Senator Grace Poe’s victory in the Supreme Court was supposed to boost her campaign. Yet in the latest Pulse Asia survey done after the justices voided the Commission on Elections decision canceling her certificate of candidacy, her rating dropped, while that of Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte gained.
Perhaps Poe’s recent TV ads anticipating her High Court win had already boosted her grade, so when the decision came, its impact was limited. Even if her grade rose, the remaining time before the May 9 polls is longer than it took trailing candidates to catch up and win past elections.
Between March 19 and May 4, 2004, then President Gloria Arroyo passed erstwhile topnotcher Fernando Poe Jr. in the Social Weather Stations survey, rising from 2 percentage points behind to 7 ahead, equivalent to a lead of 2 million votes. In about the same period, March 22 to May 3, 2010, then Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay leapt from 21 percent to 37 percent, tying with Mar Roxas, who slid from 42 percent.
But the real caveat to the High Court’s boost for Poe’s Palace bid comes if and when she looks set to win.
Delaying the count
If she garners top votes in unofficial Comelec and citizens’ counts, lawmakers backing her rivals could petition Congress, which conducts the official canvassing for president and vice-president, not to start until the “prejudicial question” of Poe’s citizenship, as the lawmakers might call it, is definitively settled by the Supreme Court.
Like the Comelec motion for reconsideration on the DQ case, filed last week, anti-Poe lawmakers could cite the dissenting opinion of Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio in her DQ case. He believed there was no majority of participating justices voting to declare her a natural-born Filipino, as required by Court rules.
Depending on what the dominant coalition in Congress wants, the lawmakers’ petition to defer canvassing may or may not prosper. If it does, Poe might then petition the Supreme Court to compel Congress to begin its official count. If the SC accepts the petition, it could pit the Judicial branch against the Legislative.
What if the High Court resolves the Comelec MR by voting with a clear majority to declare Poe a natural-born citizen? It may discourage lawmakers seeking to delay the count, but they could still press the citizenship issue if only to focus public attention on it, in case it is again questioned if and when Poe is declared winner.
More lobbying ahead
Why would her qualifications come up again when they were already ruled upon in her DQ case? One reason is that the Comelec decision overturned by the High Court did not disqualify Poe as President, but merely canceled her certificate of candidacy because the COC allegedly contained false information regarding her citizenship and her residency.
The SC voted on those qualifications, but its 9-6 ruling merely declared that Poe did not willfully enter untruths in her COC and should be allowed to run.
Her qualifications as President may be questioned only if she is officially proclaimed by Congress. That challenge may be filed with the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, made up of all SC justices.
Won’t Their Honors just repeat their voting on the DQ case and throw out PET petitions questioning Poe’s presidential qualifications?
Maybe, maybe not. Magistrates can change their views, especially if they were based not on bare facts—there was no question that Poe’s biological parents were unknown—but on which legal principles to use in deciding her citizenship.
Seven justices gave value to the near-certainty that a foundling in Iloilo had Filipino parents. The five dissenters wanted those parents identified and their citizenship verified with zero doubt—impossible for a foundling.
Could those favoring the first approach be persuaded to swing to the second in a PET petition against Poe?
By then, there would be even more intense machinations than in the DQ case, since at stake would be not just who runs for President, but the presidency itself.
That means far more lobbying power and resources brought to bear, not just on whether Poe could be President, but also on who would take her place if she is DQ’d.
President vs. Vice-President vs. second-placer
So besides Poe supporters and detractors battling over her citizenship, the PET case, if adjudicated, would ignite another and probably more intense contest: Who succeeds if the President-elect is disqualified — the Vice-President-elect or the second-placer in the presidential race?
In local election cases over the decades, when winners were disqualified due to ineligibility, the Supreme Court repeatedly changed rulings, favoring the vice-mayor in most cases, and the second-placer in some, as researched by Atty. John Carlo Gil Sadian of the Center for Strategy, Enterprise and Intelligence (CenSEI).
In the 1912 case Topacio vs. Paredes, the SC ruled against the second placer. In Santos vs. Comelec in 1985, the High Court abandoned the Topacio doctrine and installed the No. 2 candidate.
Four years later in Labo vs. Comelec, the Court overturned Santos and reinstated Topacio, so the Baguio City vice-mayor succeeded the DQ’d mayor. Rulings in 1992 up to 2010 also barred the No. 2 from taking over.
However, CenSEI’s Sadian notes, in the latest decision on Maquiling vs. Comelec just in 2013, the Supreme Court once again abandoned the Topacio and Labo doctrines and installed the second-placer in the Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte, mayoralty races after the winner was disqualified on citizenship grounds.
Under this latest ruling, votes cast in favor of a candidate eventually declared ineligible are disregarded, making the second-placer the top vote-getter and, therefore, the winner.
Whoever gets the PET nod must hope there is no further ruling change. Hence, a Tribunal-installed President must be nice to the Supreme Court. And no prizes for guessing the first question which that future leader would ask nominees to the SC.
Through all this, some justices might sigh that life would have been simpler if one name were not on the ballot. Or smile that personages packing power and pesos are constantly beating a path to their chambers.