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Comelec: Grace still in the race

Sheila Crisostomo - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Despite the ruling by a Commission on Elections (Comelec) division disqualifying Sen. Grace Poe from the presidential race, her name will still be included in official ballots if other disqualification cases against her are not resolved before the scheduled printing of ballots.

Comelec spokesman James Jimenez made this clear even as an urgent petition was filed with the poll body yesterday seeking to exclude Poe’s name from the official list of candidates for the presidency “and from the ballots to be utilized” in the 2016 general elections.

In an interview, Jimenez said the poll body hopes to release the name of the official candidates by Dec. 15. The printing of the ballots, on the other hand, is scheduled to start either in late January or early February.

Jimenez noted that since the official voters’ lists cannot be amended to include a candidate who is belatedly ruled qualified to run in the elections, “the more logical approach” is to include his or her name in the ballot as “it is easier to ignore the votes cast for that person, than to take them out of the ballots and then later on find out that they should have been on the ballot in the first place.”

“It is more practical to include and then consider them as stray votes later when they turn out to be unqualified,” he added.

On Tuesday, the Second Division of the Comelec ruled to grant the petition of former Government Service Insurance System chief legal counsel Estrella Elamparo to deny Poe’s certificate of candidacy (COC) for president, citing the senator’s failure to meet the requirements on citizenship and residency.

Poe’s disqualification is also being sought in three other petitions filed by De La Salle University professor Antonio Contreras, former senator Francisco Tatad and former University of the East College of Law dean Amado Valdez. The petitions are pending before the Comelec First Division.

Independent minds

According to Jimenez, it is unlikely for First Division Commissioners Christian Robert Lim, Luie Guia and Rowena Guanzon to be swayed by the decision of the Second Division.

“The commissioners have their own minds and while certain arguments might be persuasive, I wouldn’t go so far (as saying) this one influences the other,” he said.

“It’s not like they will just agree to anything, so I think the division will rule properly according to the merits of the case,” he maintained.

Poe’s supporters, including actor Rez Cortez, staged a brief protest rally outside the Comelec main office in Intramuros, Manila.

The protesters branded the Comelec as a puppet of the administration, which is fielding former interior secretary Manuel Roxas II as standard bearer. All six Comelec commissioners and Chairman Andres Bautista are appointees of President Aquino.

Jimenez denied the accusation, as he gave assurance that being appointees of Malacañang was “irrelevant.”

“They have been appointed to a constitutional body, they swore an oath to put the interest of the Filipino people ahead of any other consideration,” he said.

“There have been many times when the commissioners have inhibited themselves when they felt they could not be impartial. I think we should give every commissioner the benefit of the doubt,” he added.

Elamparo, meanwhile, said including Poe’s name in the ballots despite her disqualification will undermine the electoral process.

“The organization of an election with bona fide candidates standing is onerous enough. To add into the mix candidates with no serious intentions or capabilities to run a viable campaign would actually impair the electoral process,” she said in her urgent petition to exclude the senator’s name from printed ballots.

Elamparo added that since Poe’s COC was denied due course, her case is “analogous.”

“In fact in her case, she is not just a nuisance candidate, she does not posses the required qualifications to begin with,” she said. “Her exclusion from the list of candidates is thus even more imperative.”

Uphill battle

For veteran election lawyer Romulo Macalintal, it’s an uphill battle for Poe.

He said it would be “very difficult” for Poe to have the Comelec full session overturn the decision of the poll body’s Second Division to disqualify her and cancel her COC.

Since the three members of the Second Division voted against her unanimously, only one vote in the seven-member commission is needed to sustain the ruling, he said.

On the other hand, four votes are required to reverse it, he added. – Jess Diaz, Paolo Romero

ACIRC AMADO VALDEZ ANTONIO CONTRERAS BALLOTS CHAIRMAN ANDRES BAUTISTA COMELEC COMELEC FIRST DIVISION DIVISION JIMENEZ POE SECOND DIVISION
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