Comelec gravely abused discretion in Poe’s case

Now that the Supreme Court has denied—with finality and with the same 9-6 vote—the motions for reconsideration (MRs) on its decision allowing Grace Poe to run, let me explain the ruling as clearly as I can for lay readers.

Grave abuse of discretion. Superbly penned by Justice Jose Portugal Perez, the 47-page decision is relatively short, simple and straightforward. What complicated it are the five concurring and five dissenting opinions which, including the decision but excluding the separate opinions on the MRs, consist of 688 single-spaced pages.

The gut issue that confronted the Court was: Did the Commission on Elections gravely abuse its discretion in holding (1) that Poe is not a natural-born citizen, (2) that she failed to complete her 10-year residency, and (3) that she made false material representations in her certificate of candidacy (COC)?

Grave abuse of discretion is committed in two ways: first, when an act is done without or in excess of jurisdiction; and second, when it is done whimsically, arbitrarily or despotically, amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction. The first refers to actual lack or excess of jurisdiction; the second, to virtual lack or excess thereof.

The Court held that the Comelec rulings were “deadly diseased with grave abuse of discretion from root to fruits” because they violated the Constitution, the Omnibus Election Code (OEC), and settled jurisprudence.

Comelec’s egregious violations. The Comelec’s authority to cancel COCs is granted by the OEC “exclusively on the ground that any material representation contained [in such COC] is false” and, per settled jurisprudence, must have been made with “a deliberate intent to … hide a fact … and to deceive the electorate” as to one’s qualifications.

Veering from this exclusive ground, the Comelec ruled that Poe did not possess the natural-born citizenship and 10-year residency qualifications, thereby usurping a power vested solely in the Court by the Constitution, thus: “The Supreme Court, sitting en banc, shall be the sole judge of all contests relating to the … qualifications of the President… ”

The Court stressed that, per the OEC, the Comelec may cancel COCs “exclusively” on one ground: when the representation in the COC is (1) material, (2) false and (3) made with a deliberate intent to mislead the electorate.

As a newborn foundling found in the Philippines, Poe is presumed a natural-born citizen due to the statistical fact that over 99 percent of babies born here have Filipino parents. Consequently, those who claim otherwise have the burden of proving that the foundling’s parents were aliens, a burden that the critics utterly failed to discharge.

This presumption is strengthened by the fact that Poe “has typical Filipino features: height, flat nasal bridge, straight black hair, almond shaped eyes and an oval face.”

“While the 1935 Constitution’s enumeration [on who are citizens] is silent as to foundlings, there is no restrictive language which would definitely exclude foundlings either.” In fact, the Court found that the constitutional framers “intended foundlings to be covered by the enumeration.”

Also, the constitutional exhortations on social justice and on the equal protection of the laws plainly favor foundlings. Both the domestic laws on adoption and the generally-accepted principles of international law “obligate the Philippines to grant nationality from birth” to them.

The Comelec “arrogantly” ignored settled jurisprudence that repatriation enables former natural-born citizens to regain their original status.

So, too, the Court said that Poe’s “claim that she will have been a resident for ten (10) years and eleven (11) months on the day before the 2016 elections, is true.” She “decided to permanently abandon her U.S. residence … and actually re-established her residence here on 24 May 2005… Indeed, coupled with her eventual application to reacquire Philippine citizenship and her family’s actual continuous stay in the Philippines over the years, it is clear that when [Poe] returned on 24 May 2005 it was for good.”

Plainly then, Poe’s statements in her COC about her natural-born citizenship and 10-year residence were not false. Much less were they deliberately made to hide a fact and to mislead the electorate.

More suits? Justice Alfredo Benjamin S. Caguioa, joined by Justice Diosdado M. Peralta, concurred with the majority that the Comelec gravely abused its discretion. But he found it unnecessary to vote on the citizenship and residency issues. Dissenting Justice Mariano C. Del Castillo did not also vote on the citizenship question.

Consequently, critics claim that only seven justices upheld Poe’s natural-born citizenship and 10-year residency; thus, her qualifications for the presidency can still be challenged if she wins the elections. However, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno correctly pointed out that seven is a clear majority of the justices who actually voted on these issues.

As for me, anyone can challenge Poe’s qualifications in case she wins, in the same manner that anyone can contest the eligibility of, say, Rodrigo Duterte whose disqualification suit is still pending in the Comelec, or of Jejomar Binay, who may be sued for alleged corruption, or of Mar Roxas in the same way he filed a protest against Binay’s vice-presidential victory in 2010. Yes, our very litigious society tolerates suits for any real or imagined cause. But suing is one thing; winning is quite another.

Meanwhile, the losers should stop whining. They have put up a good fight and there is honor in defeat. The Court has spoken. Let us respect its final verdict.

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