On the Supreme Court’s last full working day of the year, it received two petitions for certiorari (“with Extremely Urgent Application for Ex Parte Issuance of Temporary Restraining Order/Status Quo Ante Order and/or Writ of Preliminary Injunction”) to stop the Commission on Elections from enforcing its controversial decisions canceling Sen. Grace Poe’s certificate of candidacy for president. A few hours after receipt, the Court issued the TROs, and set oral arguments for Jan. 19.
The fast action by the Court means that Poe’s presidential candidacy has won an important reprieve; assailed on two counts, that of citizenship and that of residency, Poe can at least start the new year assured that her name will likely still be included in the ballot.
The latest estimates suggest that the Comelec will need to prepare the final ballot before the end of the third week of January, between Jan. 18 and 20. Since the Court can rule on the case only after the oral arguments, and since it will probably take at least a few days to write and promulgate a decision, the TROs effectively mean that Poe’s place on the ballot has been saved.
This is not a legal consequence, merely a logistical one, but it represents a real victory for the Poe campaign.
The Comelec en banc had voted on Dec. 23 to uphold the resolution of its first division canceling Poe’s COC because of the failure to meet the constitutionally prescribed qualifications of a presidential candidate, based on a petition signed by ex-senator Francisco Tatad and two other private citizens. The en banc also affirmed the resolution of its second division canceling the senator’s certificate because of Poe’s alleged failure to meet the 10-year residency requirement, based on a petition by lawyer Estrella Elamparo. The Dec. 23 en banc resolution was to take effect five days after, “unless restrained by the Supreme Court.”
The Court, speaking through Clerk of Court Felipa B. Anama, obliged.
“A temporary restraining order is issued, effective immediately and until further orders from this Court, ordering you, respondent Comelec, your agents, representatives or persons acting in your place or stead, to cease and desist from implementing the assailed Comelec en banc resolution.”
Now—as every other observer has predicted—the battle has shifted to the field where it was headed all along. How will the justices decide?
We air the perhaps naive hope that the justices will decide with the Comelec calendar in mind; perhaps it is not possible to expect the Court to reach a consensus on the same day as the oral arguments, but we share the belief of many that the faster the decision-making, the better for all concerned. This will be true, even if the decision is ultimately adverse for Poe. The faster, the better.
We share Poe’s conviction that the question of her citizenship affects many other foundlings like her, and that therefore her case should be heard by the Supreme Court. We do not necessarily share her argument, however, that disqualifying her deprives the Filipino electorate of the freedom of choice. Of one choice, yes, but not of the right itself to choose.
We note that various legal luminaries have given contrasting opinions, but also that the three justices serving on the Senate Electoral Tribunal share the same opinion (that Poe is a naturalized Filipino citizen, and therefore ineligible to serve as president). The issue continues to be controversial, because Poe remains a popular candidate. The situation, in other words, is ready-made for the Supreme Court.
Once before, the Court made the mistake of too loosely interpreting the strictures of the Constitution and allowed ex-president Joseph Estrada to run for reelection, on the grounds that the people are entitled to make their own choice. This argument has been advanced again and again in Poe’s case (and it will be circulated again if Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s presidential candidacy also ends up at the Court). But the Constitution is there to be followed; true justice lies in giving life to it.