If Poe wins in the elections, could she lose in PET?
“NO ROOM for doubt on Poe” (Front Page, 3/13/16), so Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno insisted in the teeth of all flak thrown at the Supreme Court’s majority decision castigating the Commission on Elections for having “gravely abused its discretion” in canceling presidential candidate Grace Poe’s certificate of candidacy (COC).
The issue was whether or not Poe “misrepresented” herself in that COC by stating she is a natural-born Filipino citizen and a 10-year resident of the Philippines. The Comelec said she did—i.e., so “willfully,” knowing well the same to be “false”—as if the citizenship of foundlings found in the Philippines and the factual questions about her residency were already a foregone conclusion. They were not, not by a long shot!
Under our Constitution, the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) alone, as the “sole judge,” has the power to rule all contests relating to the qualifications (e.g., citizenship and residency) of the president or vice president. The Comelec should have backed off from the start and left the matter up for the PET to deal with at the proper time.
In their concurring opinions, Justices Diosdado Peralta and Alfredo Caguioa tried to shy away from the qualification issues, preferring to focus only on the core issue of whether or not Poe had the “intent to deceive” in filling out her COC. And so given the proposition that the case presented “unsettled” questions of fact and law, there was no way Poe could be said to have deliberately lied, much less intended to fool anyone, in her COC. That is as commonsensical as it gets!
In her dissent, Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro took note of the “split in the majority, saying that the nine who voted to qualify Poe differed on how to treat the citizenship and residency issues against her.” Poe detractors were quick to latch onto that minutia and argue that the so-called majority decision was “not binding”—meaning, the issues of her citizenship and residency remain unsettled.
This brings up another potential major turbulence: If Poe wins (which is very likely, as recent public surveys show), can her closest rivals bring another suit for disqualification, this time before the PET, invoking its “primary and exclusive jurisdiction” over the qualifications of a “proclaimed” president?
In such cases, the Supreme Court en banc just morphs into the PET. Can the current Sereno-driven juggernaut be used as a foil against such forum-shopping? And for that matter, has it rendered the pending appeal on certiorari to the Supreme Court en banc against the Senate Electoral Tribunal’s decision in favor of Poe moot and academic?
And here’s the harbinger of things yet to come: Justice Mariano del Castillo, writer of the minority opinion, strongly suggests that the majority decision rests on “shaky grounds.” He has five other justices on his side, while Chief Justice Sereno has eight (with two—Peralta and Caguioa—unsure about the lengths to which Sereno et al. went in the decision in question).
Thus, with two of Sereno’s eight noncommittal about the qualification issues, will there be another showdown? Can the Supreme Court en banc, sitting as the PET and by a realignment of biases commanding a new majority, still rule to bar Poe from the presidency in defiance of the regular Supreme Court en banc’s ruling to let her go for it? Confused? Don’t follow me—I’m lost, too! Well, only in the Philippines!
—GEORGE DEL MAR, [email protected]
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