3 SC justices inhibit from Poe Senate DQ
Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) - January 4, 2016 - 9:00am

Solgen backs SET ruling

MANILA, Philippines - Three Supreme Court (SC) justices have inhibited from the petition questioning the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) decision last November upholding the eligibility of Sen. Grace Poe to run in the 2013 senatorial elections.

A one-page notice of resolution of the high court received by petitioner Rizalito David last week showed that Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-de Castro and Arturo Brion recused or inhibited themselves from the case during initial deliberations last Dec. 16.

The three have not indicated whether they will also inhibit from separate petitions seeking Poe’s disqualification from the presidential race in May over citizenship and residency issues.

This developed as the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) filed a 28-page comment with the SC defending the SET ruling.

The SC resolution, which required the SET and the camp of Poe to answer David’s petition within 10 days from notice, specifically stated that the three magistrates have decided not to take part in the case “due to prior participation in the SET.”

Carpio said earlier that they would have to inhibit when the SET case reaches the SC due to an internal rule prohibiting them from reviewing their own decision.

David’s lawyer Manuelito Luna said they see nothing wrong with the inhibition of the three justices, saying it was “based on settled and acceptable jurisprudence.”

But he stressed that seeking the inhibition of the same justices in the separate cases involving the disqualification of Poe in the May presidential poll by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is another thing.

Luna, who is representing former senator Francisco Tatad in the Comelec case, argued that the three justices should not inhibit in the other cases, which involve separate issues.

In the SET case, which is focused on questions on Poe’s eligibility as a natural-born citizen, the three justices voted in the minority opinion that Poe is not a natural-born citizen unless she proves that either of her biological parents is Filipino.

The nine-member tribunal, however, did not touch on the residency issue.

The Comelec cases, on the other hand, involved both citizenship and residency issues. Poll commissioners have unanimously agreed that Poe is not a natural-born citizen eligible for the presidency, while a majority of them have also expressed belief that she has not met the 10-year residency requirement under the Constitution.

The three justices have not yet decided on Poe’s inhibition plea in the Comelec cases.

Poe’s spokesman, Valenzuela Mayor Rex Gatchalian, said they expect the three justices to also inhibit from the Comelec case.

“Citizenship is also one of the core issues of the Comelec cases. We are hoping that the good justices will also adopt the same position in the Comelec cases,” Gatchalian said.

Those who upheld Poe’s citizenship in the SET case were Sens. Vicente Sotto III, Pia Cayetano, Cynthia Villar, Bam Aquino and Loren Legarda. SET member Sen. Nancy Binay voted along with the three justices.

SET ruling correct

In defending the SET ruling, Solicitor General Florin Hilbay cited evidence like Poe’s physical features as well as the circumstances surrounding her abandonment and discovery.

“The SET reasonably and correctly ruled that proof of private respondent’s status as a foundling did not necessarily equate to the lack of proof of Filipino parentage. Neither did it translate to an inability to prove Filipino parentage,” the OSG comment stressed.

“What we therefore have, in lieu of a birth certificate evidencing Filipino parentage, are relevant pieces of evidence, properly admissible under the Rules of Court, that private respondent has, at least, a Filipino mother or Filipino father and, most likely, both,” Hilbay said in the comment.

“They are facts, admitted by petitioner, that a reasonable mind can accept as sufficient and credible to reach the conclusion that private respondent has a Filipino parent,” the OSG added.

Hilbay also voiced belief the minority opinion of the three justices that Poe needs to prove that either of her biological parents is Filipino is tantamount to imposing undue burden on the senator.

“To impose scientific levels of certainty, as by way of a DNA sample of a Filipino parent, as the only acceptable means to prove one’s filiation, would be to impose a burden significantly higher than that which is normally required for these proceedings,” he said.

With these arguments, the OSG asked the high court to dismiss the petition of David for lack of merit and instead uphold the SET ruling. The OSG filed the comment as counsel of the SET.

In a separate manifestation, Hilbay told the SC that his office would no longer represent the Comelec before the SC during oral arguments on Jan. 19.   

Tatad, for his part, filed a 64-page comment with the SC yesterday asking the high tribunal to lift its temporary restraining order on Comelec’s disqualification of Poe.

The former senator argued there was no basis for the issuance of TRO as Poe had presented no convincing justification for her petition for one.

“Petitioner Poe questions the proceedings... by raising a litany of grounds but without presenting convincing evidence tending to prove that errors of jurisdiction or grave abuse of discretion were committed by public respondent,” he said.

Through David’s lawyer Luna, the former senator rebutted Poe’s claim that the poll body committed grave abuse of discretion when it upheld two disqualification orders from its First and Second Divisions.

“A careful analysis of the assailed resolutions will show that the Comelec anchored its findings, conclusions or rulings on the Constitution, the law or jurisprudence, after a meticulous examination of the facts and the evidence presented,” Tatad stressed.

“There being no grave abuse of discretion on the part of the commission as above-explained, it behooves the honorable court to seriously consider dissolving the temporary restraining order issued during its recess,” he said. “Justice and fairness dictate that the court takes this course of action.”

Tatad said Poe’s petition lacks merit and should be dismissed by the SC.

TROs for confirmation

The SC issued two TROs last Dec. 28 while the high court was on holiday recess.

Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno signed the orders enjoining the Comelec from implementing the disqualification ruling of its two divisions against Poe.

The TROs, which are effective immediately and until further orders, allow Poe to keep her slot in the ballots to be printed by the Comelec early February, explained SC spokesman Theodore Te.

Under court rules, the TROs would be subject to confirmation of the full SC when justices resume session on Jan. 12.

In the same pleading, he also opposed Poe’s request for consolidation of the cases and for the inhibition of three SC justices.

Tatad said Poe failed to present “substantive justification” for the inhibition of Carpio, De Castro and Brion.

He argued against consolidating the cases, citing their different nature. “Petitioner’s motion for consolidation of the actions and motion for inhibition should be denied for utter lack of merit,” he said.

The Comelec First Division canceled Poe’s certificate of candidacy due to questions on her citizenship and residency status raised by Tatad, De La Salle University professor Antonio Contreras and former University of the East law dean Amado Valdez.

The poll body’s Second Division, on the other hand, canceled Poe’s COC based on a petition filed by lawyer Estrella Elamparo who cited Poe’s failure to meet the constitutional requirement of a 10-year residency for presidential candidates. – Christina Mendez

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