4 key issues that divide SC justices in Grace Poe case

Marites Dañguilan Vitug

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4 key issues that divide SC justices in Grace Poe case
The Supreme Court ponders its role as it weighs evidence on presidential candidate Grace Poe’s residency and citizenship

MANILA, Philippines – The 5-hour oral arguments on Tuesday, February 2 give the public a glimpse on the issues that divide the Supreme Court justices in the disqualification cases against presidential candidate Grace Poe.

Lawyer Arthur Lim, a member of the Commission on Elections, answered questions from the justices in the 3rd round, defending the poll body’s decision to cancel Poe’s certificate of candidacy on the grounds that she “misrepresented” her residency and citizenship. In other words, Comelec said Poe was not a natural-born citizen and lacked the 10-year residency, 2 basic requirements to run for president.

In these exchanges, 4 key takeaways emerged:

1.When the count for the 10-year residency requirement starts.

Justice Mariano del Castillo, who will write the decision, raised the point that the count for Poe’s residency should start on October 21, 2010, when she “expatriated” herself before the U.S. embassy in Manila. “This was when she gave up her domicile in the US,” Del Castillo said. It was the first time in the series of oral arguments that this reckoning point was brought up.

For the Comelec, July 18, 2006 is the earliest time Poe can be considered a resident. It was at this time that she re-acquired her citizenship, as granted by the Bureau of Immigration (BI). Lim said that the Comelec “wanted to accommodate her position” but this still fell short of 10 years.

But Justice Teresita De Castro pointed out that Poe gave “false claims” to the BI, saying that she was born to Fernando Poe Jr. and Susan Roces, hiding the fact that she was a foundling.

If the count begins October 2010, Poe would have been a resident for only less than 6 years.

2. Will the Court engage in “judicial legislation?” Shouldn’t Congress pass legislation to address foundlings’ eligibility for government positions?

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno elaborated on her earlier position that thousands of foundlings will be discriminated against should the Supreme Court say that Poe, herself a foundling, is not a natural-born citizen. Many government positions, both elective and appointive, require that holders be natural-born citizens.

For almost 3 hours, Sereno repeatedly made this point. In response, Lim kept going back to the “core issue,” saying that this is for Congress and not for the Supreme Court to resolve. “The sad plight of foundlings is not the issue here…Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Poe is seeking the highest position…Comelec doesn’t want to lose focus on what is at stake. This problem [foundling rights] should be addressed by Congress.”

He added that the Court could be engaging in “judicial legislation.”

Justice Arturo Brion, who was the last to ask questions, followed through. “If the constitutional provision on natural-born citizenship is unreasonable, what is the remedy?” To which Lim answered, “Amend the Constitution.”

Brion is one of the 3 justices who dissented in the Senate Electoral Tribunal decision saying Poe is a natural-born citizen. The other 2 are Justices Antonio Carpio and De Castro.

3. Adoption laws as a defense was not raised by Poe’s counsel before the Comelec.

Brion wanted to know if Poe’s camp used the country’s adoption laws as defense before the Comelec. Sereno had repeatedly argued that these presume foundlings to be Filipino citizens.

Lim said that Poe’s defense was anchored on international laws. To which Brion asked, “You heard it first before the Supreme Court?” He was apparently alluding to Sereno, who brought up adoption laws as defense in the last oral arguments and told Poe’s counsel to look at “rich” domestic laws when they file their expanded briefs.

Lim said he was “not sure” if this line of defense came up first in the Supreme Court.

4. In weighing evidence on Poe’s citizenship and residency, what standards will be used?

Sereno and Justice Marvic Leonen harped on this point. Sereno wanted to know what kind of proof the Comelec wanted from Poe.

Leonen pursued a similar line of questioning and asked Lim to cover this in the poll body’s brief.

Lim said that the evidence presented by Poe was “not enough.” The Comelec was after “substantial evidence.”

The justices are expected to deliberate on these key issues as decision time nears.

So far, 4 justices have kept quiet during all the oral arguments: Lucas Bersamin, Bienvenido Reyes, Francis Jardeleza and Jose Mendoza. The last appointee of President Aquino to the Court, Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguiao has not participated in the oral arguments since his appointment. It is not clear if he will take part in the voting.

The next oral arguments will take place February 9. – Rappler.com



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Marites Dañguilan Vitug

Marites is one of the Philippines’ most accomplished journalists and authors. For close to a decade, Vitug – a Nieman fellow – edited 'Newsbreak' magazine, a trailblazer in Philippine investigative journalism. Her recent book, 'Rock Solid: How the Philippines Won Its Maritime Case Against China,' has become a bestseller.