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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.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Was snap vote on Grace Poe issue last March 8 timed with one-day medical leave of Justice Arturo Brion that day, instead of March 9, as originally scheduled? Who's afraid of Justice Brion? With confusion and maneuverings attending SC decision, law profs are said to be having difficulty straightening new distorted views. Comelec said to be readying its MR while lawyers for private oppositors filed their own MRs March 18, with Dean Valdez filing separate MR on Monday. Their verdict: "47-page SC decision on Poe a perversion of Constitution."






The last Tuesday of January and four Tuesdays of February saw a weekly marathon session, lasting for more than five hours each time, of the Supreme Court on the issue of the Comelec’s unanimous disqualification of independent presidential candidate Grace Poe, which she challenged before the High Court. Poe’s lawyer, Alex Poblador, argued that the Comelec committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction in cancelling the certificate of candidacy of Poe. This stand was defended by Solicitor-General Florin Hilbay who had earlier supported the majority decision of the Senate Electoral Tribunal in allowing Poe to run.

On the other hand, Comelec lawyer and Commissioner Arthur Lim  and the lawyers representing the opposition to Poe, namely, former UE law dean Amado D. Valdez, Manuelito Luna representing former Sen. Kit Tatad,  and independent lawyer Estrella Elamparo, as well as De la Salle Professor of Political Science Antonio Contreras all stood their ground before the High Court.

After five weeks it was time for deliberation by the SC justices and there was enormous speculation as to when the verdict by the court would come down. Pressures were applied on the magistrates by politicians from various  affiliations, for them to come up with their verdict---inasmuch as the deadline for the printing of ballots by the Comelec was approaching. Should Poe be DQed but with her name remaining on the ballot, it could present problems.

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Early this month word went around that judgment would be handed down after the en banc session of the SC on Wednesday, March 9. Interestingly, however, the court was hurriedly convened instead on March 8 and a lot of significance was attached to the fact that Associate Justice Arturo Brion, who had prepared the longest individual dissenting opinion (142 pages!) vs. Poe, had gone on medical leave that day--- with the understanding that he’d be back the next day to argue his stand with his colleagues and then the voting.

In a chamber where alignments were already pronounced, the absence of Brion, valedictorian of his class at the Ateneo College of Law and bar top-notcher, is considered one of the most persuasive and respected among his colleagues,. Thus, it's no wonder that CJ Sereno's allies would seek to hijack the voting on Poe when Brion was on one-day medical leave. 

Justice Brion sided completely with the Comelec's DQ of Poe, citing "evidence of falsehood and inconsistent representations" in her 2012 COC that was completely different from her 2015 COC. The unavoidable bottom-line, he said, is that "the petitioner did indeed ACTIVELY, KNOWINGLY AND FALSELY REPRESENT HER CITIZENSHIP AND NATURAL-BORN STATUS WHEN SHE FILED HER COC." (emphasis BOC's).

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Those of us who have followed the SC deliberations week after week had anticipated 9-6 or at worst a tight 8-7 against Poe’s running, but lo and behold, that afternoon SC spokesman Theodore Te announced that it was 9-6 in favor of Poe to run. There was a lot of disbelief and disappointment among opposition groups who felt, as UP-trained lawyer Estrella Elamparo put it, that the requirements of the Constitution on qualifications of the presidential candidate were so clear that there could be no room for misinterpretation.

Following disbelief, however, came another spectacle: Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio disclosed in his dissenting opinion that the pro-Poe vote was only 7 and not 9. It was then revealed that on the issue of citizenship of Poe it was 7-5-3:  7 justices held she is a natural-born Filipino; 5 that she is not and 3 justices abstained from voting or had no opinion. On the residency issue, 7 held that she fulfilled the 10-year continuous residency requirement, while 6 justices did not believe so and 2 did not vote or had no opinion on this issue.

As a result of the above, Justice Carpio and one or two others firmly held that there was no clear majority and that under Rule No. 12 of the SC’s Internal Rules, a majority should mean at least 8 justices for Poe---especially since new Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa had already participated in the voting and IT WAS ALREADY A FULL COURT. Lawyer Manuelito Luna of the groups opposed to Poe’s candidacy stoutly maintains that the 9-6 vote was “ineffectual” BECAUSE NO MAJORITY VOTE WAS OBTAINED IN THE TWO CORE ISSUES THAT HAD TO BE URGENTLY RESOLVED. After all, argued Luna rightly so, it's the presidency that's on deck. 

Luna further maintained that the claimed 9-6 vote in Poe’s favor was “misleading because these figures did not really reflect the true thinking and decision of the justices, voting individually.”

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Complicating the picture was the fact that of the nine justices counted in the pro-Poe column, two did not say that she is natural-born, while two also did not say that she met the residency requirement. In other words, they did not have any opinion on those two core issues. In fact, during the March 8 voting, new Justice Caguioa felt that that the citizenship issue should not be voted upon at that time, although he concurred with the Poe candidacy. Interestingly, Justice Diosdado Peralta merely announced that he was adopting Caguioa's position.

On the other hand, Associate Justices Lucas Bersamin and Jose Catral Mendoza had no separate concurring opinion on the two core issues, but they just signed.

What made the whole SC voting interesting and awfully controversial was that the vote results  were released  on March 8, but the text of the decision itself, penned by Justice Jose Perez, was not released at the same time, as is the normal practice---it was as if the voting had hung.  Justice Mariano del Castillo’s originally-thought-of majority decision had turned into the dissenting opinion while the ponencia of Justice Perez, who had DQed the mayor of Kauswagan in Lanao from running on the very same grounds that ail Poe, had become the majority decision. 

Justice Perez was also the ponente of the recent decision ousting Marinduque Rep. Gina Ongsiako Reyes from her House seat on the argument that she had remained an American on her election and lacked sufficient residency here. Installed in her place was the son of SC Justice Presbiterio Velasco, who naturally voted for Grace Poe.

To the lawyers opposed to Poe’s candidacy, it seemed that the dispositive portion of the supposed new majority decision was so hurried up that the writer/writers misspelled the word annulled, appearing only with one L. Didn’t they see that the computer went red with the mis-spelling? quipped one lawyer.

The opposition lawyers have banded together and filed today a joint motion for reconsideration of the High Court’s 9-6 ruling, with former law Dean Amado Valdez filing still another separate MR this Monday. Their verdict, to quote lawyer Manny Luna: the 47-page SC ruling on Poe was "a perversion of the Constitution."

XXX

The hastily put together SC decision on Poe ran into all kinds of attacks from legal luminaries in and out of media. Philippine Star’s legal columnist Jose C. Sison of “A Law Each Day,” who titled his March 18 column “Inconclusive and questionable,” opined that the justices' ”majority decision” raised more controversies instead of finally resolving (them).”  Atty Sison asserted that “One cannot help but notice that the court has never been as sharply divided on issues of personal rather than national interest, so as to give rise to the perception that there are certain INJUDICIOUS ASPECTS IN SAID RULING TO FAVOR ONE SIDE (emphasis BOC’s).

Atty. Sison also stressed that since only seven and not nine justices have really voted in favor of the ruling on Poe as a natural-born citizen, it cannot be said that the SC has indeed declared her as one. He also noted many inconsistencies in Poe’s certificates of candidacies for various offices she ran for, such as the actual number of years she has resided here since she left for the US in 1991. Sison holds that Poe distinctly lacks the continuous 10 years residency here.

Another lawyer told this blogger many law professors are now having a problem following the SC’s controversial decision on Grace Poe.  For instance, Prof. Ryan Quilala, author of a book on election laws, was quoted as having to revise his book.


This case of Poe has damaged the once venerable institution of the Supreme Court, for in the words of another legal luminary, Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, Dean of the San Beda College Graduate School of Law, “the gods of Padre Faura have been exposed as having feet of clay.”

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