Senate tribunal is sole judge of Poe’s disqualification case

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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.

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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.

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18 Comments

  1. Leodegardo Pruna on

    The final arbiter is the Supreme Court which is why the SC is called the Court of Last Resort. How can the SET have the final say when its composition is mostly politicians who have no knowledge of law and if ever it has only believes in votes and whatever hocus-PCOS there is.Should we entrust our only rights to the politicians? God bless the Philippines.

  2. Really!. All what the losing party would allege to the Supreme Court is “grave abuse of discretion”. Because it is a case of historical importance and precedent setting, the Supreme Court will accept the case “pronto” It is quite understandable. Any SC Justice would like to be remembered in the annals of legal history. And the Poe case offeres that opportunity. So there goes your SET (is the only one) decision, either would be affirmed or thrown out by the SC.

  3. Really!. All what the losing party would allege to the Supreme Court is “grave abuse of discretion (it would be 6-3; senators vs justices at the SET)”. Because it is a case of historical importance and precedent setting, the Supreme Court will accept the case “pronto” It is quite understandable. Any SC Justice would like to be remembered in the annals of legal history. And the Poe case offers that opportunity. So there goes your SET (is the only one) decision, either would be affirmed or thrown out by the SC.

  4. The Constitutional power of the Supreme Court to exercise its power of judicial review over the judgment of SEnate Elevtoral Tribunal (SET) is available only WHEN the Vertiorari Petition alleged in its pleading that the SET judgment was arrived at only due to “GRAVE ABUSE oF DISCRETION amounting to lack of or in excess of jurisdiction”. However, such allegation must be supported by factual evidence or showing of a particular act of grave abuse of discretion that is equivalent to lack of or in excess of jurisdiction.
    The question is…. When is a SET judgment resulted from a grave abuse of its discretion amounting to lack or in excess of its jurisdiction in order for the Supreme Court to exercise its judicial power of review the SET decision? Note that the requirement to have the element of “grave” abuse must be met to permit the SC to entertain the Certiorari and resolve the main issue brought before the tribunal ( in this case “whether or not Poe is a natural born citizen”) .
    Here would the burden of proof lies on the Petitioner (Rizalito David) or respondent (Grace Poe) to bear the burden of proving “natural born citizenship status”. Under the Rules of Court,
    The burden of evidence is upon the party who has to prove “positive” evidence which must be Poe to show she IS a natural born as required by the qualification of the office (Senator). The party who alleged a “negative” evidence need not prove his negative allegation (here “NOT natural-born) by David. Based on this legal precept of evidence required by the Rules of Court, IF SET by a vote of majority, 6/3, RULES and adjudged that Grace Poe is a Filipino natural born citizen for failure of David, the Peyitioner to prove that Poe is NOT a natural born citizen (though David is not legally obliged so to prove its negative assertion) and even though Poe did not prove or submit the DNA findings of her Filipino parentage (as required of a natural born).
    With such ruling the SET then consequently dismiss the Petition of David. I consider this act as a ” GRAVE abuse of discretion amounting to lack or in excess of jurisdiction) , which Petitioner David can appeal to SC and for which SC can acquire legal and proper judicial jurisdiction to review such SET judgment.
    In the same manner, Grace Poe may appeal to SC if SET disregard the favorable findings of her parental parentage by DNA test properly done in accordance with SET DNA procedure, since ignoring such DNA favorable result amounts to “grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or in excess of its jurisdiction”. The SC may then rule on the main issue of “natural born status” of respondent Poe, in same manner SC can decide, in either case, on David’s appeal above-described.

  5. For sure the losing party will cry “grave abuse of discretion”. That is all that is needed to get the case to the Supreme Court. The case being a very important and precedent setting one, the SC will be more than accommodating to hear the case. The Justices would like their name to be remembered in the annals of legal history of this country. And who wouldn’t? The case would be the talk of legal experts and luminaries for eons to come particularly if it favors Poe who will then go on to win the presidency.Win or lose, nobody will rememberRizalito David after the May 2016 elections.

  6. During the oral arguments, most of the senator members of the SET asked questions which are not even relevant to the issue of citizenship. Some of them even tried to drum-up support and sympathy for foundlings and made it appear that Grace Poe is a victim of discrimination. Whereas, in contrast, there was intellectual exchange of point of view among the 3 justices and the counsels for the petitioner and respondent based on the Constitution and the presumptions of the international laws. I wonder how the senators will vote on the issue if they seem to not clearly understand it. However, they do outnumber the justices by 6 to 3.

  7. True indeed that the SET is the ‘sole judge’ that will decide on Poe’s fate, but Sen. Drilon is alsp correct on saying that the SC will ultimately decide on the matter due to its constitutionally conferred power of judicial review. Any party who will be aggrieved in the SETs decision can always elevate the matter to the SC, thru a petition for certiorari, claiming a grave abuse pf discetion on the part of the SET that would amount to lack or in excess of jurisdiction.

  8. Mario San Antonio on

    The Supreme Court can still review the case if grave abuse of discretion is alleged, hence SET’s ruling is appeallable despite the constitutional provision regarding its being the ‘sole judge’…

  9. Mariano Patalinjug on

    Yonkers, New York
    25 September 2015

    This Editorial of the Manila Times ought to put to rest the question whether it is the Senate Electoral Tribunal or the Supreme Court which has the constitutional authority to rule on the disqualification case against Senator GRACE POE LLAMANZARES.

    It is, indeed, the SET on which the Constitution SOLELY reposes this responsibility and authority.

    I have to take note of the fact, however, that Justice ANTONIO CARPIO, the chairman of the Senate Electoral Tribunal, has already publicly declared that Grace Poe Llamanzares is a “naturalized” Filipino citizen, and not a “natural born Filipino citizen.”

    MARIANO PATALINJUG
    patalinjugmar@gmail.com

  10. i agree as far as her being a senator that SET has sole jurisdiction. but running as president is another matter…

  11. Jose A. Oliveros on

    And I wish to add that being the SOLE JUDGE of all questions regarding – among others – the qualifications of members of the Senate, the Supreme Court will only exercise its power to review, revise or modify the decision of the Senate Electoral Tribunal if there is a showing that the SET committed a GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION amounting to lack or in excess of jurisdiction. Note that it is not mere abuse of discretion but GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION

    • The principle of double jeopardy is not anymore respected should SC interfere. The abuse of SET member/s is a question on qualification of its members as designated by the Chief Justice and not a question of the qualification of Grace Poe as Senator and as presidential candidate. The proper course is for the Chief Justice to act on question who has the original authority of SET formation and existence.

  12. Of course, this piece proceeds from the belief that both parties will accept the ruling of the Senate Electoral tribunal, hence there is no issue as of the moment.

    However, whether the decision of the SET is acceptable or not depends on the parties concerned. Either Poe can elevate her case to the Supreme Court if the decision will be adversed to her or David can also file a Petition for Review if the decision of the SET will be in favor of Poe. David has only to allege and prove “grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or in excess of jurisdiction.” This is in accordance with the expanded jurisdiction of the Supreme ‘Court based on the provision of the new Constitution. Noticed that Roque cited a case where the Supreme Court interfered with the SET ruling. So, this piece belies itself.

    • paki basa ulit yung sinabi ni roque at kung bakit nakialam ang supreme court. at kung interesado ka yung article ni atty roque ay published yesterday ng manila standard.

    • “Partisan voting” is a form of grave abuse of discretion. The Lerias Electoral Tribunal, as the SC saw it was decided based on political partisanship voting, not from the facts or law applicable to the case. That is the simplest case of grave abuse of discretion.