‘Advance’ Comelec ruling on Poe defies PH Constitution
Letter-writer Rudy Coronel limned how Supreme Court Justice Marvic Leonen was being inconsistent in his thoughts about certain issues (“SC justice can’t make up his mind,” Opinion, 2/4/16).
Coronel noted that while Justice Leonen took vigorous exception to his fellow justices’ “compassion” in voting to grant bail to Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile on “humanitarian grounds,” which was not in accordance with law and undermined judicial stability, he had no problem waxing sentimental about the citizenship issue against Sen. Grace Poe and practically appealed for compassion himself regardless of what the law may be—even calling attention to his own plight as an abandoned child!
Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno joined him by raising serious concern for the fate of other foundlings in the country.
Be that as it may, and with due respect, the principal issue before the Supreme Court, in review of the Commission on Election’s rulings in the cases for cancellation of Poe’s certificate of candidacy (COC) for president due to fraudulent misrepresentation, is whether or not she deliberately (i.e., knowingly) lied when she declared in her COC that she is a “natural-born.”
To that debate-laden conundrum, Inquirer columnist Oscar Franklin Tan outlined what seemed to us to be the most acceptable solution emanating from Justice Jose Perez: “(T)here can be no misrepresentation on an unresolved legal issue” (“Sereno reshapes Poe case, grills Arthur Lim,” Opinion, 2/8/16).
In DBP vs. CA (1999), it was held that “a mistake upon a doubtful or difficult question of law may be properly the basis of good faith.” The defense of honest mistake, even if later proved to be a mistake, generally trumps liability.
In the case of Poe, has the Comelec resolved that issue by itself and with such finality that any assertion to the contrary should then be penalized as heresy? If the justices of the highest court of the land cannot even agree on what exactly is Poe’s citizenship status, how could the Comelec say that she knowingly lied in asserting she is a natural-born Filipino?
It would certainly have been another story if there was already such definitive doctrinal ruling in place and Poe still insisted otherwise. In fact, Bengzon vs. HRET (2001) ruled (albeit on a slightly different set of facts) that if a citizen had never undergone naturalization proceedings under any existing law, he/she is “necessarily” deemed natural-born. And until that en banc ruling is formally set aside, it remains the “law of the land”!
Further, plain it is to see that the Comelec has no power to decide whether Poe is a natural-born citizen or not.
That power to rule on her qualifications (which necessarily include questions about her residency!) is lodged by the Constitution exclusively in the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET). By canceling Poe’s COC under the cockamamie pretext that she “misrepresented” herself as a natural-born citizen when in fact she is not, the Comelec in effect arrogated that authority unto itself.
That much is beyond cavil. Pardon us but we cannot see our way clear to the possibility of the Supreme Court affirming the Comelec’s advance judgment on Poe’s citizenship in derogation of that Court’s primary jurisdiction over the matter in contention.
The Comelec commissioners concerned should be the ones put in the dock for their culpable defiance of the Constitution!
—STEPHEN L. MONSANTO, Monsanto Law Office, Loyola Heights, Quezon City, [email protected]
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