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Final or just semifinal?

12:06 AM April 19, 2016

“IT’S FINAL: SC says Poe can run” read the banner headline of the April 6 Inquirer, referring to the Supreme Court’s denial of the motions for reconsideration seeking to disqualify Grace Poe from the 2016 presidential race. Final? Or just “semifinal”?

It may be recalled that this case stemmed from the Commission on Elections’ cancellation of Poe’s certificate of candidacy (COC) for president. Poe elevated that matter to the Supreme Court en banc for review on certiorari, ascribing to the election body “grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction.”

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Views have been expressed that the Supreme Court en banc should have ruled outright that the Comelec was without jurisdiction. No less than election law expert and former Comelec chair Sixto Brillantes said that the challenge against Poe’s qualifications for president can be made only if she wins and gets proclaimed as president. The Constitution lodged the power to rule on the qualifications of a president exclusively in the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET). Ample jurisprudence supports this view.

Submitted for the Court’s review was only the question of whether or not Poe committed a deliberate falsehood or a willful act of deception in her COC. As the issue of falsehood or deception was inextricably intertwined with and directly involved her “qualifications” to run for president, the Court should have just ordered the Comelec to lay off the case and leave Poe’s qualification issues for the PET to deal with—at the proper time!

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By conducting hearings and tackling the qualification issues head on, the Supreme Court en banc may have unwittingly preempted itself and prematurely assumed the role of the PET way ahead of its time! This has led many to wonder, is this decision of the Court en banc acting as a regular tribunal declaring Poe qualified to run for president binding on the Court en banc acting as an electoral tribunal (PET) when a complaint for disqualification is eventually filed with it (assuming Poe gets elected and proclaimed)? From the look of things, “it ain’t over until the fat lady sings.” Poe’s foes are definitely not giving up, not just yet (“Doubts hover over Grace despite SC,” Second Front Page, 4/7/16). They seem bent on pursuing this battle to its logical end—at the PET in case Poe wins.

This may really sound out of whack, but seriously, what’s the difference between the Supreme Court en banc sitting as a regular tribunal and the Supreme Court en banc sitting as an electoral tribunal? It’s the same Court, the same 15 justices donning different robes!

Yet there are technical considerations that set apart the Court en banc as a regular tribunal from the Court en banc as an electoral tribunal. As a regular tribunal, it always stresses the rule that it is not a “trier of facts,” i.e., it no longer receives evidence at its level. As the PET, it is duty-bound to receive evidence as to the qualifications of the president or vice president. But other than that, it’s anybody’s guess.

Equally interesting, has this decision rendered moot and academic the pending appeal by certiorari from the ruling of the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) dismissing the case to disqualify Poe as senator (whose six-year term expires in 2019—and this is still relevant because in case Poe loses the presidential election, she goes back to the Senate)? Despite the constitutional provision making the SET the “sole judge” of all contests relating to the qualifications of a senator, its judgment was nonetheless elevated to the Court en banc as a regular tribunal which accepted it for review! And since that Court has already ruled Poe to be qualified to run for president (i.e., necessarily deeming her to be a natural-born Filipino, etc.) in the Comelec cases, has not “stare decisis et non quieta  movere” (what has been settled should not be disturbed) set in to bar relitigation of the same issues pending before it also as a regular tribunal, albeit arising from the SET case?

The bottom line is, if the Court en banc sitting as the PET, with perhaps a new majority (who knows?) asserting its power as the “sole judge” of qualification issues, says it is not bound by any ruling of the Court en banc sitting as a regular tribunal, imagine the comedy of errors! Should the Court en banc sitting as a regular tribunal then have no more business entertaining petitions to  review the judgments of the SET and  the HRET (House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal), these bodies being the “sole judge” of all contests relating to the qualifications of senators and representatives, respectively? Under this procedural mess, who really can tell now?

George del Mar ([email protected]) is a lawyer and physician.

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TAGS: Comelec, Commentary, disqualification, DQ, Grace Poe, opinion, ruling, Supreme Court
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