Issue of November 22, 2015
Mt. Province

Baguio Day Anniversary Issue
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For Grace Poe, it’s too early to celebrate

The Senate Electoral Tribual (SET) dismissed last Tuesday, the petition to disqualify Sen. Grace Poe from her seat in the senate. That was welcome news for the senadora. But it may not be reason to celebrate, just yet.

First of all, she won by the slimmest of a majority. The decision in her favor was in fact merely, a majority of one. The voting was 5-4. Five for her and four against.

A look at those who voted may be revealing of what the future holds in store. Those who voted in Poe’s favor and therefore considered her a natural-born citizen were senators Loren Legarda, Pia Cayetano, Cynthia Villar, Bam Aquino, and Tito Sotto.

Those who voted against, and said Poe was not natural born were Supreme Court Justices Antonio Carpio, Teresita de Castro, and Arturo Brion. Joining them was Sen. Nancy Binay.

The issue of citizenship is a legal issue. Among those who voted for Poe, only one was a lawyer. And that is Pia Cayetano.

Among those who voted against Poe on this legal issue were three lawyers. And they are not ordinary lawyers. They are incumbent Justices of the Supreme Court.

Can non-lawyers really out-vote the lawyers on a legal issue? Yes, because the SET is a political body. Unlike the Supreme Court, or other courts where only lawyers can sit and participate, the Constitution provides that majority of the SET are politicians.

There are nine members of the SET. Three come from the Supreme Court, with the senior among them serving as chairman. The other six are members of the Senate. The Senate members may or may not be lawyers. There is no requirement that they should be members of the Bar.

And so it can be said that the non-lawyers and politicians can easily prevail over the Justices of the Supreme Court even on a legal issue.

But is that reason for Poe to celebrate? The SET decision is welcome for her, but perhaps any celebration should be moderated.

The petitioner can still file a motion for reconsideration. With a slim voting margin of 5-4 in a political body, anything and even miracles can happen. If the motion for reconsideration should be denied, a petition for certiorari can still be filed before the Supreme Court.

In the Supreme Court the picture will change drastically. All the members of the Supreme Court are lawyers and jurists. Carpio, de Castro and Brion who all voted against Poe are their colleagues. We will now have a body composed only of lawyers deciding a legal issue. Gone will be the politicians.

There are 15 members of the Supreme Court. Those who will rule on a certiorari petition against the SET decision will be reduced to 12 because expectedly Carpio, de Castro, and Brion will voluntarily inhibit themselves.

The remaining Justices will be Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Marvic Leonen, Jose Perez, Lucas Bersamin, Diosdado Peralta, Estela Perlas-Bernabe, Presbitero Velasco, Jose Mendoza, Mariano del Castillo, Martin Villarama, Bienvenido Reyes, and Francis Jardeleza.

Will the remaining Justices sustain their colleagues Carpio, de Castro, and Brion? Your guess is as good as ours.

We can only say that if it comes to clout and influence with the SC, assuming anyone can really influence them, Poe may have zero influence. Consider also that five, namely: Sereno, Leonen, Bernabe, Reyes, and Jardeleza, are appointees of PNoy. And Poe is not the candidate of PNoy.

Velasco, de Castro, Castillo, Villarama, Perez, Peralta, and Bersamin are GMA (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) appointees. And Poe is not the candidate of GMA either.

Consider also the fact that the ruling of the SET focused only on whether Poe is qualified to be a senator or not. There are four other petitions, this time filed and still pending with the Comelec, questioning her qualification to become a presidential candidate.

Before the Comelec are issues not only of citizenship, but also of residency. Whoever loses before the Comelec would surely elevate the matter to the Supreme Court. And just like the decision of the SET, we can say we would be back to square one and before the same set of Justices.

It will certainly still be a long odyssey for Poe. The SET “victory” is no cause for celebration. One can even validly wonder whether the legal issues will be settled with finality before the 2016 elections.

Poe’s only consolation is that, as of this time, she still leads in the surveys. That would become meaningless, however, if she is disqualified.

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