Senate tribunal upholds decision in favor of Grace Poe

MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – The Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) on Thursday, December 3, upheld its decision denying the petition to disqualify Grace Poe as an incumbent senator of the Philippines based on claims that she is not a natural-born Filipino.

The tribunal, composed of 3 Supreme Court (SC) justices and 6 senators, convened Thursday at Sofitel Philippine Plaza Hotel to decide with finality on the motion for reconsideration filed by petitioner Rizalito David.

The Thursday vote is the same as the vote on the first verdict: 5-4 in favor of Poe.

"The motion was denied; more or less same voting," SET member Senator Vicente Sotto III told reporters.

Senator Loren Legarda, another member, said that the process just "took one minute." 

“No new issues were raised. We just affirmed our own positions, our own votes,” said SET chairperson Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio.

SET spokesperson and secretary Irene Guevarra said that as far as the SET is concerned, the decision is final.

In a statement, Poe spokesman Rex Gatchalian said: "Senator Poe is grateful to the SET members for continuing to uphold the rights of foundlings. The denial of the MR of Mr. David is a clear indication that Senator Poe is a natural-born Filipino. In the coming days, we hope and pray that the Comelec does the same and upholds the rights of foundlings."

3 SC justices to inhibit from case

Carpio said that he will inhibit himself from the case, and expects the two other SC justices on the tribunal to do the same, should it be elevated to the Supreme Court “because we cannot review our own decision.” The 3 justices had voted to disqualify Poe.

The other SC justices in the SET are Teresita Leonardo-de Castro and Arturo Brion. De Castro said she would inhibit herself from the case as well, should it reach the high court.

Prior to the SET decision upholding its earlier ruling, David's camp had insisted that 5 of the senators in the majority voted "based on political considerations."

This means the SET still upholds Poe's natural-born status under the 1935 and 1987 Constitutions.

The final decision comes months after David sought the disqualification of Poe as senator both at the SET and at the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

The losing 2013 senatorial candidate, who is now running for president in the 2016 polls, alleged that since Poe is a foundling, there is a possibility she is not a natural-born Filipino and should have been disqualified as senator.

The Philippine Constitution requires that those elected as president, vice president, senator, and congressmen be natural-born citizens.

In the Comelec case, David's camp accused the senator of committing an election offense when she "falsely claimed" she is a natural-born Filipino and had met the residency requirement when she ran for the Senate in the 2013 elections.

The poll body will also decide soon on this case, but Poe's camp has sought its dismissal since it believes it "has been effectively extinguished" by the SET decision.

With Thursday's decision, Poe will continue serving as senator for now, but David still has the option to appeal the SET decision before the SC.

Poe is also eyeing the presidency in the 2016 elections, and continues to lead in the latest presidential preference surveys despite the numerous disqualification cases against her.

But her presidential bid has already met its first roadblock: a Comelec division recently ordered the cancellation of Poe's certificate of candidacy for president because it "contains material representations which are false."

Contrary to the SET decision, the Comelec Second Division said that Poe, as a foundling, is not a natural-born Filipino. (READ: Cancellation of Poe's candidacy: 'Comelec execs can't be dictated to')

The division also ruled that Poe has not met the 10-year residency requirement for a president since she wrote in her 2013 COC for senator that she is a resident of the Philippines for 6 years and 6 months.

The senator is facing 3 other disqualification cases before the Comelec. – Rappler.com

Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.

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