WHILE the majority of us in Metro Manila are seeing their work and pay, their studies, and their mobility suspended or curtailed for the whole week on account of the APEC leaders’ meeting, the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) will posture today as a conscientious body by meeting at the Manila Polo Club and hammering out in haste a decision on the disqualification case of Sen. Grace Poe.
No earth-shaking development – not the meeting of 21 heads of state in our capital, not the fresh eruption of global terrorism in Paris, and no catastrophe – will deter these dedicated public servants from doing their duty, because that is how serious they are about their jobs.
Sound reasons for delay
Several members of the tribunal have urged the body to defer its decision for a week or so, but the meeting today will reportedly push through on the insistence of SET chairman, SC Justice Antonio Carpio.
We thought the reasons for deferment were sound because some senator members averred that they needed more time to study thoroughly the complexities of the case and the issues, and that their staffs need sufficient time to research and develop for them a cogent position on the case.
By contrast, we think the reason for rushing a vote today is unbelievably inane and trivial. The SET spoksperson said the tribunal must meet and decide today because Associate Justice Antonio Carpio is insisting on it. He is leaving for the Netherlands tomorrow, and he will not be back in Manila until December.
What is so sacred and important about Justice Carpio’s travel schedule that the tribunal must rush its judgment on senator Poe’s case, and not afford its members sufficient time to study the case? Why should he not be the one to adjust instead of the other members. If the good justice’s business in the Natherlands is an important matter of state (involving presumably the Philippines’ arbitration case at the Hague), so are the tribunal’s deliberations on Senator Poe’s predicament, because a credible SET decision will bear weight in the Commission on Elections’ own deliberations on the various disqualification cases filed against Senator Poe’s candidacy for president in the 2016 elections.
From what we know of the state of preparedness of the senator members of SET, we are not persuaded that during the weekend they suddenly became more enlightened and ready to submit a judicious verdict on the case today.
A matter of law, not politics
From the beginning of this controversial case, we have always maintained that the issue of Senator Poe’s qualification to sit in the Senate is a matter of law, not of politics.
It is a matter of law because our Constitution explicitly and clearly defines the qualifications for election and membership in the Senate, in section 3, article VI. Whether those qualifications and conditions are met must be established by facts and documents, not by arguments of presumption or publicity.
The issue is, secondly, not a matter of politics because the number of votes Senator Poe received in the 2013 elections is irrelevant in this disqualification case. They do not help in proving that she, in fact, is qualified to sit in the Senate.
Her qualification or disqualification is not a matter of politics, because her political affiliation and the political affiliation of the SET senator members have no bearing whatever on Senator Poe’s being a natural-born citizen of the Philippines.
Each of the senator members, no less than the judiciary members, of the Senate Electoral Tribunal owes our people their wise and well-considered judgment on this case, based on the merits of Rizalito David’s petition for disqualification, and Ms. Poe’s defense.
Extraneous considerations, like the lobbying of certain individuals or groups or the offer of inducements, would be foul.
At an earlier meeting of the tribunal, we thought Justice Carpio deftly underlined the importance of the issues in this case, in a way that the public and the media could understand.
Now, by forcing the tribunal to rush to judgment, we fear that he has muddled the issues.
He could unwittingly bring about a situation where tribunal members will decide on the case along political lines, instead of on the legal merits.
They will approach the case with the 2016 elections in mind, and not with the wisdom and legal correctness of the Senate in mind.
The point we want to underscore is this. This case concerns the Philippine Senate and the 2013 elections, and not the forthcoming 2016 elections. This perspective must be kept in mind.
By giving each tribunal member time for deliberation and study, he or she will have time to form a well-considered judgment of the issues and can vote accordingly. Their statements explaining their votes will withstand public and media scrutiny, because it will be based on sound arguments on the facts and the law.
Based on these considerations, we submit that it is better for Justice Carpio to be inconvenienced in his travels, than for the nation to be saddled with a less than enlightened or fair decision on Senator Poe’s disqualification case.