Justice Leonen: Should SC let people decide first on Poe?

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – On the first day of the oral arguments on the disqualification case of presidential bet Senator Grace Poe, only Supreme Court Justice Marvic Leonen took a different tone in his interpellation of Poe’s counsel.

Unlike the others, Leonen opened the possibility of letting the public vote first before the High Court settles contests arising from the results. (READ: Why did Poe give up PH citizenship?)

Leonen said this is the first time the Court would lay down a doctrine on foundlings running for public office, more so the highest post in the country. 

The Supreme Court faces a novel case – whether a foundling running for president is a natural-born Filipino – and the much-awaited decision of majority of its 15 members (if President Aquino appoints areplacement for recently retired Justice Martin Villarama Jr.) will be a milestone in Philippine jurisprudence. (READ: It's a close Supreme Court vote on Poe)

Poe is one of the front runners in the May 2016 presidential race.

Her counsel, Alexander Poblador, argued before the Court that the Commission on Elections committed grave abuse of discretion in cancelling her Certificate of Candidacy.

In his interpellation of Poblador on Tuesday, January 19, Leonen said suffrage or the right to vote “is an aspect of sovereignty.” 

“Suffrage is one of the direct exercises, perhaps the only direct exercise, where people actually select their agents in terms of government. And therefore, should this Court apply the doctrine, in that we should first allow the people to decide and then we, the final arbiter, in case of contests?” he asked.

Not just mere ‘legalists’ but ‘justices’

In discussing the rights of foundlings, Leonen said the SC magistrates should be “justices” not just “legalists.”

“We are here not as legalists, we are here as justices, correct? Root word is not ‘legal’ but it is ‘just,' meaning, to do justice in accordance with law. But if we can interpret law so that it does justice, so be it. We are not completely legalists,” said the youngest of the SC justices, former dean of the UP College of Law.

Leonen said it is not Poe’s fault that her birth parents abandoned her. “She did not have moral volition; it was the decision of the parents. Justice is giving anyone your due. Whoever does something wrong should carry the burden of the harm even from society,” he added.

Citing his personal experience, Leonen said he knows how it feels to have missing parents as he grew up without his father. He said the case of Poe and others whose real parents remain unknown is "very difficult."

“I grew up without a father. It was difficult. I knew who my father was but yet, it was difficult. But I think of those people who don’t know their fathers but grew up with their mother also have a difficult time. Those who do not have a mother and a father and stay with their adoptive parents also have a very difficult time,” Leonen said.

“Should this Court ask her to look for those parents who actually left her because she had it lucky, because she is now one of the candidates for president of this Republic? Is it clear that the Constitution of the Republic looks this way on foundlings –  that there can never be any foundling found in the Philippines that can ever become president?”

Leonen said it must be one of Poe’s difficult times right now, as she is asked who her real parents are – something that has been a question her entire life.

"The fact is we do not know (the correct number of foundlings). But we know the difficulty they had to go through. This is one of her most difficult times, I think; to bare her entire life. I get that she is running for president but to bare her entire life, being asked who the parents are, and have the parents actually come forward? These parents who left her through their own volition, through no fault of hers, have not yet come up,” he said.

Leonen was the last to interpellate Poblador on Tuesday. 

Five other justices earlier took part in the interpellation: Mariano del Castillo, Antonio Carpio, Estela Perlas Bernabe, Diosdado Peralta, and Teresita De Castro.

Del Castillo grilled Poblador on the senator's decision to renounce her Filipino citizenship. 

Del Castillo and De Castro also asked if Poe used her US passport even after she had renounced it. (READ: SC Justices: Did Poe use her US passport after Oct 2010?)

The oral arguments at the SC will resume next Tuesday, January 26. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is a multimedia reporter focusing on media, technology, and disinformation.

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