Senate Tribunal denies disqualification case vs Poe

Jee Y. Geronimo

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Senate Tribunal denies disqualification case vs Poe
(UPDATED) Five senators vote to recognize Grace Poe's rights as an adopted child, while 4 other members of the tribunal vote to disqualify her, according to Senator Tito Sotto

MANILA, Philippines (5th UPDATE) – The Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) voted on Tuesday, November 17, to deny the petition to disqualify Senator Grace Poe from the 2013 polls, which was filed on the premise that she is not a natural-born Filipino.

The tribunal, composed of 3 Supreme Court (SC) justices and 6 senators, voted 5-4 in favor of Poe against petitioner Rizalito David.

The senator, in a statement, thanked the tribunal for its “fairness,” and her “fellow Filipinos for their continued trust and confidence.”

The SET’s decision is expected to have a bearing on some of the cases filed separately by David and other lawyers to also disqualify her from the 2016 presidential race.

The petitions, filed with the Commission on Elections, raise different issues against Poe. One of the arguments is that since her biological parents are not known, there is a possibility that she is not a natural-born Filipino, and therefore not qualified to seek the presidency.

SET sources said the Comelec may follow the SET decision on the citizenship issue, but not on the 10-year residency requirement for presidential candidates, which was not at issue in the SET case.

Petitioner David also has the option to appeal the SET decision before the Supreme Court, where Poe will need 7 votes for the favorable decision to be upheld. 

In a text message from the SET meeting inside the Manila Polo Club, Senator Vicente Sotto III told reporters that 5 senators voted to recognize the rights of an adopted child and to uphold Poe’s status as a natural-born Filipino:

  • Pia Cayetano
  • Loren Legarda
  • Cynthia Villar
  • Paolo Benigno Aquino IV
  • Vicente Sotto III

The rest voted to disqualify Poe: 

  • Senior Justice Antonio Carpio, chairman
  • Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro
  • Associate Justice Arturo Brion
  • Senator Nancy Binay

The vote was also confirmed by senators Villar and Legarda.

David – a losing 2013 senatorial candidate now seeking the presidency in the 2016 elections – 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 Constitution of the Philippines requires that those elected as president, vice president, senator, and congressmen be natural-born citizens. Candidates for local posts can be naturalized citizens.

Poe’s camp has stressed time and again the importance of the SET decision on this disqualification case and its implication on the status of foundlings in the Philippines.

It also impacts on Poe’s presidential bid in the 2016 elections. To date, the presidential poll frontrunner is already facing 4 disqualification cases before the Comelec.

David’s lawyer Manuelito Luna earlier said the losing camp in the SET disqualification case can still file a petition for certiorari before the SC.

“Because of the Lerias doctrine, which position the justices took will be crucial for a reversal by the SC. That’s what we should look at,” Luna said in a text message to reporters. 

He was referring to the case of Lerias vs Mercado, in which the SC warned politicians who are members of electoral tribunals to “resolve each controversies with judicial, not political, integrity.”

Luna explained: “The Lerias doctrine says that the members of the [House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal] should decide as judges as mandated by the Constitution, and not as politicians.” 

Here is Poe’s full statement on the SET decision: 

I thank the Senate Electoral Tribunal for their fairness. Their decision sends a strong message that the Philippines considers itself part of the global community that respects international law. More importantly, their affirmation of my natural-born status upholds the right of all foundlings in the country to the entitlements, services and protection they deserve as full citizens.

I thank our fellow Filipinos for their continued trust and confidence. Our work in the Senate will continue with the same, if not greater, fervor and commitment to the welfare of the Filipino people in all areas of the country.

Vice President Jejomar Binay, one of Poe’s rivals in the presidential race, asked the public to “respect the decision of the SET.” His daughter Nancy was the only senator who voted with the justices to disaqualify Poe.

In a statement, his spokesman for political affairs Rico Quicho said: “The SET has already decided on the matter. The Vice President enjoins everyone to respect the decision.” 

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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.