Another Comelec DQ for Poe

Sheila Crisostomo - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The First Division of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) yesterday disqualified Sen. Grace Poe from the presidential race and canceled her certificate of candidacy (COC), just days after the Second Division did the same.

Voting 2-1, the Comelec’s First Division granted three consolidated petitions to disqualify Poe, saying that she committed “material misrepresentation” on her residency and citizenship.

With two divisions reaching the same conclusion on the controversy, it is unlikely that the Comelec will reconsider in favor of Poe when she brings her case before all the commissioners sitting en banc.

Once her appeals on the cases are tossed out, Poe is expected to turn to the Supreme Court, where she hopes to get a favorable ruling.

Yesterday’s Comelec ruling stemmed from the consolidated 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.  

Tatad had sought Poe’s disqualification on the grounds that she is not a natural-born Filipino and that she failed to meet the 10-year residency requirement for presidential candidates under the Constitution.

Valdez also questioned Poe’s citizenship and residency and petitioned for the cancellation of her COC, while Contreras, who also sought the cancellation of Poe’s COC, only questioned her lack of residency. 

“Poe committed material misrepresentation in her COC when she declared therein that she has been a resident of the Philippines for a period of 10 years and 11 months as of the day of the elections on May 9, 2016,” the First Division said in a 49-page resolution concurred by Commissioners Luie Tito Guia and Ma. Rowena Amelia Guanzon.

The First Division noted that Poe failed to prove that she is a natural-born Filipino and could not claim that she is one under the 1935 or the 1987 Constitution.

“The probability that she might be born of a Filipino parent is not sufficient to prove her case…The Constitution is unequivocal: unless one is born of a Filipino parent, he or she cannot be considered a natural-born Filipino,” the resolution said.

“There is nothing in international law which would support the respondent’s claim of natural-born citizenship,” it added.

The First Division further ruled that since Poe is not a natural-born Filipino, she could not avail of the benefit of repatriation under Republic Act 9225, or the Citizenship Retention and Re-acquisition Act of 2003, under which she supposedly re-acquired her natural-born status after renouncing her American citizenship.

The First Division clarified that while Poe “by the clear terms of the Constitution, cannot be regarded as a natural-born Filipino citizen, this however does not translate to relegating foundlings into statelessness.”

On the issue of her residency, the First Division dismissed Poe’s contention that as far back as May 24, 2005, she had already begun re-establishing her “domicile of choice” in the Philippines.

The First Division found no “conclusive evidence to show that Poe had decided to establish and established her permanent domicile in the Philippines.”

The First Division also took note of Poe’s frequent travel to the US using her American passport five times “during this time and even after she filed her petition for repatriation between 2006 to 2010, (which) negates her claim that she abandoned her domicile in the US and changed the same to the Philippines on May 24, 2005.”

Her declaration in her COC for president that she has been residing in the Philippines for 10 years and 11 months as of May 9, 2016 was “belied by her own admission in her COC for senator (in 2013) that she had only been a resident of the Philippines for a period of six years and six months up to May 13, 2013 (elections).”

Dissenting opinion

But the resolution does not include the 81-page dissenting opinion submitted by First Division presiding Commissioner Christian Robert Lim, and does not indicate the writer.

Lim denied the petition filed by Tatad “for availing of the wrong mode to assail the eligibility of Poe” to become president, and denied the petition filed by Contreras and Valdez for “lack of merit.”

“The ponencia treated all three as petitions to deny due course to, or cancel, the COC of the respondent. The ponencia thus voted to grant the said petitions and accordingly, denied due course to, and cancelled, the certificate of candidacy or respondent. I dissent,” he said. 

“Tatad’s petition cannot be treated as one to deny due course to, or cancel, the certificate of candidacy of the respondent since the basis of action is not whether respondent committed material misrepresentation therein, but that she lacks the citizenship and residency qualifications required by law to become president.”

“The Tatad petition should have been dismissed outright for availing of the wrong mode to assail the qualification of the respondent,” he added.

On the issue of residency, Lim maintained that both Contreras and Valdez “failed to take into account that as early as May 24, 2005, Poe was able to show actual, physical and personal presence in the country, coupled with the intention of permanently residing in them.”

Lim also argued that there is no material misrepresentation in Poe’s COC as to the number of years she has been a resident of the Philippines.

On the issue of citizenship, Lim said Valdez’s petition “did not squarely put in this issue the fact that Poe is not a natural-born citizen, only that she cannot claim to be a natural-born citizen based on her reacquisition of her Filipino citizenship under RA 9225.” 

“Consequently, no ruling can be rendered whether the respondent misrepresented her claim to being a natural-born Filipino citizen in her certificate of candidacy,” Lim added.  

Poe dares opponents to man up

Poe yesterday dared her opponents to man up by allowing her to join the presidential race.

Other presidential hopefuls include administration bet Liberal Party (LP) standard-bearer Manuel Roxas II and the opposition’s bet Vice President Jejomar Binay, who were both suspected of being behind the disqualification cases against Poe.

Poe said the right of the people to choose their leader should not be taken away from them by limiting those who can run for president.

“Let us review the meaning of an election. An election means that people are the ones who should have the power to choose,” she said at a briefing after a sortie in Tarlac City.

Poe also said she knows that she needs to undergo the processes, including exhausting all legal means to address the disqualification cases which may be brought up to the Supreme Court (SC) for final decision.

The LP denied that it was behind the attempts to disqualify Poe.

“Why do they (Poe camp) keep pointing at us? The fact that one of the President’s appointees voted against the ruling means that the administration has nothing to do with the latest disqualification,” LP spokesperson Rep. Romero Quimbo of Marikina City said in a telephone interview, referring to Lim’s dissenting opinion.

“We have no connections whatsoever with the petitioners. I believe some of them are identified with another presidential candidate,” he said.

Poe’s camp to appeal ruling

Poe’s lawyer George Garcia said that a motion for reconsideration would be filed before the Comelec by Wednesday next week in relation to the ruling of the First Division.

Garcia said Lim’s dissenting opinion was very positive for Poe’s camp because at least one of the Comelec commissioners looked at the arguments they presented.

He reiterated that Poe remains a candidate for president and her name is still included in the list of candidates at this time. 

Sen. Francis Escudero, Poe’s running mate, is also optimistic that she can still achieve justice from the SC.

“At the end of the day, it’s the Supreme Court who can disqualify a candidate with finality,” Escudero said. “We are confident that the law is on our side.”

Escudero cited previous SC rulings involving election-related cases that may serve as precedents in Poe’s pending cases once they reach the high tribunal. 

One of these is the ruling in 2004 that declared Poe’s adoptive father, the late actor Fernando Poe Jr., whose citizenship was also questioned when he ran for president.

“Under the law, adoptive children take over the rights and the pertinences of a legitimate child. So if you are a legitimate child of a natural-born father, then the status of your citizenship is also natural-born,” he said.

“The Supreme Court also said in that case and I quote, ‘We cannot leave the unelected members of this Court the power to decide who the next president will be. That decision is best left to the sovereign Filipino people.’ As they say, let the candidate run and let the people decide who is the next president. The Supreme Court cannot and will not choose who our next president will be by disqualification,” he added.  

Allies of Poe in the House of Representatives slammed the ruling of the Comelec’s First Division.

Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares, a member of Poe’s senatorial slate, said the Comelec was “behaving like a stamp pad of Malacañang and the Liberal Party.”

Valenzuela City Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian, also a senatorial candidate under Poe’s ticket, said the fact that Lim sided with Poe meant there was merit in her arguments and that the petitions were not as airtight as claimed by the petitioners. – With Christina Mendez, Marvin Sy, Paolo Romero

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