Electoral tribunal votes 5-4 junking DQ case
Sen. Grace Poe will get to keep her Senate seat after the nine-member Senate Electoral Tribunal on Tuesday dismissed a petition to disqualify her over her citizenship.
Except for Sen. Nancy Binay, all senator-members of the electoral tribunal voted in favor of their 47-year-old colleague.
Binay, meanwhile was joined in the voting by the three tribunal members from the judiciary, including the tribunal’s chairman, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio of the Supreme Court (SC).
Members of the Senate Electoral Tribunal were tight-lipped on the voting.
But a GMA News Online report quoted tribunal member Sen. Loren Legarda as saying only one vote decided Poe’s fate.
“It was a vote of five to four. Five dismissing the petition of Mr. [Rizalito] David, and four concurring with the petition of Mr. David. In short, five voted to uphold the natural-born citizenship of Sen. Mary Grace Poe Llamanzares, and four voted against that,” Legarda said.
The running mate of Poe’s father, Fernando Poe Jr., in the 2004 elections, she added that she and fellow senators Vicente Sotto 3rd, Pia Cayetano, Cynthia Villar and Paolo Benigno Aquino voted to dismiss the petition of David, a radio commentator.
Sotto was one of the elder Poe’s spokesmen in the 2004 polls.
He is also in the senatorial ticket of Grace Poe who is running for President in next year’s elections. Villar, meanwhile, is the wife of former Senate President Manuel Villar, president of the Nacionalista Party, which had earlier dropped hints that they are supporting Poe’s bid for the presidency.
The four who voted to disqualify Poe were Carpio, Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-de Castro and Arturo Brion and Sen. Binay, daughter of Vice President Jejomar Binay, who is also running for President in 2016.
Poe welcomed the decision of the electoral tribunal that according to her sends a strong message that the Philippines considers itself part of the global community that respects international law.
“More important, their affirmation of my natural-born status upholds the right of all foundlings in the country to the entitlements, services and protection they deserve as full citizens,” she said.
David questioned Poe’s citizenship, arguing that being a foundling, she could not lay claim to being a natural-born citizen–a constitutional requirement for those running for a Senate seat.
He also filed a disqualification case with the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on similar grounds.
David has 10 days to ask the tribunal to reconsider its decision.
Legarda said the tribunal members were advised by Carpio not to discuss the merits of the decision so as not to jeopardize the appeal process.
The Senate Electoral Tribunal, she added, must take a final decision on the case by December 10 or the deadline for the Comelec to print the ballots for the 2016 elections.
David said he will appeal the decision before the High Court as he claimed moral victory in the voting “because the SC justices are in my favor.”
“I will ask the SC to rule on this case with finality,” he added. “It’s confirmed by how the SC justices voted, they know their law and these people voted in my favor.”
According to David, he feels sorry for the senators who voted to deny his petition.
“It’s a pity that our senators failed to rise above their political nature,” he said. “The issue placed before them was constitutional and legal and yet they voted along political lines. Clearly, political accommodation [the decision of the senators],” David added.
Legarda described Tuesday’s voting at the Manila Polo Club at the exclusive Forbes Park in Makati City (Metro Manila) as “very calm, short, friendly.”
No debates preceded the voting.
“We respected each other’s decision,” she said.
The voting was done by raising of hands.
Legarda said two draft decisions were readied.
After the voting, a draft dismissing the petition was distributed to the tribunal members for them to sign.
According to the GMA News report, Legarda said “it was not easy” to vote on the case.
“The most important thing, I think, is this will have a great implication on foundlings. This issue goes beyond Grace Poe. Ito ay makahulugan sa mga ampon na hindi alam ang kanilang pinanggalingan [This is meaningful for those adopted who don’t know who their biological parents are],” she added.
Sotto said both sides presented good points.
He, however, said the main issue that was given weight by the members of the tribunal is the possibility of denying a foundling just because his or her parents are unknown.
“Denying a foundling to be a natural-born citizen when there is no evidence to the contrary is paramount to denying all the young children in the orphanages and all the adopted children in the country. We will be the only country in the world that [will say that]if you are adopted, you are stateless,” Sotto said.
In his separate opinion, he pointed out that it is not the fault of foundlings that their parents abandoned them.
“As the saying goes, which was popularized by late President Ramon Margsaysay, ‘He who has less in life should have more in law,’” Sotto said.
Meanwhile, Sen. Aquino, in his separate opinion submitted to the tribunal, noted that he adheres to principles under the Convention on the Rights of the Children that every child has the right to be born, to have a name and nationality and to have a family who will love and care for the child.
He cited the The Hague Convention of 1930, which provides that a child whose parents are both unknown shall have the nationality of the country where the child is born.
“We cannot deprive these foundlings of their civil and political rights. It is the basic policy set forth in the Convention on the Rights of the Children that the rights of the child should be respected without discrimination of any kind…” Aquino stated in his separate opinion.
Binay, the lone senator who voted to disqualify Poe, maintained that she based her decision on the Constitution and the evidence presented.
“As a senator of the country who was elected and entrusted by the Filipino people to uphold the law, I must make a decision based on the provisions of the Constitution. More than anyone else, a senator of the land must respect the Constitution,” she said.
Sen. Binay noted that politics did not play a part in her decision.
In fact, she said, voting against the petition and allowing Poe to pursue her presidential bid would even be beneficial to her father.
The senator cited the opinion of political analysts that his father has a bigger chance of winning the 2016 elections with more candidates because her father’s core supporters remains intact and, with Poe in the race, votes for other contenders will be split.
“It is clear that we will be violating the Constitution if we don’t disqualify her [Poe],” she said in an interview at the Manila Polo Club.
The camp of Vice President Jejomar Binay said the tribunal’s decision must be respected.
“The [electoral tribunal]has already decided on the matter. The Vice President enjoins everyone to respect the decision,” said Rico Quicho, Binay’s spokesman on political matters
David’s lawyer, Manuelito Luna, said the decision is not binding with the Comelec nor will it have a “controlling” effect on a similar case pending before the poll body’s legal department.
“This [Comelec case] is a criminal proceeding and this is handled by the law department of the Comelec, which is an independent constitutional body. It has its own rules and mandate. There’s no way the decision of [the tribunal]will have a controlling effect,” Luna told The Manila Times.
“However, persuasively, yes but not to control the proceeding at the Comelec, which is an independent constitutional body and has its own protocols to follow,” he said.
Luna explained that the cases with the electoral tribunal and the Comelec are similar in nature but have different effects.
“The one filed in the Comelec was a ‘quo warranto’ case. If Poe is found guilty, she will not only be disqualified as senator but a forgery case will also be filed against her,” he said. “Forgery is a crime.”
The tribunal’s power, on the other hand, is limited only at the most to unseating Poe as a senator.
Quo warranto is a legal proceeding during which an individual’s right to hold an office or government position is challenged.
Luna said he has to review the decision first but “in the event it’s a political decision and the senators disregarded the Constitution then, on the strength of the ruling in Lerias [v. Mercado] case, the SC will set aside the decision.”
Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said the ruling would be definitely looked into by electoral bodies that are handling Poe’s four disqualification cases for President and one for senator.
“The [tribunal’s] ruling will, of course, be taken into consideration by the Comelec divisions hearing the various cases in their own deliberations,” Jimenez added.”At this very moment, however, all we have is information about how the voting went.”
Poe’s case before the Comelec legal department is already up for resolution.
But the decision, whether favorable, would be still subject for review and final approval of the Comelec en banc.
Four other cases seeking to disqualify Poe from running for President have also been filed before the clerk of the commission.
They were separately filed by lawyer Estrella Elamparo, former senator Francisco Tatad, De la Salle University political science professor Antonio Contreras and former University of the East law dean Amado Valdez.
Retired Chief Justice Reynato Puno said any ruling of the tribunal shall be decided by the High Court, the final arbiter.
He added that while it is true that the electoral tribunal is the “sole authority” as to the disqualification case of a senator, the SC has its expanded powers under the 1987 Constitution to review the cases decided by the tribunal on matters of “grave abuse of discretion.”
Puno said the case of Poe being a “foundling” is a case of “first impression” in the SC, adding that there is no ruling yet from the High Court on “foundlings” who sought public office.
“This is a case of first impression. There is no jurisprudence in this case [foundling],” he said.
With JOMAR CANLAS