Do you know the SET that will decide Grace Poe’s fate?

Reynaldo Santos Jr

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Do you know the SET that will decide Grace Poe’s fate?
Know how the Senate Electoral Tribunal works and who sits in the body that is expected to decide on Poe's disqualification case

MANILA, Philippines – Whether or not Senator Grace Poe will be disqualified due to citizenship issues that have been hurled at her will be determined by the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET).

The SET is currently deliberating on the case filed last August by 2013 senatorial candidate Rizalito David, who questioned the validity of Poe’s senatorial candidacy and victory. (LISTEN: PODCAST: ‘Grace Poe thought she could get away’ – David)

David was referring to the issue of whether Poe is a natural-born Filipino citizen, and whether she was able to fulfil the constitutional two-year residency requirement for seeking a Senate seat.

According to informed sources, the decision on Poe’s disqualification can be expected within the year, as early as October.

SET handles “all contests relating to the election, returns and qualification of members of the Senate of the Philippines.” Its creation was prescribed by Section 17, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution, which states that both the Senate and the House of Representatives should have their respective independent and non-partisan Electoral Tribunals.

Cases it handled in the past include the electoral protest filed in 2007 by Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III against former senator Miguel Zubiri, who was proclaimed winner after senatorial elections that same year. SET decided in August 2011, however, that Pimentel was the rightful winner in that election.


The SET is composed of 9 members – 3 of them are Supreme Court (SC) justices (all designated by the Chief Justice), and 6 are senators “chosen on the basis of proportional representation from the political parties represented in the Senate.”

To decide on the case against Poe are the following incumbent Tribunal members:

  • Senior Justice Antonio Carpio, chairman
  • Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, member
  • Associate Justice Arturo Brion, member
  • Senator Loren Legarda, member 
  • Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino, member
  • Senator Pia Cayetano, member
  • Senator Cynthia Villar, member
  • Senator Vicente Sotto III, member
  • Senator Nancy Binay, member

Senators Aquino, Villar, and Binay are – just like Poe – neophyte senators, all elected in 2013. While Poe and Aquino both ran under the administration’s Team PNoy coalition, she and Legarda were also both guest candidates of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) which also fielded Binay.

Justices Carpio, De Castro, and Brion were all appointed to the Supreme Court by former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Poe’s father – Fernando Poe Jr – lost to Arroyo in the 2004 presidential elections.

A Commission on Audit (COA) report justifies the composition of the SET: “The judicial component of the Tribunal is envisioned to neutralize the partisanship that may arise from the political affiliation of the senatorial membership.”

To distribute the workload, SET rules dictate that members may organize themselves into 3 divisions, with each division consisting of one justice and two senators.

How it works

Cases filed before the SET may be any of the following:

  • Election protest, which questions the tabulation or outcome of an election
  • Petition for quo warranto, which questions the eligibility or “loyalty to the country” of an official

An election protest must be filed within 30 days after the proclamation of a respondent. The petitioner should be a “candidate who has duly filed a certificate of candidacy and been voted for the office of Senator.”

The protest should also identify the precincts where the senatorial poll results are being contested.

On the other hand, the petition for quo warranto – which can be filed by any registered voter – must be filed within 10 days after the proclamation of the respondent. However, a petition for quo warranto anchored on the ground of ineligibility due to citizenship may be filed anytime during the respondent’s tenure.

The concurrence of 5 members is needed for decisions and resolutions. The SET does not accept motions for reopening of cases, and SET decisions may be questioned before the Supreme Court on a petition for certiorari (or a petition for review by a higher court of a decision made by a lower court). This may be done if it is claimed that the lower court acted with grave abuse of discretion.

Cost of protests

The high cost of filing and maintaining a senatorial electoral protest has been raised as a concern.

In the 2001 senatorial elections, then candidate Juan Ponce Enrile – who lost and ranked 14th in the polls – filed a protest against fellow candidates Ralph Recto and Gregorio Honasan (who ranked 12th and 13th, respectively).

Enrile, however, withdrew the protest after being informed he needed to pay “for the collection, revision and return of the ballots and other election documents and paraphernalia” to proceed with the case. Back then, P500 was collected for each precinct involved in the case.

In the latest SET rules – released in 2013 – the following charges are set:

  • P50,000 filing fee
  • P10,000 to be paid within 10 days from the filing of a petition for quo warranto
  • P20,000 to be paid within 10 days from the filing of a case if it “does not require the collection and revision of ballots and election documents”
  • P200,000 to be paid within 10 days from the filing of a case if it “requires the collection and revision of ballots and election documents”. Also, a P1,000 cash deposit is required for each ballot box to be considered in the case.

The SET rules provide other legal fees for legal documents for the processing of cases.

SET allowances

SET members are given allowances. The 2014 COA report on salaries and allowances revealed that each of the incumbent tribunal members received an allowance of P686,992.04 for being part of SET.

The lack of proper liquidation of the SET allowances was among the issues raised in the disqualification case against former SC chief justice Renato Corona.

Both the SET and HRET revealed in one Senate hearing that Corona received more that P5 million in allowances between 2007 and 2009.

Corona was a SET member from February 2009 to April 2009, and received a total of P1.7 million in allowances during that period.

The SET office is currently located at the Electoral Tribunals Building in the COA Compound, at the back of the Sandiganbayan office in Quezon City.

Both the SET and the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET) requested for a two-hectare lot in Fort Bonifacio as site of the electoral tribunals building, but the request has yet to be granted. –

Sources: Senate Electoral Tribunal, Commission on Audit, various news websites

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