Half-baked SC decision on Poe
The decision of the Supreme Court on the qualification of Sen. Grace Poe to run for president in the May elections was a big letdown to people who wanted a clear resolution of that issue.
The majority decision, which was agreed to by nine justices, set aside the earlier order of the Commission on Elections invalidating Poe’s certificate of candidacy for misrepresentation of facts about her citizenship and residency, and declared her qualified to aspire for the highest position of the land.
But Associate Justice Antonio Carpio pointed out in his dissenting opinion that Poe’s status as a natural-born citizen was not confirmed by a majority of the justices, or eight out of 15 justices.
He said of the nine justices, seven voted to consider her a natural-born citizen and two did not state their position on her citizenship and residency qualifications.
In addition, two justices concurred with setting aside the Comelec’s rejection of Poe’s certificate of candidacy, but refrained from passing upon the issue of her status as a natural-born citizen.
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, however, stated that since only 12 justices participated in the deliberations on the citizenship issue, the seven justices who voted in favor of Poe constituted the majority vote on that issue.
From a layman’s point of view, the justices who did not think the issue over Poe’s citizenship is ripe for adjudication and withheld their vote may be considered to have abstained from voting. Under ordinary circumstances, an abstention is not included in the counting of the number of “aye” or “nay” votes unless the organization’s internal rules state otherwise.
So, whose interpretation on what constitutes a majority in the resolution of the citizenship issue is correct? The Chief Justice’s or that of the longest serving associate justice?
Noticeably, despite the fact that this issue was known to the justices before the promulgation of the majority decision, no other justices in the majority weighed in on it or did any act to settle it and avoid confusion about the true state of Poe’s citizenship.
Thus, rather than put the citizenship controversy to rest, the decision muddled it and provided plausible justification for the filing of a motion for reconsideration by the losing parties.
This kind of “majority vote” issue did not arise during the watch of then Chief Justices
Hilario Davide Jr. and Reynato Puno. The tribunal’s decisions then on important social and political issues were cut and dried. The justices’ positions were clearly defined and spelled out. The litigants knew exactly whether or not they got the nod of the majority of the justices.
According to a court insider, when an important case is under consideration by the entire court, the chief justice sets the agenda in the definition of the issues to be passed upon and the manner they should be resolved.
On the strength of the chief justice’s moral leadership and esteem among his or her colleagues, the “Chief” can steer the flow of the discussion of the issues and the shape of the majority decision without telling the justices how to vote.
The idea is, whatever decision is promulgated can be clearly understood by the public, not just the lawyers, and can serve as the standard against which similar or related issues that may arise in the future can be measured.
The motions for reconsideration filed by the losing parties will give the tribunal an opportunity to resolve clearly and unequivocally the issue on Poe’s citizenship status.
Since the filing of these motions opens the case for fresh deliberations by the tribunal, the justices whose silence on the citizenship issue raised questions on how such action should be interpreted can act appropriately, whichever way it goes, to resolve the “majority vote” question.
If the decision is affirmed in all respects, and the “majority vote” issue is left hanging, Poe’s citizenship status will, in the public’s perception, be in continuing legal limbo.
The motions for reconsideration have to accomplish two things: First, raise new arguments to convince the high court to uphold the Comelec order in question, and second, impress on the justices who think Poe’s citizenship is not relevant to the resolution of the case the importance of their opinion on that issue.
With the reopening of the case for discussion, it would be prudent for the justices to closely study the principle or rationale that underlies the constitutional requirement that only natural-born citizens, or Filipinos whose citizenship stems from clear biological ties to Filipino parents, should be given the privilege to hold the highest position of the land.
The requirement on natural-born citizenship is not an empty requirement. It is based on strong nationalistic principles that cannot be decided on the basis of statistics or by reference to physical features.
Anybody who claims natural-born Filipino citizenship, and therefore entitled to all the rights and privileges that accrue to that status, has the burden of proof in that assertion.
Raul J. Palabrica ([email protected]) writes a weekly column in the Business section of the Inquirer.
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