SC rules FPJ natural-born

- Aurea Calica -
Fernando Poe Jr. hurdled the final barrier to his candidacy after the Supreme Court yesterday declared him a natural-born Filipino fit to seek the presidency.

After one of the most contentious deliberations ever, the Supreme Court voted 8-5 to support the Feb. 6 ruling of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) that Poe, known by his initials FPJ, was a natural-born citizen qualified to run for president.

Poe had rushed back to Metro Manila last Monday from a campaign sortie in Bicol amid rumors that the court was set to rule on his case. Yesterday he thanked the court and supporters for not wavering in their belief that he is a natural-born Filipino.

"Ako po ay nagpapasalamat sa desisyon ng Korte Suprema at ako ay taos-pusong nagpapasalamat din sa aking mga kababayan na nagdasal at nanindigan sa paniniwala na ako ay tunay na Pilipino," he said.

Malacañang accepted the decision, saying it would finally put to rest allegations that President Arroyo and her allies were behind moves to eliminate Poe from the race.

In a 53-page decision penned by Justice Jose Vitug, the court said the Comelec did not commit grave abuse of discretion in ruling that Poe was qualified to run.

It said Poe "is a natural-born Filipino citizen under the terms of the 1935 Constitution since his father was a Filipino, as borne by the evidence in the court’s possession."

The court acknowledged that Poe was born out of wedlock to American Bessie Kelley and Allan Fernando Poe Sr. The court said Poe Sr.’s father Lorenzo, "albeit a Spanish subject, was not shown to have declared his allegiance to Spain by virtue of the Treaty of Paris and the Philippine Bill of 1902."

The decision was heavily influenced by the legal opinions of four amici curiae or friends of the court who all said that in establishing citizenship, the Constitution does not distinguish between a legitimate or illegitimate child as long as there is proof of filiation.

All the four resource people — retired justice Vicente Mendoza, constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas, former dean of the University of the Philippines-College of Law Merlin Magallona and UP Law professor Ruben Balane — were of the opinion that Poe is a natural-born Filipino and qualified to run in the elections.

Among those who concurred with Vitug were Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. and Justices Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez, Alicia Austria-Martinez, Romeo Callejo Sr. and Adolf Azcuna.

Justice Reynato Puno wrote a separate concurring opinion along with Justice Consuelo Ynares-Santiago.

Those who voted against were Justices Leonardo Quisumbing, Antonio Carpio, Renato Corona, Conchita Carpio Morales and Dante Tinga. Justice Artemio Panganiban is on official leave.

The concurring opinion of the eight justices was based on the discussions made by the amici curiae pointing out Section 1 (3) of Article 4 of the 1987 Constitution provides that "those whose fathers are citizens of the Philippines" are considered Filipino citizens.

Davide wrote in his opinion that lawyers of Poe have properly established the evidence to rebut the allegations of the petitioners that the actor is not a natural-born Filipino.

"I agree with the amici curiae that this (constitutional) provision makes no distinction between legitimate and illegitimate children of Filipino fathers. It is enough that filiation is established or that the child is acknowledged or recognized by the father," Davide said.

Poe’s political party, the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP), said it is "ecstatic" over the ruling.

KNP spokesman Miguel Romero said the decision proved that the high court is "fair and just."

"We congratulate the Supreme Court and thank them," Romero said.

Romero said the Supreme Court ruling sealed Poe’s victory in the May 10 polls. "Panalo na ito. FPJ will soar higher for sure," he said.

The KNP spokesman also hoped critics will be placated now that the high tribunal has already decided the issue.

Poe’s spokesman, Sorsogon Rep. Francis Escudero, said the ruling was the "triumph of justice and the defeat of dirty politics."

Escudero said the high tribunal was correct in dismissing the disqualification case against the actor since it was a "harassment suit."

"Now that the roadblock is gone, it will be full speed ahead for the KNP ticket. We are pulling all stops in our campaign from this day on," he said.

"We have said long ago that we will abide by whatever decision the Supreme Court will make. We hope that they (Malacañang) accept the decision also," Escudero said

The Palace congratulated Poe and said the development would raise the campaign to a higher level.

"First of all, we’d like to congratulate Mr. Fernando Poe Jr. for (Supreme Court) decision. As we have been hoping that this would be the outcome of the SC decision so that now we can already engage in high level of campaign on general program of actions and the policies and the leadership qualities of our respective candidates," Mrs. Arroyo’s campaign spokesman Michael Defensor said.

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said the decision of the Supreme Court allowing Poe to run in the May polls would give the electorate a wider choice.

"We’re glad that Mr. Ronnie Poe has been found qualified to run and we wish him the best," he said.

"The people must have the widest range of choices. Let us unify behind democracy, clean elections and the rule of law," Bunye said.

Poe’s rival in the opposition, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, now running as an independent candidate, extended his best wishes to the actor.

"FPJ remains a candidate. I remain a candidate. I wish him luck," Lacson said.

On the other hand, Victorino Fornier, the lawyer who filed the original petition against Poe, said: "If I don’t believe the decision was made correctly, or there are certain errors made by the honorable Supreme Court in arriving at this decision which I haven’t seen yet, then I will file a motion for reconsideration."

Fornier, along with the other petitioners, has been given by the court 15 days to file a motion for reconsideration.
There had been concerns of possible violence by Poe’s supporters if he had been disqualified. Anti-riot police had braced for protests. Sharpshooters were deployed outside the Supreme Court building and a 200-strong backup police force was on standby.

Asked if the court was relieved to have the ruling out, court spokesman Ismael Khan said, "You might say that." But he denied the pressure had anything to do with the decision.

"Whether you have this threat or not, the Supreme Court would have decided this on the basis of the law and the evidence," Khan said.

Anti-riot policemen ringed the Supreme Court building earlier to ward off supporters of Poe as the magistrates deliberated on the petitions.

Police said they expected Poe’s followers to descend while awaiting the ruling on Poe’s citizenship that will either ease or inflame tension and uncertainty hanging over the campaign.

SWAT teams with assault rifles and riot squads backed by water cannons surrounded the Supreme Court building as police barricades restricted traffic. Visitors were also searched.

At least 150 anti-riot policemen from the Western Police District (WPD) were deployed to monitor groups of Poe supporters.

Aside from uniformed policemen, undercover cops were also fielded to gather information on militant groups reportedly massing up on streets leading to the Supreme Court building.

The cliffhanger case has unsettled financial markets and business people in recent weeks. Opposition politicians have accused the President’s camp of orchestrating the petition against Poe, a close friend of deposed President Joseph Estrada who was ousted in 2001 amid massive anti-corruption protests Mrs. Arroyo helped lead.

Mrs. Arroyo, who is also running in the election, has denied she was behind the petition.

Some of those threatening to take to the streets if Poe is disqualified were among the thousands who stormed Malacañang on May 1, 2001, in a bid to reinstate Estrada. Six people were killed in the riots, which Mrs. Arroyo called a failed power grab.

The justices deliberated on the petitions seeking to disqualify the actor from the presidential race, the main bone of contention being that Poe is not a natural-born Filipino.

The case was elevated to the highest tribunal after the Comelec ruled early last month that the actor is qualified to run.

The President said earlier she would rather prefer that Poe be declared a Filipino qualified to run or president of the Republic.

Defensor had earlier said the Arroyo administration is "in a no-win situation" if Poe is disqualified.

Poe has no political track record but boasts massive support from the movie-loving poor for his roles as a champion of the oppressed who lets his fists and guns do the talking.

Opinion polls show him in a dead heat with Mrs. Arroyo, pacing four other candidates seeking the nation’s highest office in the general elections on May 10.

Poe had enjoyed a wide lead earlier in the campaign but a survey released by Social Weather Stations (SWS) showed Mrs. Arroyo was the choice of 31.8 percent of decided voters, with the film star backed by 30.5 percent.

"As of now, it’s even," SWS president Mahar Mangahas said.

"Definitely we can see that the disqualification issue makes the difference," he said about the fall in Poe’s rating from 37.5 percent in a poll conducted in early February.

The disqualification case and fears of mass unrest by Poe’s supporters if he is disqualified have elevated the uncertainty that goes hand-in-hand with any election in the Philippines, holding down the peso near its record low of P56.35 to the dollar. - With reports from Marichu Villanueva, Paolo Romero, Nikko Dizon, Cecille Suerte Felipe, sheila Crisostomo











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