SET tosses out appeal on Poe’s Senate case

Marvin Sy - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) has dismissed with finality the petition of Rizalito David to unseat Sen. Grace Poe, affirming its earlier ruling that the senator is a natural-born Filipino citizen.

David said he would elevate the case to the Supreme Court next week. The three SC justices in the SET had voted to disqualify Poe, but were outnumbered by her congressional colleagues.

Meeting at the Sofitel Hotel in Pasay City yesterday, the SET took up the motion for reconsideration (MR) filed by David to the initial ruling issued last Nov. 17, junking his petition against Poe.

Sen. Vicente Sotto III, a member of the SET, said the vote on the MR filed by David was the same as the earlier one, 5-4 in favor of Poe, affirming she is a natural-born Filipino.

Poe welcomed the SET’s ruling, saying it was a step forward in the fight for the rights of foundlings like her.

“This is also a victory for the more than 20 million Filipinos who voted for me in 2013,” Poe said.

“To all who helped me to become a senator, I will not let you down. And to all Filipinos who are with me on my journey to become president, this is just the start of the fight. Keep the faith and we will not falter,” she added.

David, a losing candidate in the 2013 senatorial elections, asked the SET to disqualify Poe as a senator on grounds that she is not a natural-born Filipino.

In its Nov. 17 meeting, SET members Senators Sotto, Cynthia Villar, Loren Legarda, Pia Cayetano and Paolo Benigno Aquino IV voted to dismiss the petition filed by David.

Sen. Nancy Binay and Supreme Court Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Arturo Brion and Antonio Carpio, who serves as chairman of the SET, voted in favor of David’s petition.

David said he would file a petition for certiorari next week before the Supreme Court questioning the SET ruling.

He said the high court “certainty won’t” issue the same decision.

“Given this, we will find justice in the Supreme Court. And to these senators I say – Woe to you!” David said in a text message.

David said he was disappointed by the SET decision, but admitted it was something that he had expected. 

David’s lawyer Manuelito Luna explained the petition for certiorari is directed against the SET members for coming out with the decision in “grave abuse of discretion.”

“We were expecting this (SET ruling) since the majority doesn’t know how to read the Constitution. These senators violated the Lerias doctrine,” Luna said, referring to the Supreme Court which warned politicians who are members of electoral tribunals against partisan voting.

“Politicians who are members of electoral tribunals must think and act like judges, accordingly, they must resolve election controversies with judicial, not political, integrity,” Luna said, quoting part of the SC ruling.

Luna said the five senators who voted in favor of Poe committed grave abuse of discretion in voting again for the dismissal of the petition.

The five senators maintained their position that Poe should be considered a natural-born Filipino despite being a foundling, based on customary international laws providing the right of every human being to a nationality and the state’s obligations to avoid statelessness and to facilitate the naturalization of foundlings.

Luna insisted the dissenting opinion of the minority in the SET was the correct interpretation of the law.

The dissenting members  argued the Constitution precedes customary international laws and that the rules on natural-born eligibility should be strictly applied.

Sotto, however, said petitioner David failed to present a new argument that would have reversed the Nov. 17 ruling.

“There was nothing much discussed. We took up the approval of the previous meeting and then the issue of the motion for reconsideration was discussed and Justice Carpio, the chairman, asked us if any of us will be changing our votes because it was the same issue. Bam Aquino said there are no new arguments,” Sotto said about how the SET meeting went yesterday.

He said the majority of the SET members voted to dismiss the petition of David because they do not want to punish all foundlings and adopted children in the country because of their status.

“The issue to some of us, to me in particular, the issue is not Grace Poe. It could be somebody else, but the issue is that if they cannot prove that she is not natural-born, we should not jeopardize all these poor foundlings and adopted children,” Sotto said.

Sotto said David failed to prove that Poe is not a natural-born Filipino citizen.

“I think they should because we have heard the majority and even the legal experts. There are pros and cons in what they are saying but there are more who are saying that there is a presumption that she is natural-born. The petitioners were never able to prove that she’s not natural born,” he said.

Sotto added the Commission on Elections (Comelec), which is taking up four disqualification cases filed against Poe in relation to her bid for the presidency, should consider and give weight to the SET decision.

Whatever happens in the Comelec, Sotto said he expects the cases of Poe to go all the way to the Supreme Court.

Speaking with reporters after the SET meeting, Carpio said he also expects the cases against Poe to reach the Supreme Court.

However, when the time comes, Carpio said he and Justices Brion and De Castro would have to inhibit from the case.

“We’ll have to inhibit because we cannot review our own decision,” Carpio said.

If ever the case is elevated to the high court, Carpio said they would have to take into account the urgency of resolving Poe’s case because of the Comelec’s need for sufficient time to print the ballots for the May 2016 elections.

In case Poe is disqualified as a candidate for president, then the Comelec would have to remove her name from the ballots it would be printing.

Poe’s running mate Sen. Francis Escudero said the determination by the SET that Poe is eligible to sit as a member of the Senate also means she is qualified to seek the presidency.

“We strongly believe that the final judgment of the SET reflects the true will of the Filipino people,” Escudero said.

“We thank the majority of the SET members, who were elected by the people, for taking into account the sovereign will of the more than 20 million Filipinos who voted for Senator Grace during the May 2013 mid-term elections,” he added. –Robertzon Ramirez, Edu Punay

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