Electoral tribunal junks radioman’s appeal, fight shifts to High Court
THE Senate Electoral Tribunal on Thursday upheld its decision dismissing a quo warranto petition that sought to nullify the proclamation of Grace Poe as one of the winners in the 2013 senatorial elections.
The nine-member electoral tribunal earlier in November voted 5-4 dismissing the petition that had been filed by radio commentator Rizalito David.
David, who was unsuccessful in his senatorial bid in 2013, wants to get the 47-year-old senator unseated, arguing that she failed to satisfy the constitutional requirement for a senator to be a natural-born citizen and a resident of the country for 10 years.
Saying he would elevate the case to the Supreme Court (SC), the radio man claimed that for being a foundling with no known biological Filipino parents, Poe could not claim to be a natural-born citizen.
David also questioned Poe’s period of residency, which he also claimed was short of what the 1987 Constitution requires.
The Senate Electoral Tribunal, during its pre-trial conference in September, decided to focus on the issue of whether Poe is a natural-born Filipino after SC Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio managed to convince David to withdraw the residency issue in view of the prescriptive period provided for by tribunal rules, particularly Section 18, which states that a quo warranto case must be filed within 10 days after proclamation.
The three justice-members of the electoral tribunal—SC Associate Justices Carpio, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro and Arturo Brion—were unanimous in their dissent and agreed with David’s assertion that Poe is not a natural-born citizen.
Except for Sen. Nancy Binay who went with the minority, all senator-members of the tribunal voted to save their fellow lawmaker.
Among the members of the Senate Electoral Tribunal who voted to junk David’s petition were Senators Vicente Sotto 3rd, Loren Legarda, Paolo Benigno Aquino 4th, Cynthia Villar and Pilar “Pia” Cayetano.
Sotto–the most senior senator–is running for reelection under Poe’s ticket.
Sen. Binay’s father, Vice President Jejomar Binay, is contesting the presidency in next year’s elections and would likely go head-to-head with Poe, who is leading pre-election surveys for President.
Voting on the original ruling remained the same.
The majority decided to dismiss David’s appeal since there were no new arguments raised, Sotto said.
“We took up the approval of the previous meeting and then the issue of the motion for reconsideration was discussed and [Senior Associate] Justice Antonio Carpio, the chairman, asked us if any of us will be changing our votes,” he told reporters.
“We upheld our previous decision because no new issues were raised,” Aquino 4th saiVd.
The ruling of the Senate Electoral Tribunal came two days after the Commission on Elections (Comelec) Second Division decided to cancel Poe’s certificate of candidacy (COC) for President for “material misrepresentation.”
The senator faces five disqualification cases before the Comelec, all assailing her citizenship and residency claims.
Ruling on the petition of lawyer Estrella Elamparo, the Second Division, headed by Commissioner Al Parreño, said Poe did not provide true information in her COC, specifically the 10-year residency and citizenship requirements.
Poe’s lawyers on Tuesday said they would appeal the ruling before the Comelec en banc and even all the way to the Supreme Court.
Sotto said Comelec commissioners should also consider the decision of the electoral tribunal when it deliberates on Poe’s appeal, which her lawyers would file on Monday, December 7.
“I believe that is it only proper for the Comelec to take into consideration the [tribunal’s] ruling,” he added.
Sotto noted that although legal experts are divided on the issue, those saying that Poe is a natural-born citizen outnumber those saying that she is not.
He said David had failed to prove that Poe is not a natural-born Filipino.
In a statement, the radio commentator criticized the five senators who denied his motion.
“We just have to blame ourselves for electing into office legislators who should have the basic knowledge of the tenets of the law, but are actually either totally ignorant or totally intellectually dishonest,” David said.
Carpio said the three justice-members of the electoral tribunal would not participate in the deliberations and in the voting should Poe’s case reach the Supreme Court.
“We cannot take part in the review of our own decision. We will have to inhibit, the three of us, when this is brought to the Supreme Court,” he added.
Senate President Franklin Drilon, in a radio interview, said the SC should immediately act on Poe’s disqualification case once it reaches the High Court as the Comelec would be pressed for time for the printing of ballots.
The inclusion of Poe’s name in the ballot depends on the final decision the SC.
The Senate president said the SC, if needed, should defer its Christmas break and resolve the cases first.
Poe’s lawyer said chances that the Comelec en banc would reverse the Second Division’s ruling are slim.
George Garcia explained this is why they have been pushing for the consolidation of all disqualification cases against the senator.
“It’s one of the reasons why we wanted the cases consolidated. Our cases would be elevated to the Comelec en banc and whatever the decision of the First Division on the remaining three cases, that would be an indication of what would be the voting in the Comelec en banc,” Garcia told reporters after he filed three separate memoranda with formal offer of evidence.
He disclosed that he is also trying to determine if it is legal for members of the two Comelec divisions to participate in the en banc process.
“I don’t think it’s right for Comelec commissioners who already took part in the division process to also participate in the en banc,” Garcia said. “You can’t review your own work.”
“So I will look into its propriety. At least it’s not about character or about credibility. Our issue is all about procedure and violation of the Constitution if ever,” he added in Filipino.
“Of course, we will still focus on the issue why the Comelec division did not consider our evidence, we have lots of evidence to prove [Poe’s] residency but none has been discussed,” Garcia said.
He expressed belief that the decision of the Second Division would have an influence on the First Division.
In Poe’s three separate memoranda, she sought the dismissal of the three petitions seeking her disqualification to run for President in 2016 “for lack of merit.”
The three other petitions were filed by former senator Francisco Tatad, former law school dean Amado Valdez and De La Salle University political science professor Antonio Contreras.
The petitions of Tatad and Valdez dwell on Poe’s citizenship and residency requirements while Contreras’ is only limited to the residency issue.