Sereno assures Poe decision to be out soon

Posted on March 11, 2016

DID THE Supreme Court (SC) settle the issue of Senator Grace Poe’s citizenship and residency qualifications when it allowed her to run for president?

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno remained tight-lipped on Thursday, but appealed for patience as she assured the decision on Senator Grace Poe’s electoral case will be released “soon.”

“In order not to aggravate whatever tension is there, it is best for everyone to wait, because these decisions are very important -- it must be carefully crafted, all the appropriate rulings are being circulated even now, so please just wait for the same,” the chief magistrate said.

“It will not be too late; it will be released to you in due time,” she assured.

Even as she remained mum on the issue, one of the senior members, Associate Justice Teresita J. Leonardo-de Castro disclosed that “yes, the citizenship issue will be touched.”

As of press time, the high court has yet to release the full text of the decision, which would explain if Ms. Poe is actually ruled qualified for the position or if she was allowed to run for other reasons.

President Benigno S. C. Aquino III himself has openly wondered about the grounds of the ruling, urging the high court on Wednesday to clarify the jurisprudence it now lays down on citizenship.

Asked about this at the sidelines of the Philippine Women Judges’ Association, Ms. Sereno said people should see for themselves how the high court ruled on Ms. Poe’s unprecedented case.

“Why don’t you read and decide for yourself. I don’t want to say we’ve been very clear or what because that is a matter that is best left to the reader,” she said.

“You are going to be readers of the soon-to-be-released decision with all the separate opinions,” she told reporters.

Ms. de Castro, who was among the minority that voted against Ms. Poe, went so far as to say even the high court’s majority was divided on the issue of her qualifications.

“The votes are split,” she said. “Even the nine who voted in the majority didn’t have uniform position on the issues.”

“You should examine carefully what each of us will say in our [opinions],” she added.

During a Tuesday briefing, SC Public Information Office Chief Theodore O. Te only announced the high court voted 9-6 during its en banc session to allow Ms. Poe to run.

Only the vote was disclosed, as well as the announcement that the decision will be accompanied by four concurring and five dissenting opinions. Still not officially disclosed was the justice who wrote the ponencia adopted as the high court’s decision.

Joining Ms. Sereno in voting for Ms. Poe were: Associate Justices Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr. Diosdado M. Peralta, Lucas P. Bersamin, Jose Portugal Perez, Jose Catral Mendoza, Marvic M.V.F. Leonen, Francis H. Jardeleza, and Alfredo Benjamin S. Caguioa.

Besides Ms. de Castro, the other dissenters were: Associate Justices Antonio T. Carpio, Arturo D. Brion, Mariano C. del Castillo, Bienvenido L. Reyes, and Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe.

Ms. Poe’s candidacy was questioned over her compliance for both citizenship and residency requirements; the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in December canceled her candidacy on the grounds of material misrepresentation.

The Comelec said Ms. Poe lied about being a natural-born Filipino as the 1935 Constitution did not enumerate foundlings like her as such.

It also said Ms. Poe’s residency should be counted from July 2006 -- when she reacquired her Filipino citizenship after living in the United States for several years -- and not from her claim of May 2005 as a balikbayan.

Whether or not the high court disagreed with the Comelec’s findings remains to be seen.

Ms. de Castro dared accusers to come out with proof that the high court’s justices were offered a P50-million bribe to deny Ms. Poe’s appeal against the Comelec’s actions.

The senior magistrate said the bribery allegation was unfortunate. “We feel so bad about it,” she told reporters at the sidelines of the Philippine Women Judges Association’s Thursday convention.

“If he really has any evidence about it, then bring it out so the Supreme Court can take action on that!” she exclaimed. “If he cannot, then he’s doing a disservice to the judiciary. He’s putting down the judiciary without good reason.”

Ms. de Castro said: “we deplore unverified information being published especially before a case is decided,” since it may be used to influence the justices to vote one way or the other.

Ms. Sereno dismissed the report as “just speculations” and “noise.”

“Some would like to raise them as issues, but we know when an issue is before us,” she said. “Some matters are best disregarded or ignored.”

A major newspaper, citing “sources,” reported before the Tuesday vote that an offer came from a lawyer who was formerly connected with Malacañang and is supportive of the candidacy of administration-backed bet Manuel “Mar” A. Roxas II, whose run is beset by his poll ratings.

Four of six of Mr. Aquino’s appointees voted in Ms. Poe’s favor.

Printing receipts will cause the election’s postponement? Tell that to the Supreme Court.

This was Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno’s stern warning to the Commission on Elections on Thursday, after the latter said they may have to think about delaying the elections as a result of the SC order on Tuesday to enable the vote-counting machines’ deactivated receipt-printing feature.

“We don’t take matters that are aired before the media and that are not properly raised before us,” Ms. Sereno told reporters.

“I would like to caution people that when a matter is under litigation before a court, the procedure is to make such communications with the court,” she added. “That’s the only way we can take cognizance of the positions that they have.”

The Comelec had also expressed its wish to be allowed to demonstrate the VCM’s capabilities before the justices, perhaps to convince them of the impracticality of enabling the Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) feature barely two months before the elections.

Asked about this, Ms. Sereno said the Comelec would have to “prepare and file fast whatever pleading they know the Rules of Court allow them to file.”

“Nobody is stopping them from making the correct filing before the court. So we await whatever they need to manifest before us,” she said.

Ms. Sereno said the high court could not have addressed the concern of time constraints as the Comelec failed to state its case.

She noted the Comelec did not meet a non-extendible five-day deadline for it to respond to the petition by former Senator Richard J. Gordon. The said directive was issued Feb. 23, but the Comelec only filed its comment on March 4.

“There was no comment filed. So maybe the appropriate time should be devoted to attending court matters,” she said.

The chief magistrate also censured the Comelec for not having followed the said “non-extendible” deadline, pointing out that such orders are issued precisely because of the urgency of the case filed Feb. 22.

“We don’t usually give such an order. I hope everyone can understand because we want to be helpful to the success of the 2016 elections, not serve as obstacle to its successful conduct,” she said.

She added that just because the Comelec is an important constitutional body “does not mean that court requirements are to be taken lightly.”

At the same time, Ms. Sereno said the Comelec’s non-compliance was not the biggest factor that tipped the scales against it.

“I think that the most important part was the law itself. As you can see in the resolution that had been penned by Justice [Marvic M.V.F. Leonen] and unanimously concurred in, we looked at the law and we found that its character is mandatory,” she said.

The said resolution agreed with Mr. Gordon’s petition that the VVPAT is among the minimum safety requirements mandated by the poll automation law (Republic Act No. 8436, as amended).

COMELEC TO APPEALbThe Comelec confirmed during its en banc session on Thursday that it will file a motion for reconsideration appealing the high court’s March 8 resolution.

“The Office of the Solicitor-General will file tomorrow” on the Comelec’s behalf, Chairman Andres D. Bautista told reporters.

The Comelec will also meet on Monday with its advisory council and technical evaluation committee for “advice” on the possible new timetable to account for extra election preparations.

The Comelec on Tuesday said the timetable will be affected especially since it needs to: reconfigure more than 92,000 VCMs and SD (secure digital) cards; procure the paper and containers for the voter receipts; and retrain all 277,000 persons serving as Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) on election day.

The Legal Network for Truthful Elections remarked in a post on Twitter: “They have to present two timelines: One timeline with VVPAT. One without.” -- Vince Alvic Alexis F. Nonato