TROs fill Grace Poe with hope
An emboldened Sen. Grace Poe on Tuesday said the Supreme Court’s move to temporarily block the cancellation of her certificate of candidacy (COC) for President had renewed her faith in her cause.
“I am still a candidate. The fight will continue. Let us greet the New Year with renewed strength and faith that the truth and the voice of the people shall prevail,” she said at a press conference in a restaurant in Quezon City where she delivered a prepared statement in Filipino.
The neophyte senator, who had been leading in opinion polls until the disqualification cases appeared to have stalled her momentum, exhorted her supporters to never waver “in the midst of the confusion sown by others.”
“We gave our full trust in the institution of the Supreme Court, and we wholeheartedly thank Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, as well as Justice Mariano del Castillo and Justice Marvic Leonen, because they upheld the truth, defended the rights of the small and prevented unjust oppression,” she said.
On Monday, the Supreme Court released two temporary restraining orders (TRO) blocking the cancellation of Poe’s COC by the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
The twin orders were issued just hours after Poe’s camp had filed two petitions asking the high tribunal to stop the Comelec from disqualifying her from next year’s election on the grounds that she was not a natural-born Filipino and that she did not meet the 10-year residency requirement for candidates.
Saddened, renewed hope
Poe admitted feeling discouraged by the Comelec decision to disqualify her.
“I confess that the Comelec decision saddened me, especially as it was released a few days before Christmas. But the Supreme Court renewed our hope, which is the true meaning of Christmas,” she said.
During the open forum, Poe criticized the Comelec for “not even taking a look at the evidence” her lawyers had presented.
“I am not lying. I do not understand why they never considered our evidence. I cannot believe that all of them are lawyers and they never looked at evidence,” she said.
Not afraid of Comelec
Poe said she was not afraid of the Comelec. “I am not afraid of them … Candidates should not fear the Comelec. If they cheat us, the people will make them pay.”
Asked if she felt a pattern in which certain candidates were being “eased out” of the race, Poe did not take the chance to attack her rivals, saying the electorate should not be denied more choices in choosing their leader.
“I don’t want to speak for the others but don’t limit our choices. Listen to our voices. It’s hard when those who are not blind cannot see, and those who are not deaf cannot hear,” she said.
Petition to bar 3 justices
Hours before her press conference, Poe asked the Supreme Court to bar three justices from the panel that will decide whether she would remain on the list of candidates for President, claiming that the magistrates had already “prejudged” it in the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET).
In a petition questioning Comelec resolutions canceling her COC for President, Poe asked the high court to either disqualify Associate Justices Antonio Carpio, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro and Arturo Brion or prompt their voluntary inhibition from the panel.
The three justices were among four members of the SET who voted against Poe in a case that sought her ouster from the Senate for not being a natural-born Filipino and not meeting the residency requirement when she ran for senator in 2013.
The other SET member who dissented from the majority vote that affirmed Poe’s natural-born status despite being a foundling with uncertain parentage was Sen. Nancy Binay whose father, Vice President Jejomar Binay, is running for President.
The SET voted 5-4 in favor of Poe.
Poe’s camp filed the petition Tuesday afternoon in the wake of the high court’s issuance of the TROs against the Comelec en banc rulings that upheld separate resolutions for her disqualification by the poll body’s First and Second Divisions.
The TROs took immediate effect and would stand “until further orders” from the high court.
“Sen. Poe’s citizenship is also squarely in issue in the instant petitions for certiorari (filed by her) from Comelec issuances, which resulted in the cancellation of her certificate of candidacy for President in the May 9, 2016 elections,” read the inhibition plea.
“In all of these resolutions, the Comelec pronounced that herein petitioner lacked the qualification of natural-born citizenship required to be President,” it said.
The petition said the three justices already had their minds made up on the matter of Poe’s citizenship given the way they voted in the SET case.
“Hence, herein movant respectfully moves that Justices Carpio, De Castro and Brion inhibit themselves on the ground of prejudgment given their position in the SET case that Senator Poe is not a natural-born Filipino,” read the petition.
The recusation must be absolute, and must cover voting, interlocutory matters and deliberations in issues surrounding Poe’s residency, said the plea.
The pleading noted that the three justices had recused themselves from the SET case when petitioner Rizalito David, a disqualified presidential candidate, elevated the matter to the high court.
David, a defeated senatorial candidate in 2013, initiated proceedings at SET to question Poe’s qualification as senator just this year, nearly three years since she won a seat in the chamber.
“A further reason for inhibition in these petitions is the nonparticipation of said justices in David’s appeal to the SET ruling. Indeed, ‘prior inhibition’ in related cases is an acceptable reason to decline participation in a case,” read the petition.
Through her lawyers, Poe also asked the high court to consolidate petitions surrounding her qualification for public office that are pending in the tribunal.
These include the senator’s two petitions against the Comelec resolutions for her disqualification and David’s appeal to the SET ruling.
The cases, Poe said, “involve common questions of law and/or fact.”
“Sen. Poe can only have one status. She could not be a natural-born Filipino as a senator and yet be pronounced a foreigner or a stateless person insofar as her candidacy for President is concerned,” the pleading read.
“Consolidation of the three petitions is proper, not just because there are common questions of law and fact, but because consolidation will address the need for a speedy resolution of these petitions in view of the upcoming electoral exercise,” it said.
Inhibit without prodding
At the press conference, Poe said she hoped the three justices would inhibit themselves from the case without prodding. “I am not questioning their credibility.”
During the open forum, Poe’s lawyer George Garcia expressed his trust in the Supreme Court, saying its decision to strike down the Aquino administration’s Disbursement Acceleration Program “shows its independence.”
Had the Supreme Court failed to issue the TROs, the Comelec would have proceeded to strike Poe’s name from the list of presidential candidates in next year’s general elections.
The action also mooted a motion by former Sen. Francisco Tatad asking the Comelec to remove Poe’s name from the list should the tribunal fail to order a halt to the senator’s disqualification.
Tatad was one of the petitioners questioning Poe’s eligibility to run for President, along with De La Salle University professor Antonio Contreras, former University of the East College of Law dean Amado Valdez and former government lawyer Estrella Elamparo.
Poe, a foundling, was abandoned at a church in Iloilo province shortly after her birth in September 1968. In 2001, a decade after marrying dual citizen Neil Llamanzares and staying in the United States, she became a naturalized US citizen.
In December 2004, her adoptive father, Fernando Poe Jr., an actor who lost to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the contested May elections of that year, died. In July 2006, she reacquired her Philippine citizenship after deciding with her family to stay in the Philippines for good.
Her lawyers said she was presumed to be a natural-born citizen of the Philippines under international law. They also argued that her reacquisition of her Filipino citizenship meant she also acquired her natural-born status.
Tatad to file comment
Manuelito Luna, lawyer of Tatad, vowed to fight the senator’s plea to inhibit the three justices, saying: “We will refute the allegation of Poe that the Comelec committed grave abuse of discretion in canceling her COC/disqualifying her.”
Luna will file a comment in the high court on Jan. 4 on Tatad’s behalf.
“ … [W]e will also plead for the immediate dissolution of the TRO issued by Chief Justice Sereno on grounds of lack of proper basis,” said Luna in a statement sent via text message.
Poe’s case was set for oral arguments on Jan. 19.
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