By Vince Alvic A.F. Nonato, Reporter

Questions linger over Supreme Court majority vote in Grace Poe case

Posted on March 14, 2016

DID the majority of the Supreme Court (SC) really affirm that Senator Grace Poe was a natural-born Filipino?

Senator Grace Poe glances at her adoptive mother, veteran actress Susan Roces, during a campaign rally early this year. Miguel de Guzman / Philippine Star
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno and Senior Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio crossed swords on the matter of counting if the 15-member tribunal reached a majority ruling in Ms. Poe’s favor.

Ms. Sereno was one of the nine justices who voted to allow Ms. Poe to run for president in the May elections, while Mr. Carpio was one of the six who voted otherwise.

Mr. Carpio, in his 55-page dissenting opinion, said even the majority that reversed the Commission on Elections’ (Comelec) cancelation of her candidacy did not wholly vote in favor of her citizenship qualifications.

On the issue of citizenship, he emphasized that the vote was only 7-5-3.

Three of the magistrates -- Associate Justices Diosdado M. Peralta and Alfredo Benjamin S. Caguioa for the majority, Associate Justice Mariano for the minority -- said the high court should not rule on the citizenship issue because of the nature of the electoral case.

“What is clear and undeniable is that there is no majority of this Court that holds that petitioner Mary Grace Natividad S. Poe Llamanzares (petitioner) is a natural-born Filipino citizen,” he said.

Mr. Carpio said the ruling of the majority to nonetheless allow Ms. Poe to run for president would “lead to absurd results” and “make a mockery of our national elections.”

He said the high court virtually allowed “a presidential candidate with uncertain citizenship status to be potentially elected to the Office of the President,” when the Constitution reserves it for natural-born citizens.

He also raised the possibility that because Ms. Poe’s citizenship was not upheld by the majority, she might still be open to question later on after she wins the presidential elections.

Under the recent decision, the high court maintained that the Comelec cannot pass upon a candidate’s qualifications (hence, the issue against Ms. Poe is material misrepresentation). The body that does have the power to do so is the Presidential Electoral Tribunal.

“This will make a mockery of our election process if petitioner wins the elections but is later disqualified by this Court for not possessing a basic qualification for the Office of the President -- that of being a natural-born Filipino citizen,” read Mr. Carpio’s opinion.

“Those who voted for petitioner would have utterly wasted their votes.”

Ms. Sereno, however, took exception to this assertion and said that there existed a “clear majority of seven” that affirmed Ms. Poe’s citizenship.

In her separate 126-page concurring opinion, the Chief Justice said the Internal Rules of the SC provided that en banc decisions be reached by a majority of the members, counting from those who actually took part on the issues involved.

Rule 12, Section 1 reads that decisions “shall be made up upon the concurrence of the majority of the Members of the Court who actually took part in the deliberation on the issues or issues involved and voted on them.”

Applying this rule, Ms. Sereno concluded that a “clear majority of seven” upheld Ms. Poe’s citizenship because only 12 justices took part in making that decision.

As to the 10-year residency requirement, she noted that seven of 13 justices voted in Ms. Poe’s favor.

Since the case concerned the issue of whether the Comelec correctly cancelled the candidacy on the grounds of material misrepresentation, Ms. Sereno argued “the fallo needed only to dispose of the grant or denial of the petitions and nothing more.”

“Ideally, no further interpretation of the votes should have been made,” the opinion remarked. “Unfortunately, there are attempts to make such an interpretation.”

But the parties who successfully petitioned the Comelec’s cancellation of Poe’s candidacy remained hung up on how the SC concluded that she was qualified to run.

Manuelito R. Luna, counsel for former Senator Francisco S. Tatad, maintained that no majority vote was obtained on the issue of Ms. Poe’s qualifications, because a simply majority is defined as “50 percent plus 1,” or eight in the case of this ruling.

“Since the dispositive portion of the decision essentially states that Poe is qualified to run for President in the coming election, and since the voting on these substantive issues is 1 less of the majority of 8, then the 9 members of the Court could not have qualified her for the presidential election the judgment being ineffectual, if not patently null and void,” Mr. Luna said.

Meanwhile, political science professor Antonio P. Contreras, another case party, implored the Chief Justice to “please do your own math and check it with the logic of your own rules.”

“I may not be a Justice Ma’am, but how can you even make us believe that J. Caguioa and J. Peralta, as well as J. Del Castillo ‘took no part’ in the deliberations and did not vote, when they issued opinions or joined one?” Mr. Contreras said in a Facebook post.