Poe not administration’s Plan B, says Liberal Party

Edu Punay, Paolo Romero - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – The Liberal Party (LP) has no “Plan B” or any covert move to support the presidential bid of Sen. Grace Poe at the expense of party standard-bearer Manuel Roxas II, his spokesman said yesterday.

Marikina City Rep. Romero Quimbo issued the statement after the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) defended before the Supreme Court the ruling of the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) declaring Poe a natural-born citizen and eligible to run in the 2016 elections.

The development sparked rumors President Aquino was secretly supporting Poe, who is way ahead of Roxas in popularity surveys.

“There is no Plan B, or even a Plan A. We have only one plan, which is to protect and sustain the gains of the administration – the daang matuwid – through a Roxas presidency,” Quimbo said in a telephone interview.

“The move of the SolGen (to defend the SET) is not in defense of any candidate but simply to show that the SET’s action was within its jurisdiction and did not commit any grave abuse of discretion,” he said.

The OSG is an attached but co-equal agency of the Department of Justice.

In his comment filed with the SC, Solicitor General Florin Hilbay said that there were relevant pieces of evidence to support Poe’s position that either one or both of her biological parents are Filipino and as such, she is a natural-born Filipino.

Rumors that Poe was a back-up candidate of Aquino emerged after the SET voted to declare her as a natural-born citizen last Dec. 3. Among those who voted for Poe was Aquino’s cousin, Sen. Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV.

Akbayan party-list Rep. Ibarra Gutierrez, Roxas’ other spokesman, said the OSG’s move was not surprising as the agency is considered the lawyer of government agencies in cases filed against them before appellate courts.

“The SET (case) was the first to go to the SC, so in a way it’s like a first-come, first-served basis. The SolGen is duty-bound to defend the SET as an institution,” Gutierrez told reporters.

“I wouldn’t make too much of it. The SolGen is not a tribunal, it does not make decisions,” he said.

He said the SolGen could not defend the Commission on Elections, which has a contrary ruling against Poe, as the SET came first.

He also said the inhibition of Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-de Castro and Arturo Brion was “not surprising” and was “very expected.”

“Again, it is not surprising, it is very expected. It’s again a testament to the fact that our institutions are working,” he added.

Malacañang, for its part, said the OSG was simply doing its job of defending the government when it asked the SC to uphold the SET ruling.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said: “The Office of the Solicitor General’s making its pronouncement is in fulfillment of its duty to defend the position of the government which, in this case, is the Senate Electoral Tribunal,” Coloma added.

Grace hails OSG stand

Poe called the OSG statement a major development in her effort to stop her disqualification.

Poe thanked Hilbay and the 10 other OSG lawyers who upheld her position that she is a natural-born Filipino.

“This is very significant for us considering that the country’s defender in the field of international law sided with our argument,” Poe said in Filipino.

“We have complete faith in the law being there to ensure equal rights for every Filipino and we trust that this will be upheld by the Supreme Court,” she added.

Her running mate Sen. Francis Escudero said the position taken by Hilbay further proved that the disqualification of Poe by the Comelec was wrong and unfair.

“The Solicitor General, the statutorily appointed lawyer of the Philippine government, and 10 other solicitors are of the firm belief that Sen. Grace Poe is a natural-born Filipino,” Escudero said.

“This is vindication for the majority of the SET, who were criticized by some sectors for deciding supposedly based on political and emotional considerations,” he said.

“No less than the OSG recognizes that the Constitution and its framers never wanted to discriminate against foundlings and that foundlings were always meant to be natural-born Filipinos, which is what Senator Grace has been saying all along,” he added.

Escudero said he is confident that the magistrates would see the logic and legal arguments of the OSG when they convene to tackle Poe’s petition seeking to reverse the rulings of the Comelec.

“From the beginning, the poll body did not hide its bias against Senator Grace. The Comelec acted unfairly on her filings and dismissed the voluminous documentary evidence she submitted that would prove her accusers wrong,” Escudero said.

“I believe that even our own government lawyers would find it difficult to defend the Comelec,” he added.

Some lawmakers hailed the OSG for its support, saying the move would boost Poe’s case before the SC.

“The SolGen’s candidness on the issue is a confirmation that the SET ruling is legally grounded and defensible,” Quezon Rep. Mark Enverga, spokesman for the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), said. 

The NPC, the second biggest political party in the country, has yet to endorse a presidential candidate but most of its leaders and members are supporting Poe.

Valenzuela City Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian, who is a senatorial candidate under Poe’s slate, said the OSG’s move confirmed that the SET’s ruling was “fair and accurate.”

“This will strengthen the case of (Poe) before the SC,” he said.

Valenzuela City Mayor Rex Gatchalian, Poe’s spokesman, said they hope the justices would see the wisdom of OSG’s position.

Ako Bicol party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe described the OSG led by Hilbay as “the people’s tribune.”

“He (Hilbay) interpreted our Constitution and law in accordance with their humanitarian and compassionate spirit and intent to breathe justice to foundlings like Sen. Poe,” Batocabe said.

Ready to defend self

The Comelec, meanwhile, shrugged off the OSG’s statement saying the poll body can defend itself.

“We are now left to defend ourselves, we are used to that. We are the ones now who are preparing our answer,” chairman Andres Bautista said in a press briefing.

But election lawyer Romulo Macalintal argued Bautista cannot represent the poll body in the cases before the SC “because he dissented from the majority decision disqualifying Sen. Poe.”

Bautista admitted they were surprised by the OSG’s move to back out as the Comelec’s legal counsel, considering that the poll body has until tomorrow to submit its position. He claimed the poll body had thought the OSG was already doing its pleading.

“We cannot blame them especially since the OSG and the majority of the Comelec have contrasting positions on Poe’s case, especially on her citizenship,” he said. 

The Comelec has requested the SC for more time to answer the petitions of Poe questioning her disqualification last month. The poll body sought an extension of five days, from Jan. 7 to Jan. 12, within which to submit the comment.

“The final ballot faces are scheduled to be finalized on Jan. 20. If the ballot faces will not be finalized within the time limit, it may compromise the schedule for printing of the official ballots,” the motion read. – Sheila Crisostomo, Marvin Sy, Delon Porcalla, Alexis Romero, Jess Diaz, Rainier Allan Ronda








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