Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Considering tightness of presidential race, Comelec chair Andres Bautista sees “big trouble” if SC postpones for after May elections its final decision on Grace Poe’s eligibility to run for President. Filipinos from various walks of life, political pundits, the IBP Board----all are joining in clamor for SC to resolve this issue BEFORE elections, not after, when SC transforms into the Presidential Electoral Tribunal and Poe could possibly already be elected. Now na, SC Justices, resolve MR of Comelec and four private respondents.

Comelec Chair Andres Bautista

When I ran into Comelec Chair Andres Bautista recently at the wake of his uncle-in-law, Aquiles Gaborro, at the Sanctuario de San Antonio, the hacking of the Comelec website hadn’t still broken out in the news. Political pundits readily remarked that this hacking, done by a group called Anonymous Philippines, may be indicative of the loose safeguards for the coming automated elections (ironically, the hackers' message was that security features be installed in the voting machines). To Chair Bautista, quite a personable fellow, the hacking means one more king-sized headache to tackle.

That evening at the repast in the Sanctuario patio, the joke was that he refused to sit beside this blogger, as he must be by now quite allergic to media, following the bugbog-cerrado Comelec has been reaping on various issues. Bautista must also be wary of being misquoted. I can understand how he feels, and I sought to assure him that his presence at Comelec’s helm helps secure a bit of badly-needed credibility for it.


Our friend Tito Lagdameo naughtily asked me as we lined up for the buffet within earshot of Andy Bautista, if I agree with what Comelec has been doing, My quick reply: I agree with some, but not with others. For instance, I fully supported its disqualification (DQ) of Grace Poe---expertly argued before the Supreme Court by Commissioner Arthur Lim;  but I didn’t like it that the voter verification paper audit trail (VVPAT or “voter receipt” for short, mandated now by the SC) won’t be carrying the voter’s name, precinct no., date of the election and other details needed to make this receipt truly credible. 

Bautista replied that had the citizens’ groups, led by former Sen. Dick Gordon, the AES Law’s principal author, clamored for VVPAT last December, there would have been more than ample time to adjust the source code (the command instructions for the vote-counting machines or VCM). But now, to get all those data in, the elections would have to be postponed for two weeks, which can't be allowed to happen, said the poll chief. 

A query in my mind: those voter’s receipts have been provided for in the AES Law, as Dick Gordon has repeatedly stressed. Why was it not carried out in the past two elections? Why do we have to clamor for it before it’s attended to; when there’s no more time to load those details.


I queried the poll chief why he accepted what was from the beginning a frightfully thankless job, and he replied that he felt it was a way to serve, and that if he didn’t accept it he could feel sorry in the years ahead why he passed up this challenge?  I mentioned about the syndicates said to be operating inside the Comelec selling winning posts for a fee, and Bautista gave indication  he was aware of them. He also opined that while vote-shaving is possible here and there, operators cannot just move against candidates perceived as doing well in the surveys. I ventured in return that the general belief is that surveys can be manipulated, and he shot back, “Do you think Mahar Mangahas can be bought?”  I didn’t have a ready answer for that, though I cited surveys in past elections which appear to have been less than credible---especially since the lead survey companies are known to have interlocking directorates.  


Bautista is the son-in-law of my good-looking and ever-glamorous friend Baby Gaborro-Cruz (her pretty daughter Tricia is Andy’s wife). While we were at the buffet table. I raised the point being reported in media, though not officially--- that the SC is mulling leaving the issue of Grace Poe’s qualification to run in the presidential election “unresolved,” as the private lawyers and Comelec's lawyer opposing Poe’s candidacy have worried about in their joint MR---and just tackle this DQ issue AFTER THE ELECTIONS ARE OVER. 

This could mean, in the anticipated tightly-contested elections this May, the POSSIBILITY THAT THE SC, THIS TIME SITTING AS THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTORAL TRIBUNAL (as per the Constitution), COULD DISQUALIFY POE AFTER SHE IS ELECTED PRESIDENT.

 Bautista replied emphatically, “If true, that plan of the SC could be the one that would bring very serious trouble to the country.” He stressed that Poe's possible DQ ought to be resolved now, before the elections. 


Recall that the Comelec en banc had earlier DQed Poe on the twin issues of citizenship and residency and cancelled her certificate of candidacy. But Poe challenged Comelec’s DQ before the SC and after five long hearings the SC threw out the DQ and ordered her COC restored---without an explanation of its decision.  Meaning, the issue of Poe’s eligibility was left unresolved, plus the fact that the 7-5 vote in favor of restoring her COC did not reflect the majority vote in the 15-member Court, as Senior Magistrate Antonio Carpio pointed out in his dissenting opinion. Comelec, represented by Commissioner Arthur Lim, and four private respondents separately filed MRs on this ruling, and the High Court is supposed to be tackling these MRs during its current summer sessions in Baguio.

Then came this unofficial media buzz about the SC’s inclination to just await the results of the May 2016 elections and let the PET decide Poe’s eligibility with finality AFTER THE ELECTIONS. This is troubling due to the possibility in these very tight presidential elections, of her bagging the top post but having to be DQed. Or perhaps, the first question should be, WOULD THE SC JUSTICES HAVE THE GUTS TO DQ AN ELECTED PRESIDENT?  

What could happen by then is something visualized by former law dean Amado Valdez in his prefatory statement on the Poe case:.  "When the smoke of battle cleared, the foundling had received heer 'fair' share to run for President, no matter that in its wake are remnants of a Constitution shattered and the piece of legislation called R.A. 9225 (the Citizen Retention and Reacquisition Act) torn of its essence."


As I said earlier, Comelec Chief Bautista feels that to postpone resolution of the Poe issue to after the May elections, where there’s the possibility that she could win, could spell big trouble---because her being yanked out of office may not be condone kindly by her followers.  I fully agree. There is no reason why the SC cannot NOW resolve the MRs filed by private respondents Manuelito Luna, Estrella Elamparo, Amado Valdez and De La Salle University Prof. Antonio Contreras---all of whom  support the Comelec’s DQ of Poe.

The SC's decisive more on Poe’s eligibility or none is IMPERATIVE, as the very life of our Republic would be in grave danger when justices play around even with the very clear and express wording of the Constitution, as stressed by SC Justice Arturo Brion in his 147-page dissenting opinion.  Dilly-dallying by the SC is not doing us any good and only opens the magistrates to reports, unfair it may be, of BIG BUCKS CHANGING HANDS. 


In fact, various political pundits are nearly one in urging the SC to resolve Poe’s qualification NOW NA, and the historic stand of the 50,000-member strong Integrated Bar of the Philippines has helped forge this unity among the lawyers. Ex-Marinduque Rep. Regina Ongsiako Reyes’ protest about her being recently ousted from her House post owing to her past US citizenship, whereas Grace Poe, until 2012 an American, is allowed to run for President has also impacted on citizens about the SC’s double standard. Reyes was ousted several weeks ago by the House Electoral Tribunal in favor of arch-rival Lord Velasco, son of SC Justice Presbitero Velasco who voted with the Sereno bloc.

 Consider the following excerpt from the March 28, 2016 column of  Manila Times’ Yen Makabenta, titled, “Not Whether the High Court will review its decision, it must.” :

“The May elections should put to the test this total contempt for the electorate. It’s not only the intelligentsia that is now questioning angrily the SC decision to allow Grace Poe to run.

Young people (the millennials) and the proverbial man on the street are now wondering aloud why the nation is going through all these contortions and acrobatics, for an ambitious woman whose identity is unknown, and whose Filipino citizenship is unproven.

“We must deal with Grace Poe because she represents a naked and open challenge to our constitutional system, one that is financed by powerful business interests who believe that they can buy the presidency. If we do not stop this assault, our constitutional order could collapse, and the nation will list until it can find its mooring.

“If Grace Poe succeeds in forcing her way into the balloting in May, the elections could be turned into a mockery as one justice has warned. We are in this rut because the Supreme Court has momentarily lost its way. John F. Kennedy said that “an error does not become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.” Correcting the errors and averting the mistake is, in essence, the central message of the dissenting opinions in the SC decision.”


Philippine Star columnist Federico Pascual, in his  March 29 “Postcript” titled “Why Issue of Poe’s Candidacy Still Lingers,” was just as  emphatic about the need for the SC to resolve Poe’s eligibility. Said Dick:

“TO RESOLVE the above confusing decision, there is now the imperative need for the SC to immediately decide on the pending appeal filed by Rizalito David from a majority decision of the Senate Electoral Tribunal which ruled that Poe, as a foundling, is a natural-born Filipino citizen.
“It is in this case where the citizenship of Poe was directly assailed without regard to whether or not she made any false representation in her COC for senator in the 2013 elections.
“If the SC rules that Poe is a natural-born citizen, then that settles this issue once and for all. If the SC rules that she is not, then the Comelec, on its own or motu propio or even without any petition, could still disqualify her and all votes cast for her will not be counted, if the decision is rendered before the May 9 election since ‘the Comelec will be grossly remiss in its constitutional duty to enforce and administer all laws relating to the conduct of elections if it does not motu propio bar from running for public office those suffering from perpetual special disqualification by virtue of a final judgment.’
“But what if said decision disqualifying Poe is rendered after the election and Poe still gets the highest number of votes and proclaimed as duly elected President by the Congress of the Philippines? That would be another skirmish in the Legal and Political Battle of the Century.”



  1. Why does the SC "strategize" on election matters?
    In my layman's mind, an infant found on the Philippine soil, could not, in the wildest possibility, had been borne elsewhere in the world. Thus, under the principle of Jus Soli, she surely is a Filipina.

    On the issue of 7 as majority, the abstention of 3 has two effects: 1) it does not result in a lack of quorum 2) the 3, being neither yes nor no, is equivalent to zero. Therefore, 12 constitutes a quorum, and 7 is a majority of 12.

    THUS, I WONDER, "WHY THE DILEMMA?" ...mine is based on common sense and may or may not have legal basis.