SENATOR Grace Poe and Mayor Rodrigo Duterte of Davao City both faced disqualification from the May 9 presidential race because of “honest mistakes.”
But a few days ago, a Commission on Elections (Comelec) panel allowed Duterte to pursue his bid by dismissing all four petitions for his disqualification, while Poe continues to slug it out in the Supreme Court for her joint appeals to reverse the rulings of the poll body on the four petitions to cancel her certificate of candidacy (CoC).
Well, the petitions for their disqualification largely differ on their nature. While those who wanted Duterte out of the upcoming presidential race have cited erroneous entries in the CoC of the candidate he is substituting for, those against Poe raise insufficiencies in her status as a Filipino citizen and her residency in the Philippines.
The matter is not about Poe’s charms and courteous manner of speaking, against Duterte’s “dirty” mouth and movements and dictatorial tone.
Duterte’s problem was about form, while that of Poe concerned substance. I think the Comelec exercised laxity in scrutinizing Duterte’s problem over technicality, but dealt strictly with the substance of the case involving Poe.
It did not matter that Duterte substituted for a candidate who could have been declared a nuisance had he not withdrawn before Comelec could declare him so, and that candidate, who used to be a chairman of a barangay where I lived in Quezon City, did not file for President but for the mayor of Pasay City.
Poe has claimed it was an honest mistake that she wrote in her CoC for her 2013 senatorial bid that she had been residing in the country for six years and six months as of May 13, 2013.
Based on that, it would make her stay in the country short by seven months to meet the minimum 10-year requirement for the presidency under the Constitution.
Apart from her residency, the status of her Filipino citizenship is likewise in question. The Comelec said she did not revert to her natural-born status when she reacquired her Filipino citizenship in 2006.
Under the 1987 Constitution, natural-born Filipinos are those “who are citizens of the Philippines from birth without having to perform any act to acquire or perfect their Philippine citizenship.”
From the beginning, Martin Diño, a former chairman of Barangay San Antonio in San Francisco del Monte, Quezon City, did not show enthusiasm about running for president but had made his intention clear that he was filing for Duterte.
Diño was among 130 presidential aspirants who filed their CoCs at the Comelec during the October 12 to 16 filing period.
But as the Comelec was beginning to weed out the nuisance among the aspirants, Diño quickly withdrew his CoC and nominated Duterte as his substitute candidate.
Diño pulled a fast one on Comelec and effectively extended the period of filing for Duterte, who was a reluctant candidate, until December 10, 2015. Duterte missed the October 12 to 16 filing period because he refused to heed calls for him to seek the presidency, repeatedly insisting that he was not interested in becoming a President.
Were the petitions against Duterte really weak and those against Poe strong? By simply looking at the roll of petitioners, those who want Poe out of the presidential race are lawyers with reputable positions in society while those against Duterte were little known and less influential personalities.
Political science professor Antonio Contreras, former University of the East (UE) law school Dean Amado Valdez, former Senator Francisco Tatad and private lawyer Estrella Elamparo raised serious questions on Poe’s residency and citizenship status.
Poe faced and won a round in the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) – composed of three Supreme Court justices and six senators – that dismissed a petition filed by fellow presidential aspirant Rizalito David, a defeated senatorial candidate in the 2013 elections, which Poe surprisingly topped. David wanted Poe to be unseated as a senator based on similar questions about her residency and Filipino citizenship.
Five of Poe’s colleagues in the SET voted in her favor, defeating the position of the three SC justices – Antonio Carpio, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, and Arturo Brion – and Sen. Nancy Binay, daughter of Vice President and opposition standard-bearer Jejomar Binay.
Those who petitioned Duterte’s disqualification were David, broadcaster Ruben Castor, student leader John Paulo delas Nieves and Elly Pamatong, who had been declared a nuisance either as a presidential or senatorial aspirant in previous elections. Their petitions were dismissed for lack of merit. In short, the questions raised were weak, and would not stand legal scrutiny.
Besides, Castor and delas Nieves failed to appear for the preliminary conference at the Comelec.
“We’d like to announce that the First Division has ruled that ‘The Punisher’ will live to die another day,” Commissioner Christian Robert Lim, the panel chairperson, said on February 3. “Today, the First Division has ruled to deny all the petitions filed against Mayor Rodrigo D. Duterte.”
“We’ve threshed out all the issues, discussed by the petitioners, and ruled on them. It was a unanimous decision of the First Division,” he added.
Aside from Lim, the First Division also includes Commissioners Luie Tito Guia and Rowena Guanzon.
Guanzon—who the Duterte camp had asked to inhibit from the case—noted the petitioners’ point in her dissent on how Duterte managed to have his withdrawal of CoC for the mayoralty race in Davao City and his CoC for the presidency notarized at the same time on the same day. It may have been possible that he did so in Davao City on the first working hour then flew to Manila and beat the last working hour in Pasig City. But news reports said there was no explanation on how Duterte did not.
Despite technical errors in Duterte’s application for candidacy, the Comelec did not find “material misrepresentation” that could have been a ground for the cancellation of his CoC for President. In a 50-page resolution, it said the discrepancies pointed out in the petitions were “immaterial and irrelevant” to Duterte’s “valid” filing and substitution for Dino.
In the case of Poe, two panels of the poll body, and subsequently affirmed in an en banc decision, found her committing “material misrepresentation” in her erroneous declaration of her residency and on her claim of being a natural-born Filipino citizen.
“The Commission (First Division), however, does not find this implausible or improbable, because it is a matter of judicial notice that the travel time from Manila to Davao City, via an airplane, lasts only a maximum of two hours, and with hourly flights available, the probability is high that respondent Duterte had had these two documents notarized and submitted to the offices concerned on the same day,” the Comelec, in its resolution, assumed in the absence of proof from the Duterte camp.
The Comelec also said that Duterte’s first filing of CoC for re-election “does not contradict his bona fide intent to become a candidate for president,” citing rules that provide that a candidate who fielded two or more CoCs “may choose one of which he or she shall be eligible for” and cancel the others via a sworn declaration.
It said that while Diño “erroneous(ly)” wrote “Mayor of Pasay City” in the declaration of candidacy, he used a CoC intended for those who wish to run for president, and had “related documents,” particularly a certificate of nomination and acceptance (Cona) from PDP-Laban, fielding him as its presidential candidate.
Also, it pointed out that Diño is not a resident of Pasay City, and that he filed his CoC with the Comelec law department at the main office in Manila, which only accepted certificates for the positions of President, vice president and senator.
In the resolution dismissing Duterte’s disqualification, the Comelec said that Diño’s intent to run for President was clear despite the error in his CoC.
But isn’t Poe’s intent to run for President much clearer than Diño’s or Duterte’s?
The poll body’s separate resolutions on the disqualification of Duterte and Poe clearly showed that the application of legal provisions could be lenient in form but meticulously strict in substance, regardless if it was an honest mistake.
Meantime, let’s enjoy watching the Supreme Court justices and Poe’s lawyer flesh out arguments on the rights of foundlings, and how Filipino citizen’s natural-born status can be given up for convenience and have it restored, also for convenience and power.