LET us state the matter clearly and plainly: the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET), which is now hearing the disqualification case against Sen. Grace Poe Llamanzares, is the sole judge of the issue. There is no other arbiter under our constitutional system.
Ironically and strangely, it was Senate President Franklin Drilon, who stirred confusion and controversy when he propounded the totally mistaken opinion that it is the Supreme Court, and not the Senate tribunal, which is the ultimate judge of a senator’s qualifications, or specifically the qualifications of Senator Poe to continue to sit in the Senate.
Instead of guarding the gateway of the upper house, Drilon would fling its doors wide open and let another branch of government decide this important question.
In Section 17, Article VI, our 1987 Constitution expressly provides:
“The Senate and the House of Representatives shall each have an Electoral Tribunal which shall be the sole judge of all contests relating to the election, returns, and qualifications of their respective members. Each electoral tribunal shall be composed of nine members, three of whom shall be justices of the Supreme Court to be designated by the Chief Justice, and the remaining six shall be members of the Senate or the House of Representatives, as the case may be, who shall be chosen on the basis of proportional representation from the political parties and the parties or organizations registered under the party-list system represented therein. The senior justice in the electoral tribunals shall be its chairman.”
It is necessary to recall the letter and spirit of this constitutional provision in light of Drilon’s proferred opinion.
Creating an issue where there is none
So far as the wording goes, the provision could not be clearer. The Senate Electoral Tribunal is “the sole judge” — not one of several, but the only judge – of the qualifications of members of the Senate.
This is the tribunal that is now hearing the disqualification case against Senator Poe. It is chaired by Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio.
Drilon’s unsolicited opinion seeks to create an issue where there is none. It appears designed to curry the favor of Senator Poe and her supporters because Drilon will be running for reelection in 2016. It has no legal footing to stand on.
According to Atty. Harry Roque Jr, writing in the Standard, there is only one case on record where the Supreme Court interfered and disturbed the ruling of an Electoral Tribunal, the so-called Lerias case. In that case, the high court interfered because the partisan voting of the politicians, who were members of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal, thwarted the true will of the electorate in the lone district of Southern Leyte.
Absent such obvious partisanship, the Supreme Court has strictly adhered and honored the constitutional provision that the electoral tribunals shall be the “sole Judge” of all electoral contests in both houses of Congress.
Speedy resolution of Poe’s case is a must
In the Poe disqualification case, the counsel and political allies of the senator want the case to be taken over by the SC, because in this way the deliberation process can be prolonged and argued no end, so Ms. Poe can remain in the Senate. And a different set of opinions – the thinking of all justices – will decide on the senator’s case.
This way also, they hope to see the case overrun by the 2016 elections, wherein Senator Poe hopes to run for president.
This speculative tactic should be tamped down at once, because it does not serve our constitutional system of government and does not help to advance the rule of law in our country.
By keeping sole jurisdiction over the Poe disqualification case, the Senate Tribunal will be able to deliberate freely and reach a speedy resolution of the case. It will serve the 2016 electoral process by resolving early the important question of Senator Poe’s citizenship status – and by extension, shed legal light also on her qualifications to run for the highest office of the land.