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With Due Respect

Speeding up the Grace Poe cases

Senate President Franklin Drilon and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. urged the Supreme Court to rush its decision on the eligibility cases filed against Sen. Grace Poe. Many opinion shapers, including this paper’s Feb. 13 editorial (titled “Of the highest urgency”), joined the clamor.

Dark scenarios. The ballots now being printed contain the name of Poe. If she is disqualified by the Court BEFORE the election, the automated machines will still count the votes cast for her (they are programmed to do so for all names printed on the ballots) but the boards of canvassers, if so ordered by the Court, may no longer canvass them. Nonetheless, in this age of computers, geeks could still compute the results.

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If she is disqualified AFTER THE ELECTION AND CANVASS but she does not obtain the highest number of votes, there would be no problem. But even if she obtains the highest number of votes, the second-placer would still be proclaimed winner. This could spawn political troubles.

If she is disqualified AFTER she is PROCLAIMED winner by Congress and AFTER she ASSUMES office, a political crisis could ensue if she refuses to give up the presidency. In this scenario, the constitutional remedy is an election contest at the Presidential Electoral Tribunal.

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On the other hand, if she is NOT disqualified by the Court, then there would be no problem, no dark scenarios, whether she wins or not.

To be fair, I believe the justices realize the need for an early ruling. CJ Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno said in an interview that the Court would prioritize election cases. In fact, last Tuesday, the Court closed the oral arguments and directed the parties to submit their Memos in six days. The timeline is comparable to similar cases during the 2010 and 2004 presidential elections, which I will discuss shortly.

Note, however, that the disqualification suits against Mayor Rodrigo Duterte have not been resolved by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) en banc. Chances are the Comelec’s final rulings in his cases would be elevated to the high tribunal. Thus, the dark scenarios painted by critics may still persist in regard to him.

I, too, favor an early decision. However, with due respect, I believe the critics, rather than belabor the Court, should turn an equal, if not more critical, gaze at the Comelec.

Estrada’s eligibility in 2010. Let us now look at the comparable eligibility cases in the recent past. A petition to disqualify Joseph Estrada in the 2010 presidential derby alleged that (1) as a former president, he was not, to quote the Constitution, “eligible for any reelection,” and (2) his conviction for plunder disqualified him perpetually from holding any public office.

On Jan. 10, 2010, the Comelec’s Second Division dismissed the petition and allowed him to run. His name was thus included on the printed ballots. It was only on May 4, less than a week before Election Day (May 10, 2010), that the Comelec en banc denied the motion for reconsideration filed by the opposing litigant. Three days later, on May 7, a petition for certiorari contesting the Comelec’s final decision was filed in the Supreme Court.

About four months after the election, the Court (in Pormento vs Comelec, Aug. 31, 2010), dismissed the said petition for having become moot and academic because Estrada lost the election.

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Interestingly, in Vidal vs Comelec (Jan. 21, 2015), the Court ruled that Estrada was eligible to run for Manila mayor because his absolute pardon erased both the principal penalty of imprisonment and the accessory penalty of disqualification from holding any public office.

FPJ’s citizenship case in 2004. In contrast to the snail-paced Estrada case, lightning speed characterized the ineligibility suits against Fernando Poe Jr. (FPJ) in the May 10, 2004, elections.

Consider this: on Jan. 9, 2004, a petition was filed in the Comelec “upon the thesis that FPJ made a material misrepresentation in his certificate of candidacy (CoC) by claiming to be a natural-born Filipino…,” a claim that is allegedly false. Just two weeks later, on Jan. 23, the poll body’s First Division dismissed the petition. On Feb. 6, the Comelec en banc affirmed the dismissal. On Feb. 10, the matter was elevated to the Supreme Court.

In less than a month, the Court (in Tecson vs Comelec, March 3, 2004) speedily decided for FPJ: “…[W]hile the totality of the evidence may not establish conclusively that respondent FPJ is a natural-born citizen… he cannot be held guilty of having made a material misrepresentation in his [CoC]… which, as so ruled in Romualdez-Marcos vs COMELEC, must not only be material, but also deliberate and willful.”

Indeed, Estrada’s case is notable for its deep sleep in the Comelec, while FPJ’s is sparkling for its blinding speed. But in both cases, (1) both Estrada and FPJ were not disqualified, (2) the electorate had freedom of choice whether to vote for them or not, (3) the votes cast for them were counted and canvassed, and (4) no dark scenarios occurred.

The Comelec ruled in favor of Estrada and included his name on the printed ballots. (The automated election system was not yet used during FPJ’s time.) In contrast, the poll agency cancelled Poe’s CoC, thereby effectively deleting her name from the printed ballots, but the Court immediately stopped the cancellation via a temporary restraining order.

All in all, I believe the Supreme Court is aware of these two cases and the dark scenarios outlined earlier. I am confident it will come up with a speedy and fair decision that will avoid the gruesome constitutional and political crises that critics fear.

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TAGS: disqualification, Elections 2016, Grace Poe
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