comelec ruling were Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, and Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Jose Perez, Jose Mendoza, Marvic Leonen, Francis Jardeleza and Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa.
Those who voted to disqualify Poe were Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Arturo Brion, Mariano del Castillo, Bienvenido Reyes and Estela Perlas-Bernabe. Although Brion was on leave, he left his vote to deny Poe’s petitions.
Poe said she cried when she heard the news on the radio, while she was on her way to Liwasang Bonifacio for a celebration of International Women’s Day. The news broke just as her car stopped in front of Quiapo Church.
“The vendors there, whom I always see, [must have been] thinking why my eyes were puffy,” she said. “The news [item] ended when I arrived there [in front of the chuch], so [I thought] I should go down and give thanks.”
She added that the Supreme Court decision was a victory not only for foundlings, but all people who are poor and suffering.
“This is my mission—that the government should afford us protection and equality,” she said.
The Court struck down two separate decisions against Poe.
The first, handed down by the Comelec’s First Division, was in response to petitions filed by former senator Francisco Tatad, De La Salle University professor Antonio Contreras and former University of the East law dean Amado Valdez, questioning her status as a natural-born citizen because she was a foundling.
The second, handed down by the Comelec’s Second Division, cancelled Poe’s Certificate of Candidacy after lawyer Estrella Elamparo challenged her claim to be a resident for the last 10 years.
Te said the decision and separate opinions, both concurring and dissenting, would be released within the week, after the justices decide who will write the majority decision.
In her memorandum to the Supreme Court last month, Poe, the frontrunner in the presidential race, asserted that she met the citizenship and residency requirements to run for president on May 9.
Poe said she did not commit material misrepresentation when she indicated in her CoC that she was a natural-born Filipino citizen and that she will be a resident of the Philippines for 10 years and 11 months by May 9, which is way beyond the 10-year residency requirement for presidential candidates prescribed in the 1987 Constitution.
She said the Comelec decision to cancel her CoC for president was “somewhat premeditated, and that bias and impartiality tainted the Comelec’s acts.”
Poe lamented how the Comelec “changed and manipulated at every turn” the rules of the game in deciding Poe’s case “to achieve the singular objective of denying due course to her CoC, and ultimately, removing her name from the official ballot.”
The senator said the Comelec denied her of her right to due process when it disregarded the overwhelming evidence proving that although a foundling, she is a natural-born citizen and that she has been a resident of the Philippines since May 24, 2005.
“The absence of an impartial tribunal is a denial of due process, and a denial of due process, constitutes grave abuse of discretion,” Poe said.
“Fueled, as they were, by arbitrariness and, at times, by apparent hostility, the Commission’s acts constitute grave abuse of discretion which, Senator Poe humbly submits, are correctible by the extraordinary writ of certiorari which only this honorable court can issue,” Poe said, in her memorandum.
On the issue of citizenship, Poe insisted that the Comelec abused its discretion when it ruled that she had the burden of proving her natural-born citizenship.
A foundling, Poe’s legal counsels said, is a natural-born Filipino citizen based on the generally acceptable principle of international law, which presumes foundlings to be natural-born citizens of the country where they were found.
“As importantly, the burden to prove that petitioner is not a natural-born Filipino citizen rested on the private respondents, because petitioner is presumed by law to be qualified for the office for which she now seeks to run,” Poe’s lawyers said.
On the residency issue, the lawyers said the Comelec “acted whimsically and capriciously, ignored settled jurisprudence and disregarded the evidence on record” when it ruled that Poe made a false material representation as to the period of her residence before the May 9 polls.
“The Comelec had the positive duty to consider and weigh Sen. Poe’s evidence showing that she had reestablished her domicile of choice in the Philippines as early as 24 May 2005,” Poe’s legal team said.
“The Comelec’s refusal to perform this positive duty, and its gross inexcusable misappreciation of Senator Poe’s evidence, are questionably acts of grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction, which warrant setting aside the Comelec’s finding of fact on the issue of Senator Poe’s residence,” they added.
The lawyers also stressed that Poe “acted in good faith” as to the entry in her CoC regarding her residency and that there was no “deliberate intent” on her part to mislead the electorate.
Court records showed that Poe began to settle permanently in the Philippines on May 24, 2005. After that, she enrolled her children in local schools in June 2005, purchased a property in late 2005, constructed her family home in Quezon City in early 2006, and sold their US property in 2006.
In her speech for International Women’s Day, Poe said the decision came at just the right time.
She said it takes compassion to address the many challenges that confront women today, including poverty and the impact of migration on their families.
Poe said 26 percent of Filipino women are poor. In other areas, the poverty incidence among women is even higher: 45 percent in Eastern Visayas and 55 percent in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Should she win the presidency, Poe said she will ensure that women will have greater income and livelihood opportunities. She said she will push for the strict enforcement of the Magna Carta for Women and the passage of the anti-discrimination bill.
Poe said women should not be limited because they have the ability to lead and change society.
Poe’s supporters breathed a sigh of relief over the Court’s decision.
Her spokesman, Valenzuela Mayor Rex Gatchalian, said Poe was grateful to the Supreme Court for deciding in her favor.
“This decision truly shows that our country’s laws protects all but most especially those who are downtrodden,” Gatchalian said in a text message to House reporters.
“Furthermore, this decision is a victory for our democracy because now our voters will truly have a fair elections where they will be allowed to choose from a complete list of candidates. We are calling on our critics to move on and start focusing the discourse on what really matters to our people—platforms of governance,” Gatchalian said.
He said the Poe camp expects a surge in her ratings in the next surveys of voter preferences for president.
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares, a candidate for senator under Poe’s banner, said he was elated over the decision, saying it would give the people more choices for the presidency.
The lawyer for Tatad said they would appeal the Court’s decision.
“The Constitution was bastardized. The people will never accept it. We will file a motion for reconsideration as soon as it becomes official,” said Manuelito Luna, the counsel for Tatad.
He said the decision was “a perfect recipe for chaos.”
Another petitioner De La Salle University professor Antonio Contreras, on the other hand, questioned the manner the Supreme Court reversed the earlier Comelec decision.
“I find it utterly irregular that the Supreme Court should issue a vote without releasing the decision,” DLSU professor Antonio Contreras said over a Facebook post Tuesday.
“This is a highly political move to benefit Poe. This is unprecedented,” he said.
Contreras said that with the Poe ruling would be a legacy of the Sereno-led court, her “decision by installment” is a “strip-tease way of dispensing Justice.”
“Being informed that you lost the vote but not of the basis. Is it on merits? Is it on a technicality,” he added.
The United Nationalist Alliance, on the other hand, said the decision would have no impact on the presidential campaign of its candidate, Vice President Jejomar Binay.
Binay’s spokesman, Rico Quicho, said the Court decision has no bearing in Binay’s campaign.
“The elections is about the candidate who is most qualified to alleviate the country’s poverty and not about who is the opponent,” Quicho said.
The elections are about who is most prepared to address the problem of poverty, and not who is most popular, he added.
“It is only Binay who can address the present predicament the country is facing,” he added.
The camp of administration candidate Manuel Roxas II also played down the decision on Poe.
“We’ve always been prepared to run against Senator Poe,” said Rep. Barry Gutierrez. “We have been campaigning the past few months on the assumption that she was in the race.”
The Liberal Party spokesman congratulated Poe.
“The Supreme Court has ruled, and we congratulate Senator Poe on their decision to let her run as president. We now welcome the verdict of the people come May,” he said.
In Malacañang, President Benigno Aquino III’s spokesman said they need to understand the decision of the Supreme Court before making a comment. With Maricel V. Cruz, Vito Barcelo, Sandy Araneta and John Paolo Bencito
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