Comelec cancels COC; senator to try luck at SC
Embattled Sen. Grace Poe got disqualified not just once, but twice.
This time, the 47-year-old presidential aspirant was deemed ineligible to stand in next year’s elections by the First Division of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) by a vote of 2-1.
The First Division heard the consolidated petitions of former senator Francisco Tatad, political science professor Antonio Contreras and former law school dean Amado Valdez.
Commissioners Rowena Guanzon and Luie Tito Guia voted in favor of the petitioners while Commissioner Christian Robert Lim, the division’s presiding officer, dissented.
Lim submitted an 81-page dissenting opinion while Guia, a veteran election lawyer, attached a separate six-page concurring opinion to the ruling.
Like the earlier ruling handed down by the Second Division, which ruled 3-0, the commissioners ordered the cancelation of her certificate of candidacy (COC).
Poe’s lawyers have filed an appeal on the Second Division ruling before the Comelec en banc.
They are expected to do the same on the First Division’s ruling.
In a 49-page decision, the First Division said Poe committed “material
misrepresentation”in her COC and that she “deliberately attempted to deceive and mislead the electorate” on both her citizenship and residency qualifications.
Citing the 1987 and 1935 Constitutions, as well as relevant laws, the First Division said Poe, “though a Filipino citizen, was not and could not have been a natural-born Filipino because she was adopted as a foundling with unknown biological parents.”
“Yet in complete disregard of what is clear under the law, the Constitution, and jurisprudence, respondent declared in her COC for President that she is a natural-born Filipino citizen who is fully required to run and serve as President of the Philippines,” it added.
It said Poe committed “material misrepresentation” when she declared she would be a resident of the Philippines for 10 years and 11 months by the May 9, 2016 elections.
The First Division said it was not convinced that the six years and six months Poe declared in her COC for senator in 2012 was an honest mistake.
“It is indeed incredible to think that respondent [Poe], a well-educated woman and already then a public servant with full staff support, including a legal team, would not know how to correctly declare the facts material to her candidacy for the 13 May 2013 elections,” it added.
According to the First Division, the form she filled out “is very clear that what was required to be stated therein is the period of residency up to the day of the elections” in 2013.
It pointed out that computed from October 2, 2012, the date Poe provided in her COC for senator is “more or less around” April 2006, which “still does not match respondent’s claim that she has been a resident of the Philippines since 24 May 2005.”
With the ruling of the two divisions, it is almost certain that the seven-man Comelec en banc would also rule against Poe.
In his dissenting opinion, Commissioner Lim voted to deny the verified petition filed by Tatad for availing of the “wrong mode” to assail the eligibility of Poe.
Lim also voted to deny the petition filed by Contreras and the Valdez petition to deny due course and cancel the COC of Poe.
He explained that the Tatad petition must be denied for being violative of Section 78 of the Omnibus Election Code (OEC) and Rule 23 of Comelec Resolution 9523.
“At the outset, it bears to stress the petitioner Tatad availed of the wrong remedy to question respondent Poe’s qualifications for the position of President…,” Lim said.
For the Valdez and Contreras petitions, he cited Sections 74 and 78 of the OEC, which pertain to the contents of COC and on the filing of petition to deny course to or cancel a COC, respectively.
Lim said Poe committed no “material misrepresentation” when she declared in her COC that she has been a resident for 10 years and 11 months immediately preceding the May 9, 2016 elections.
“There can be no dispute as to what the law provides on this matter. The misrepresentation must pertain to a material fact before a certificate of candidacy can be denied or cancelled under Section 78 of the Omnibus Election Code,” he added.
Lim said a misrepresentation of a non-material fact is not a ground to deny due course to or cancel a COC under Section 78.
According to the commissioner, respondent has clearly established the requisites to successfully effect a change of domicile, which includes bodily presence, an intention to remain and intention to abandon old domicile, citing as precedence the Supreme Court pronouncement in the case of Coquilla v. Comelec.
“The totality of the circumstances shows that respondent has been actually and physically residing in the Philippines as of 24 May 2005. Respondent had both intent and actual presence in the country for a period of 10 years and 11 months preceding the 9 May 2016 national elections,” he said.
On Poe’s citizenship, Lim maintained that the senator also committed no misrepresentation in the context of Republic Act (RA) 9225 or the Dual Citizenship Law as raised by Valdez in his petition.
“The [First Division], however, finds nothing on respondent’s certificate of candidacy that shows she based her claim of being a natural-born citizen solely on the fact that she reacquired her Filipino citizenship, and eventually renounced her American citizenship, under Section 3 and 5, respectively of RA 9225,” Lim said.
He expressed belief that foundlings may be considered Philippine citizens, “but they can never be considered natural-born Filipino unless the Constitution itself provides,” saying “no amount of legal juggling will make the respondent a natural-born citizen.”
He, however, added that it was not the issue raised by Valdez and as such the commission cannot render a judgment based on an issue that has not been raised and is not before it.
“The commission, just like other courts, does not have, nor does it acquire, jurisdiction over issues neither raised in the pleadings nor tried with the express or implied consent of the parties,” Lim said.
Poe down but not out
Poe expressed her gladness because the First Division’s decision was not unanimous.
“At least we were able to get one to listen to us and look at our documents and I’m very thankful to him for being fair,” she said.
Poe likened her legal battle to a boxing match and said she is determined to remain standing despite the beating she has been receiving, knowing that what she is fighting for is right.
The senator vowed to take her fight to the Supreme Court and reiterated that she remains a candidate for President until the SC says otherwise.
Meanwhile, Valenzuela City (Metro Manila) Mayor Rex Gatchalian, Poe’s spokesman, continued to insist that the senator is a natural-born Filipino and has met all the necessary requirements to seek the presidency, including the residency requirement.
“It’s unfortunate that the First Division did not see the merits of our legal arguments. We will exhaust all legal remedies. We will elevate this decision to the Comelec en banc.
Poe’s running mate, Sen. Francis Escudero, in a statement, noted that the ultimate decision on whether Poe is qualified rests with the SC.
Escudero said he is optimistic that Poe will achieve justice from the High Court even after the Comelec;s First and Second Divisions voted in favor of a petition to exclude her from the presidential race.
“The Supreme Court cannot and will not choose who our next President will be by disqualification,” he added.
Party-list congressman Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna and Rodel Batocabe of Ako Bicol underscored that Poe remains a presidential candidate because the High Court is the final arbiter of these cases.
Colmenares, the House deputy minority leader, assailed the Comelec for ignoring existing laws that give weight to the Philippine residency of Poe, who has settled in the country since May 2005.
“All is not lost. I just hope and pray that our President will be elected based on the will of the majority, not because of the will of the minority since the preference of the majority has been suppressed [because of the] disqualification of frontrunners,” Batocabe said.
With LLANESCA T. PANTI