MANILA, Philippines – By appealing the Supreme Court (SC) ruling that allowed Senator Grace Poe to run for president, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said it wants to avoid “political instability” if Poe wins the presidency.
Comelec Commissioner Arthur Lim, the poll body's lead counsel against Poe, said this is because the SC failed to reach a majority vote on whether Poe is a natural-born Filipino.
In an interview with reporters Tuesday, March 22, Lim said Poe’s citizenship “is still hanging in the air.”
The Philippine Constitution states that only natural-born Filipinos can run for president.
This means that if Poe clinches the presidency, Lim said a case could still be filed against Poe before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET). The PET would have to judge if Poe is fit to run the country. (READ: EXPLAINER: Did the SC really say Grace Poe is qualified?)
The process before the PET puts any new president – and the country – in limbo.
Poe – the adopted daughter of the late movie star and former presidential bet Fernando Poe Jr – is the leading presidential candidate based on recent surveys.
Referring to the possible protests before the PET, Lim said, “Bakit darating pa sa puntong gano’n?” (Why should it even reach that point?)
“Magulo po 'yon. Kaya nga hinihiling namin, para maiwasan itong political instability na sa palagay natin ay mangyayari dahil hindi nairesolba ng majority ‘yung citizenship issue, minabuti po natin dito sa ating komisyon na hilingin ang ating Korte Suprema na pag-aralan muli ang isyu at magkaroon sila po ng tinatawag nating re-deliberation or re-voting para mapag-usapan uli 'yung citizenship issue na 'yon,” the Comelec commissioner said.
(That would be chaotic. That is why we are making this appeal, to avoid the political instability that we feel will ensue if the majority does not resolve the citizenship issue. We in the commission believe it’s best to request our Supreme Court to study the issue again, and have what we call a re-deliberation or re-voting to discuss the citizenship issue again.)
The Comelec on Tuesday filed a motion for reconsideration on the SC’s ruling that allowed Poe to run for president.
Why it's 'less than a majority'
In his interview with reporters, Lim explained that the SC declared Poe as a natural-born Filipino, even if “less than a majority” of the SC believed that she “was presumptively natural born.”
On this issue, 7 justices agreed that Poe was natural born, 5 dissented, and 3 others abstained. The SC has 15 justices.
“‘Yung 3 abstentions, boto rin po ‘yon,” Lim said. (The 3 abstentions were also votes.)
He continued: “Kung 7 lamang ang nagsasabi na si Senator Poe ay presumptively natural born, that is less than a majority of the court. If it is less than a majority of the court, it is not a vote at all affirming that particular issue about her citizenship. Kulang ang boto.”
(If only 7 said Senator Poe was presumptively natural born, that is less than a majority of the court. If it is less than a majority of the court, it is not a vote at all affirming that particular issue about her citizenship. The votes remained lacking.)
Regarding their appeal, Lim said the Comelec is open to any possibility.
He said that if, after discussing the issue again, a majority of 8 justices say that Poe is presumptively natural born, “then so be it.”
“On the other hand, if after re-voting and re-deliberation, the required majority is still not attained, then we are asking the court to dismiss the petitions filed before it and to affirm the disqualification of the senator as ordered by the Comelec in its December 23, 2015 resolutions,” he said.
To support his arguments, Lim cited SC rules stating “that if the Supreme Court en banc is equally divided in opinion, or the necessary majority vote cannot be had, the Court shall deliberate on it anew.”
Still citing SC rules, he added, “If, after such deliberation, still no decision is reached, the Court shall, in an original action filed with it, dismiss the case.”
The SC on March 8 voted to reverse the Comelec’s decision to cancel Poe’s certificate of candidacy for president.
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at email@example.com.