Grace Poe wins first round
In proceedings that hardly lasted 30 minutes, the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) on Friday dropped the question of residency against Sen. Grace Poe, partly clearing the way for her to run for higher office next year.
The SET action left just one question in the challenge to Poe’s right to serve in the Senate and her qualifications to run for President or Vice President: Is she a natural-born Filipino?
Poe, the front-runner in voter preference polls for next year’s presidential election, declared: “I am a true Filipino.”
An undeclared candidate, Poe described the challenge to her citizenship to reporters as a “replay” of the tactic used by the detractors of her father, the late movie actor Fernando Poe Jr. (FPJ), when he ran for President against Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2004.
FPJ won the challenge to his citizenship, but lost the election to Arroyo. He protested his defeat, but died from a massive stroke seven months after the election, leaving Arroyo’s victory in doubt.
“I came here not because I am running [for President]. I came here to defend my person,” Poe told reporters.
“I am defending myself because what they are doing is wrong,” said Poe, an adopted daughter of FPJ and his wife, movie actress Susan Roces.
Only people can decide
Declaring that she was facing the challenge to her qualifications head on, Poe said only the people “could and should decide whether or not I am worthy” of the mandate.
“You know, for me, this is a replay of what happened to my father. My attendance here is a bit sentimental, because when FPJ ran in 2004, they could not throw any issue against him, whether corruption, or failing to help others. That’s why what they did was to throw the citizenship issue at him,” Poe said.
A candidate who lost the race for the Senate in the 2013 midterm elections, Rizalito David, brought the petition for Poe’s ouster from the Senate, charging that she was unqualified because being a foundling, her citizenship was uncertain and that she did not meet the 10-year residency requirement when she filed her certificate of candidacy in October 2012.
The requirements are the same for candidates for President and Vice President.
It did not take long for the nine-member SET to deal with the question of Poe’s residency. As David brought his challenge more than two years after Poe took her seat in the Senate, the tribunal dropped the question of her residency.
“Essentially, it’s the tribunal (that raised that), but it was the chair (Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio) who asked the question,” Sen. Vicente Sotto III, one of six senators serving on the SET, told reporters.
Sotto said David concurred in letting go of the residency question, as the period to invoke residency as a basis for Poe’s disqualification had lapsed.
Poe’s camp had been contending that the question of residency had long been prescribed, as SET rules required eligibility questions against a candidate, such as the matter of residency, to be filed within 10 days of proclamation.
Poe, who topped the most recent race for the Senate, polling more than 20 million votes, was proclaimed duly elected senator on May 13, 2013.
To undo that, David must prove to the SET that Poe is not a natural-born Filipino.
“It is unclear whether she is a natural-born citizen or whether she’s a citizen at all,” David said.
Decision by November
Sotto said that with the SET’s job lightened by the elimination of the residency question, he was hopeful that the tribunal would be able to resolve the citizenship issue in two months.
“Hopefully, we’re looking at a decision by November,” Sotto said.
Assisted by lawyer Alexander Poblador, Poe appeared at the closed-door preliminary conference on her case held at the Supreme Court, where she faced her accuser for the first time.
She was seated in the same row as David and was separated from him only by an aisle. She said there was no interaction between her and David.
“It was not necessary . . . the discussions were formal. We just listened to Justice Carpio,” she told reporters after the proceedings.
During the proceedings, the two sides stipulated on issues to be tackled in the case and filed their respective evidence.
For the Poe camp, among the evidence was her birth certificate, which Poblador said proved her qualification to hold public office.
Poe was found in a church in Jaro, Iloilo, shortly after birth in 1968. FPJ and Roces adopted her in 1974, and the adoption was registered at the Civil Registry of Iloilo in 1980. The six-year delay “was beyond our control,” Poblador said.
Poe married Neil Llamanzares, a citizen of both the Philippines and the United States, in 1991. A decade later, in October 2001, she renounced her Philippine citizenship as she was naturalized as a US citizen.
On July 7, 2006, after shuttling between the United States and the Philippines, Poe reacquired her status as a natural-born Filipino, along with her three children.
She applied for dual citizenship three days later, and was granted the same within the month.
Before accepting her appointment to the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board in October 2010, however, she renounced her American citizenship.
The following year, she executed an oath renouncing her US citizenship at the US Embassy in Manila.
“Our main argument is she is presumed to be a natural-born citizen because she was in fact elected senator and, under our law, there is a presumption that she was regularly elected, that the law was followed when she was elected,” Poblador said.
“The sovereign will of [more than] 20 million voters who voted for her should be respected,” he said.
Poe said putting her life under scrutiny pained her, but she was willing to go through it to prove that she had nothing to hide.
“My life has almost become an open book, and the documents that show what I have been through hurt a little, but they have to be shown because I am not hiding anything,” she said.
Not her fight alone
Her fight was not hers alone, she said, but also the struggle of children who were abandoned but given a chance in life by adoptive parents.
“This is a fight of many here in our country who also experienced this—children who do know their biological parents but who were raised properly and with dignity by those who love them,” she said.
Asked whether she trusted the SET, Poe said: “I do not have the power to choose the composition of the SET, that’s why I am praying that they will be fair.”
She said she hoped the case would be resolved with dispatch.
“Just like other cases, we pray that it will be decided soon, because the longer a case is pending, the more justice is diminished,” she said.
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